Welsh teams to join Anglo-French breakaway competition

By Mitch Phillips LONDON (Reuters) - This year's Heineken Cup looks set to be the last after the surprise announcement on Tuesday that the four Welsh regional teams have decided to back the Anglo-French plan for a breakaway competition from next season. Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys, Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons have given "full support for the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup Competitions" in a statement released via Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) a day before a Dublin meeting scheduled to try to save the Heineken Cup. "Whilst there remain elements of detail to be confirmed, it is now clear that there are a number of significant advantages to the new competitions in equality of governance, format, qualification and distribution across the individual participating clubs," the statement said. "Consequently, RRW looks forward to working with the Welsh Rugby Union to support their efforts and positive engagement in striving to ensure our teams are involved in strong, valuable European Clubs competitions in time for next season." The English and French leagues announced last year that they planned to withdraw from the Heineken Cup and second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup after making no headway in negotiations with the Celtic unions over qualification criteria and income distribution. Disagreements about the tournament's voting structure and future TV rights - with newcomers BT coming into conflict with long-standing Heineken partner Sky - were also stumbling blocks. The Celtic unions and tournament organisers European Rugby Cup (ERC) continued to ask for more talks and said they were confident the competition, currently in its 19th year, would continue next season with all the major European countries taking part. The English and French clubs, however, were adamant they had done enough talking and were committed to a new competition. They declined to attend Wednesday's accord in Dublin despite the appointment of a Canadian lawyer as a proposed mediator in the dispute. The International Rugby Board (IRB) said last month it wanted a strong European competition and was against a breakaway in principle but CEO Brett Gosper chose his words carefully when pressed for the IRB's position. "We don't believe in an Anglo-French competition in itself. We don't think a tournament such as that is in the interest of the game," he said. "We strongly believe it should be a European competition. That is what we would be supporting and throwing our weight behind. We know there are lots of discussions that are happening and there are different versions of how there have been fall-outs and disagreements. We urge all of those parties to get together and find some common ground because we believe it is in the interests of the game to do so." Since then there have been two rounds of the Heineken Cup, providing its usual high-quality rugby, an announcement that the 2015 final would be in Milan, but no further negotiations. The Welsh Rugby Union, like its Irish counterpart, has previous voiced support for the Heineken Cup but nobody from the organisation was available for comment on Tuesday. (Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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