'More free to air coverage in Ireland is where we would start' - Champions Cup chief
After a historically poor performance by the provinces in Europe last season, Champions Cup chief Vincent Gaillard insisted that the competition needs a strong Irish presence.
The EPCR director general dismissed the notion that the changes made to the tournament in 2014 had been designed to favour English and French clubs.
All eight quarter-final places went the way of Premiership and Top 14 teams last season, the first time no Pro12 side had reached the last eight.
He wants that stranglehold broken this season.
"I certainly hope it will be broken, yes," he said. "We definitely want to see the Irish provinces coming back strong.
"It's fair to say they are looking at themselves first. It was absolutely not about blaming the new format. It was about 'we need to get it right, we need to get better, we need to deserve to be back'. The level is higher. They are on the case and we certainly all hope that the Irish provinces will be back in the game.
"I can guarantee you that (an Anglo-French dominated competition) is absolutely not what we want. We want a truly European tournament. We want the Irish to be successful.
"Is there imbalance here and there because of the money floating back into the (French and English) leagues? Certainly.
"But is the format of our competition preventing the provinces from being strong? Absolutely not, and it's in absolutely no-one's interest for the competition to end up as a French or English (tournament)."
Gaillard said that EPCR are looking beyond the traditional countries for next season's Champions Cup final, with Italy and Spain the likely destinations.
The unpopular dual-television deal which sees Sky Sports and BT Sport share the rights is also due to end in 2018 and Gaillard says the organisation wants more free-to-air coverage of the competition in Ireland.
"We will treat Ireland separately. More free to air coverage in Ireland is where we would start."
"It's early days, but that would certainly be an objective," said Gaillard..
"No, not split pay per view anyway. It could be a free-to-air broadcaster and a pay-per-view broadcaster, as we have in France for instance. But not two pay-per-view broadcasters. It is not working very well for us at the moment."
Gaillard (pictured below) expects to add to the small number of sponsors already on board in the coming weeks as they finally overcome the initial teething problems that have hampered EPCR since the new competition was established.
After last season's final took place in Lyon and this year's is held in Edinburgh, the director general says the 2018 set-piece will move beyond the traditional stadiums and into new territories.
"That's the intention," he said. "Of the expressions of interests we have received, some of them were coming from markets where we've never hosted finals before.
"We've received expressions of interest from new cities in our traditional markets but yes, there's an intention to go to new places clearly and I'm confident that as of 2018 that is exactly what will happen."
"It's still within Europe, simply because we're gradually building the process but within the next two or three years we'll have a process that will reach out at least to new continents.
"Italy is a place to start. Spain would be another one and there's a couple more as well that could be of interest, but we'll focus on those two first."