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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 20:19 GMT
Heineken Cup future under threat
By James Standley

Munster celebrate winning the 2006/06 Heineken Cup
Munster are the reigning Heineken Cup champions

The Heineken Cup is under threat after French clubs threatened to pull out of next year's competition.

They are unhappy with how many games they will have next season and axing the cup would free up several weekends.

England's clubs are already in dispute over the cup's future and have refused to sign a successor to the agreement which governs the competition.

They have not signed a new version of the 'Paris accord' because they want a direct stake in the competition.

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The French clubs are threatening to pull out because it means they would not have to condense the time allowed for their domestic league.

That means their leading players could play more matches and would help protect their television deal, which brings in much more revenue than the Heineken Cup.

The French season is under pressure because of the 2007 World Cup, which will be held in the country in September and October, delaying the start of the club season.

The Heineken Cup is a priority tournament and we've got to get a formula with which everyone is in agreement

Premier Rugby's Mark McCafferty

The competition is also under threat because of the on-going row between Premier Rugby and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in England.

Premier Rugby, which represents England's top-flight clubs, wants them to become direct stakeholders in the competition.

The RFU opposes giving them a greater say in running the competition.

The English clubs have the support of their French counterparts but reports that Serge Blanco, the president of Ligue Nationale de Rugby, is flying to England to discuss the matter on Wednesday appear to be wide of the mark.

However, Premier Rugby is continuing to discuss the matter with their French counterparts.

"The French clubs are supporting our position that we need to become stakeholders," Premier Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty told BBC Sport.

The RFU says it will not negotiate a new agreement with the English clubs until they agree a new arrangement over the management of elite players and this has led to an impasse between the two sides.

"The RFU is linking this to other issues and we're saying they shouldn't be doing that - this should be a self-standing issue," said McCafferty.

"The Heineken Cup is a priority tournament and we've got to get a formula with which everyone is in agreement."

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