Heineken Cup play-offs between English and French clubs mooted

An end-of-season play-off series between English and French clubs for a place in the Heineken Cup has emerged as one of the potential compromises as part of the intensifying move to resolve the deadlock over the future format of the European tournament.

Heineken Cup play-offs between English and French clubs mooted

Prize guys: the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup trophies are paraded in Dublin Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Telegraph Sport understands that while English and French clubs remain committed to their demand that the elite European tournament is reduced from 24 to 20 clubs as part of a bid to strengthen the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup, there also appears to have been a softening of their joint demand that only the top six of the RaboDirect Pro12 should automatically qualify.

One compromise solution that gained support at Wednesday’s meeting of the English club owners was for the Pro12 clubs to be guaranteed seven places, with the Aviva Premiership and French Top 14 receiving six automatic places each.

An extra place for either the English or French clubs would then be decided by a series of play-off games, involving the clubs finishing seventh-10th in the respective leagues.

Whether the offer of an extra place to the Pro12 clubs, who are guaranteed eight places under the current format, will be enough to lead to a breakthrough in the negotiations remains doubtful, however.

With no ERC stakeholder meetings planned, negotiations are likely to continue via the backdoor, with Premiership Rugby’s latest position likely to be communicated to the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Italian unions via the Rugby Football Union.

Meanwhile, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce has estimated the Irish capital will benefit to the tune of £18 million based on the overseas visitors for the Heineken Cup final.

Over 22,000 visitors are set to travel on May 17-18 for the decider between Clermont Auvergne and Toulon at the Aviva Stadium, with Leinster taking on Stade Francais in the Amlin Cup final at the RDS.