Rugby Union: Clubs plot super league: Secret rugby meeting threatens domestic game with new Anglo-Welsh competition; Exclusive

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The Independent Online
A SECRET meeting last week between eight first-class rugby clubs - four from England and four from Wales - may lead to the formation of an Anglo-Welsh league, thus throwing the structure of domestic rugby into chaos. The clubs represented at the meeting, held last Tuesday evening in Tewkesbury, were Cardiff, Llanelli, Neath and Swansea from Wales and Bath, Leicester, Harlequins and Wasps from England.

Agreement was reached in principle to revive meaningful Anglo-Welsh club fixtures - which, since the advent of leagues, are no longer part of the rugby calendar - and the plans could come to fruition as early as next season. While the clubs also agreed not to be confrontational with their respective unions, which might see it as a move towards greater autonomy by the clubs, there was an unequivocal desire that, if the governing unions disagreed, the clubs should be prepared to go it alone. The leading Welsh clubs in particular feel strongly that their interests are not fully represented by the Welsh Rugby Union, that they are subject to an authority on which they have insufficient political influence.

There was a discussion about whether, with an already congested fixture list, a knock-out cup competition might be the best way to kick off an Anglo-Welsh collaboration, but it is believed that the clubs decided to make a league their priority.

There is likely to be little resistance to the idea from the WRU, worried about declining standards in the game in Wales and the ever-growing strength of English rugby, both at club and international level. The Welsh see their clubs' isolation as one of the causes for their national side's slump, which reached its nadir last week with the home defeat by Canada.

Nevertheless, the Welsh Union, in common with England, would want to safeguard the interests of their sponsors. The positions of Courage, who pour vast amounts of money into the game in England through their sponsorship of the national leagues, and Whitbread, who do the same in Wales via the Heineken League, would no doubt be threatened by the advent of an Anglo-Welsh super league, which would be a huge money-spinner. It is possible that Courage and Heineken may be interested in a joint venture but, with different products to promote, that would seem unlikely.

The clubs are anxious that plans for a new league should be accelerated. An informal, but official, meeting had been planned to take place in Bristol last March, at the behest of the WRU, with representatives of the Rugby Football Union, who included Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary. On the eve of the meeting, however, news broke of allegations of impropriety against Denis Evans, the WRU secretary, and it was decided to postpone discussions indefinitely.

The clubs, who see an Anglo-Welsh league as a natural and lucrative progression of the domestic game, now seem determined to press ahead on their own.