Amlin Challenge Cup holders and three-time Heineken Cup champions Leinster joined their fellow provinces at today’s Irish launch of the 2013/14 European club rugby season in Dublin.
There was standing room only at Sky Ireland’s headquarters for the event which was attended by the head coaches and captains of Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster, as well by a large media contingent.
Speaking at the launch, Leinster’s Leo Cullen, the only captain in the history of the tournament to lift the Heineken Cup three times, said: “I’d very much like to see a European competition obviously with Leinster in the thick of it.
“I understand some of the questions being posed by other shareholders, but I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of our players when I say that the Heineken Cup is a phenomenal tournament to be part of.”
Pat Lam, a Heineken Cup-winning skipper with Northampton Saints in 2000 and Connacht’s current head coach, commented: “I got a taste of real success back then with guys who I was playing with week in, week out.
“When I bump into the likes of Matt Dawson, Freddy Mendez and Gary Pagel now, we all have that incredible memory of a Heineken Cup final which we’ll share forever.
“It’s such a great tournament, admired all around the world, so that is why it’s critical that everything gets sorted out for the sake of northern Hemisphere rugby. It’d be a tragedy if the Heineken Cup is not around next year.”
Meanwhile, ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath expressed the hope that a solution would be found for a new European club rugby accord for the 2014/15 season and beyond.
“There has to be hope for a solution because the competitions have become so important to everyone. Not just in a financial sense, but also in terms of what they represent to the players, the fans and the sponsors,” said McGrath.
“We’re 15 months into the process of formulating a new accord, and we absolutely understand the frustration of the fans who must be wondering why a group of administrators are finding it difficult to come up with a solution to what is arguably the best club rugby competition in the world.
“But to date, we haven’t had proper engagement, and we haven’t had a genuine focus on the interests of the competitions.
“There are only two certainties in this situation – when the process began and when it ends. So the door is still open and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
“ERC stands by its record over the past 18 years and so far, we haven’t seen any credible alternatives which provide a better, substantiated solution. We’re hoping that sense will prevail.”