Rugby Union: Clubs close in on a compromise deal

ENGLAND'S LEADING clubs and the Rugby Football Union are close to completing the first stage in the unravelling of rugby's Gordian knot. In an initiative led by Leicester and Richmond, the clubs have come up with a possible compromise over the Anglo-Welsh fixture list.

As things stand the clubs intend playing Cardiff and Swansea, who have fallen out with the Welsh Rugby Union, in a series of friendly fixtures. These games will be played on Saturdays when there are scheduled Allied Dunbar Premiership games, so that six of the seven fixtures go ahead and the two remaining clubs each tackle a Welsh dissident.

And after plans for a British league fell through because the WRU felt there were too many logistical problems, it left the Welsh clubs without meaningful matches. The English clubs decided to honour an agreement made earlier this year but Twickenham felt that any cross-border competition on Premiership Saturdays would compromise the English league and asked for the games to be played in midweek.

Now Leicester and Richmond have come up with an idea which would prove to the world that Anglo-Welsh matches would not be granted any significance within the Allied Dunbar Premiership structure. And it is almost certain that when the two sides get together over the next few days to thrash things out, the RFU will go along with the idea.

Leicester's Peter Wheeler, backed up by Richmond's Tony Hallett, has suggested that some English clubs should just play one match against one of the Welsh clubs, and possibly two against the other, but both to be played away. Clubs may even prefer to play a total of three matches against Cardiff or Swansea. But however many they play, the Welsh pair will end up playing a different number of games in any so-called "Alternative Premiership" than their English counterparts. "It sounds like a sensible move and I think the RFU would be sympathetic towards such a compromise," said the RFU president, Peter Trunkfield.

Doug Ash, the chief executive of the English Rugby Partnership, the body responsible for the administration of the Premiership and the interests of the country's top 28 clubs, added: "I think this compromise is something that we will be giving serious thought to."

If the solution is accepted, it still will not solve the RFU's other problem, which is that the WRU is unhappy about any competition taking place no matter when the matches are played and there is a possibility of a complaint being lodged with the International Board thatcould result in England being excluded from next season's World Cup - in Wales.