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Rugby union: Merger deal interests Richmond

RICHMOND WILL be granted pounds 500,000 by English First Division Rugby if they agree to merge with London Scottish. Richmond have been under threat of a buy-out and closure by EFDR, which has now indicated it will provide a grant to enable the club to survive as a professional entity, albeit by being merged with another club.

Tony Dorman, the club's chairman, confirmed last night that the merger of the two clubs is possible. It would reunite two organisations who shared Richmond Athletic Ground until last season.

It also adds a new chapter to an already turbulent season for London Scottish. Bristol bought 24.9 per cent of the Exiles earlier this season as an insurance policy in case they failed to win promotion to the Allied Dunbar Premiership One. Bristol, however, did win the Second Division.

Tom Walkinshaw, the chairman of EFDR, clarified the background of Richmond's dispute with his organisation since the club went into "administration" in March with the issue coming to a head last week when closure became imminent. "The administrators of Richmond have today applied to EFDR for a grant amounting to pounds 500,000 to facilitate a merger with another EFDR club," Walkinshaw said. "EFDR welcomes this move and has approved the grant in principle, subject to successful completion of the merger and demonstration of its viability. But we emphasise we do not support the principle of clubs buying promotion off the field by acquiring EFDR clubs."

Richmond play Saracens at the Madejski Stadium today and Danny Grewcock, the England lock, returns from a 10-week injury lay-off to help Saracens in their pursuit of two points and European qualification.

Saracens need one win from their last two games to guarantee a European place. They finish with a home game against Newcastle next week, but their captain-coach, Francois Pienaar, said: "We would prefer to finish the job without having the anxiety of needing the points in our final game."

Grewcock has finally recovered from a type of knee ligament injury that has also affected Pienaar and Kyran Bracken. His comeback will provide an injection of power and possession. Saracens have the prospect of earning pounds 1m from the European Cup next season, just as Richmond find themselves enveloped in a cloud of uncertainty.

Bob Calleja, the Bath chief executive, believes his club would have spiralled out of existence in the professional era without the millions of pounds from their backer, Andrew Brownsword. Bath have revealed losses for the 1998 fiscal year of pounds 1.65m - despite winning the European Cup in that year with the rewards that went with it. That figure put Bath Rugby Plc's deficit in two years of trading at over pounds 3m. They lost pounds 1.5m in 1997.

Brownsword, who retired from the greeting cards business that made his fortune to look after Bath's affairs last year, dug deep into his pocket again last season to invest another pounds 3m on top of his initial pounds 2.5m stake when the club went fully professional in 1996.

Calleja has also warned things could get worse unless Bath have a miracle and qualify for the European Cup next season. He said: "If this was any other company in the past two years, we would have been bankrupt because this is not a viable business. It's only because of the confidence and support of Andrew Brownsword that we are still here."