Renegade English clubs have fired the opening salvo in the battle for control of the Heineken Cup, ahead of a showdown board meeting in Dublin next week.
The future of the competition has been cast into more doubt after Premiership Rugby effectively withdrew from the ERC's broadcast agreement just days before the crucial board meeting of the six competing nations.
However, the ERC -- the governing body for Heineken Cup rugby -- last night shot down a TV deal that aims to double the amount of revenue available to English clubs.
A €189m four-year agreement with BT Vision to exclusively show English domestic and European rugby ends a 15-year deal with Sky and aims to ring-fence a larger share of income for English clubs.
This has been the chief aim of an Anglo-French move to gain a greater control in how the Heineken Cup is organised, although it is believed the French were taken aback by yesterday's announcement.
Shortly after Premiership Rugby announced their TV deal, the ERC issued a statement which detailed the four-year renewal of their own contract with Sky, while questioning the English clubs' right to separate negotiations.
"Following a media announcement today, ERC has raised questions over a purported deal by Premiership Rugby to sell the UK broadcast rights to European club rugby tournaments," said the statement.
"While awaiting further information regarding Premiership Rugby's proposed agreement... the ERC board... believes that any such agreement would be in breach both of IRB regulations and of a mandate from the ERC board itself.
"European club rugby's six participant Unions have granted the authority permission to sell broadcast rights to its tournaments solely to the ERC.
"It was unanimously agreed at an ERC board meeting on June 6 that ERC would conclude a new four-year agreement with Sky Sports for the UK and Ireland exclusive live broadcast rights to the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup until 2018. Premiership Rugby was party to that decision.
"ERC remains determined to honour its own commercial commitments and to continue its work to further develop the European club game."
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty countered: "I want to emphasise that our objective is to remain in the Heineken Cup. The TV deal we have agreed with BT will increase the size of the pot for everyone in Europe. Scotland and Italy will also benefit: what we want is to increase the size of the cake rather than argue about slices."