Tom Shanklin claims new Euro Cup would improve Pro12

Former Wales and Lions centre Tom Shanklin believes a new-look European Cup will provide a long-term benefit for the Pro12 League.

It is believed a Six Nations committee meeting in Paris on Monday agreed a structure to replace the Heineken Cup from September, if broadcasters Sky and BT can compromise over TV coverage.

The new tournament would have seven teams from the Pro12 in place of 10.

"It will increase the quality of the games," said Shanklin.

2013-14 Heineken Cup structure

  • France: 7 (Castres, Toulon, Toulouse, Clermont-Auvergne, Racing Metro, Montpellier, Perpignan)
  • England: 6 (Northampton, Exeter, Saracens, Harlequins, Leicester, Gloucester)
  • Ireland: 4 (Leinster, Connacht, Ulster, Munster)
  • Wales: 3 (Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, Scarlets)
  • Scotland: 2 (Glasgow, Edinburgh)
  • Italy: 2 (Zebre, Treviso)

The future of the Heineken Cup has been in doubt since June 2012 when the top French and English clubs announced their intention to withdraw from the tournament once the current "accord" ran out at the end of the 2013-14 season.

They proposed their own competition, the Rugby Champions Cup, saying they were unhappy with the way teams qualified for the Heineken Cup and the distribution of cash generated by the tournament.

The English clubs in particular were dissatisfied with tournament organisers - European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC).

BT paid £152m for rights to broadcast English club rugby including their participation in a European tournament - just weeks before ERC announced a new deal with Sky to cover the Heineken Cup.

There was also a rift between the four Welsh regions (Newport Gwent Dragons, Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets) and the Welsh Rugby Union - after the regions gave their support to the proposed breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.

The terms of the agreement thought to have been struck in Paris on 17 March would make it much tougher for Welsh regions to qualify for the top-flight European competition in future.

The new tournament - if ratified - will involve 20 teams in place of the current 24, with the top six from the English and French leagues qualifying automatically.

Who would qualify in 2014-15

If the new European deal is ratified, the qualifiers, based on current league positions, would be:

England: Northampton Saints, Saracens, Bath, Leicester, Harlequins, Sale.

France: Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Montpellier, Stade Francais, Toulouse, Castres.

Ireland: Leinster, Munster, Ulster.

Wales: Ospreys, Scarlets.

Scotland: Glasgow.

Italy: Treviso.

Play-off: Wasps v Racing Metro.

There will be seven teams from the Pro12, with one guaranteed representative from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales with the other three places being decided on league position.

The 20th place in the tournament is likely to be decided by a two-leg play-off between the clubs that finish seventh in England and France.

Under the current qualifying arrangements two teams in Italy and Scotland have automatic entry to the Heineken Cup with 10 teams in total qualifying from the Pro12.

That has led to criticism it is too easy to qualify from the league, with teams able to rest key players for league matches ahead of big European games.

Shanklin believes that would lead to an improvement in the standard of Pro12 matches.

"It will make it more exciting because you are really trying to qualify for a bespoke competition," he said.

"There'll be more emphasis on teams to play their best players which will increase the quality of the games."

Another benefit for the Welsh regions would be an increase in their funding by £1m a season.

Sources suggest the deal for the new tournament could be agreed by the end of the week, but is dependent on the TV companies.

A second-tier tournament involving 20 teams to replace the Amlin Cup is also expected to be announced.