Europe in new union

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN rugby issued a defiant message to Ross Turnbull's World Rugby Corporation yesterday when insisting that progress within the sport would continue apace regardless of the Australian's multi-million pound plans for a rebel circus.

More than 100 leading British players are understood to have signed up for a proposed 14-club European league which promises the cream upwards of pounds 100,000 each, but Turnbull has yet to come up with the estimated pounds 50m he needs to fund the project.

Peter Wheeler, the chairman of English First Division Rugby Ltd, who has thrashed out plans for a legitimate European club competition with representatives of six nations, said: "If Turnbull's plans come off, then he will take away a tier of players, but those places will quickly be occupied by a new guard. There is enormous potential for the sport if it does not take the quick buck."

The Leicester president is championing European club rugby's cause under the banner of the European Rugby Clubs' Association. Representatives from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy have agreed on a two-tier European competition to kick off next season.

Pending acceptance by the delegates' clubs, 20 leading sides (four each from England, Wales and France, three each from Scotland and Ireland, and two from Italy) will contest the top tier while the secondary event will comprise 32 teams (eight each from Wales and France, six from England, four each from Scotland and Ireland and two from Italy).

Wheeler is "totally excited" at the prospect, adding: "Friday was only our second meeting and it takes time to get to know people and their views. But we've made great progress. We're already all agreed on the best format." He said the secondary competition, proposed by the French, would satisfy the First Division clubs not involved in the "main event". "Without it, those clubs would be free of fixtures and twiddling their thumbs."

He maintains these moves are not being made behind the backs of the governing bodies and he expects European rugby to dovetail with domestic leagues. Whether these latest developments sound the death knell for the RFU Commission's proposed Anglo-Welsh competition is unclear.