Rugby Union: Cardiff look to cash in at Sale

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SALE, THE only elite club in the North-west of England, last night emerged as the latest target for an increasingly predatory Cardiff, who are looking to leave the chaotic Welsh scene behind by buying their way into the Allied Dunbar Premiership. The Sale management board rejected reports that a deal had been agreed, but sources at the Arms Park said Cardiff officials were confident of completing a takeover in the near future.

Cardiff are also thought to have made overtures to Bedford and West Hartlepool, two other struggling Premiership outfits, but Sale would be much the most attractive proposition.

The consortium currently financing the side owns only the players, the staff and the fixture list; the ownership of the Heywood Road ground and infrastructure lies with the old amateur club. The Welshmen would be only too happy to incorporate Sale's top-ranked players - Shane Howarth, David Rees, Steve Hanley and Dion O'Cuinneagain - into a squad already boasting a full hand of international talent.

Peter Thomas, the financial power behind Cardiff and an implacable opponent of the Welsh Rugby Union, met his players earlier this week and assured them they would be playing Allied Dunbar rugby next season. Cardiff and Swansea have been playing unsanctioned friendly matches against English opposition since last September and the rebel clubs were fined by the WRU before Christmas. But though the fines are due to be paid this weekend, Thomas has no intention of coughing up. If the fines remain outstanding, the WRU will almost certainly suspend both clubs from union membership next month.

Earlier this week, Tom Walkinshaw, the chairman of English First Division Rugby, indicated that "initiatives were in progress" to resolve the Cardiff and Swansea issue. Although he refused to expand, he said he was confident that the problem of the rebel Welsh clubs would be resolved in time for next season. Regulations do not prevent the purchase of one club by another, but any Welsh purchase of an English club would involve the International Rugby Board and throw the British game into more chaos.