Clubs may reduce top flight to eight

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

England's leading clubs have opened the way for a European competition, with the likely consequence that the premier domestic competition, Division One of the Courage League, will be reduced from 10 clubs to eight.

The National Clubs' Association, meeting in Northampton at the weekend, is also expected to downgrade the divisional championship next season season, allowing the major clubs to face regular competition for the first time from French, Welsh and Italian sides.

To offset the possible reduction in the size of the First Division, the Second and Third Divisions are likely to be expanded to 14 sides. However, the overhaul means that clubs will go into this season's competition not knowing how many will be relegated or promoted.

In a statement, the NCA said: "It is recognised that at some stage in the near future, European cross-border competition will be introduced and the NCA supports its introduction. The timing and format has yet to be agreed but its introduction is likely to limit Division One to eight or 10 clubs.

"League One clubs confirmed their belief in a strong domestic league and cup competition. They, therefore, wish to participate in a European cross-border format incorporated within the existing domestic season."

n Jonah Lomu has agreed a four-year contract with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The 20-year-old All Black wing, rebuffing offers to sign for either Leeds rugby league club or the rebel World Rugby Corporation, said: "I wanted to stay with rugby. I'm staying but we've still got negotiations to work through."