Hall losing cash in Europe


Sir John Hall, the outspoken chairman of English Premiership high-fliers Newcastle, has called for the scrapping of the European Conference. The second-tier international tournament has lived in the shadow of the prestigious European Cup during its two-year domination by French clubs.

Sir John, whose Newcastle club became the first English team to reach the last four, believes the competition is a costly non-event.

He was speaking after Newcastle's 12-9 semi-final defeat on Saturday by Agen, who made up for defeat at the same stage of last year's competition and will now meet Colomiers in the final in southern France on February 7th.

Newcastle chartered their own plane for their overnight stay in the French town and fielded a virtual full-strength side as they went in search of their first trophy for 21 years.

"Everybody is losing a fortune in the Conference," said Sir John. "There is not enough money, and the travelling is expensive. We're just totting up, but coming here today has probably cost us £10,000. We get a bit back, but there is not enough money in the Conference for English clubs.

"We're not being greedy - it's just a fact of life. The European Cup needs revamping, and I don't think there is a place for the Conference.

"There has never been much coverage, and TV doesn't want to know it."

Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby who scored all his side's points with three first-half penalties, has designs on the main event - the European Cup.

"The Conference has been a good competition. There are a lot of very good sides, but it has had no marketing and very little exposure," said Andrew.

"I think it has a future in some form or other but I'm not quite sure what. I would like to see more first division clubs in the Heineken Cup.

"It's now back to the Allied Dunbar Premiership, and that is the key for us this season. It's very important, because it gives you a platform for Europe. This time next year I would like us to be playing in a semi-final of the Heineken Cup."

Newcastle paid the price for failing to overcome a big, no-nonsense Agen pack in which international pair Philippe Benetton and Abdel Benazzi were simply outstanding.

Benazzi, surprisingly axed from the French training squad, took out his frustrations on Newcastle, who made little impression on a tough-tackling Agen side inspired by 7,000 chanting and stamping fans.

Nicola Mazas won the game in dramatic fashion seven minutes from the end with a third penalty form the halfway line.