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ERC: Heineken Cup without English clubs is 'unthinkable'

THE organisers of the Heineken Cup admit it would be "almost unthinkable" for English clubs to pull out of the tournament and form their own breakaway competition.

LAST month the future of European club rugby was plunged into disarray following an announcement by Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL), who represent English top-flight clubs, that they had agreed a £152million deal with BT to show domestic and European matches from 2014 onwards.

The announcement infuriated the European Rugby Cup (ERC) - who run the Heineken Cup and had already announced a separate TV deal with Sky Sports.

Meetings between the two warring factions have failed to result in any deal, raising fears English teams could seek to break away from the competition and create their own version without their Celtic counterparts.

ERC chief executive Derek McGrath played down worries about such a scenario yesterday, and hinted that European rugby's governing body were willing to make some sort of compromise.

"It is almost unthinkable that could happen," McGrath said. "I think everyone knows how important the tournament has become in every single country. It (having English teams pull out) is not something we are focused on in any way.

"We have a two-year notice period for a reason, which is to allow us to understand where we might be going to. That is an open opportunity to allow people to understand what we might do differently."