Rugby Union: Unions draft new league plan

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S TOP Allied Dunbar Premiership clubs are set to dominate the British League if it is launched on schedule next November. Glanmor Griffiths, who chairs the home unions' British League working party, yesterday revealed a skeleton outline of how the revolutionary new competition could look.

The likely scenario is for two 12-team divisions, one English-dominated and the other crammed with representatives from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Each division would have its own champion but the potentially difficult subject of a promotion and relegation format has yet to be decided. A British League Cup - featuring all 24 teams - will run in conjunction throughout the season.

"The structure we are currently looking at is for two parallel divisions, with probably 12 teams in each," said Griffiths, who is also the chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union. "One could be mainly English clubs, with perhaps two Welsh representatives, while the other division would probably be Celtic-based, plus possibly two English clubs.

"I will be discussing this with the Celtic nations in Dublin next week, when the Rugby Football Union and English First Division Rugby will be meeting in England to finalise their respective proposals."

The WRU, meanwhile, has laid down target areas for their fourth proposed super club to meet in order for possible British League entry. Cardiff, Llanelli and Pontypridd are favourites to secure prized British League places, while Swansea and Newport are expected to contest the remaining spot.

"Legal status, ownership, profile, coaching and development structures, catchment and geography, facilities and management are areas in which the clubs will have to satisfy the Union of their right to be classified as elite," said the WRU secretary Dennis Gethin.

All eight Welsh Premier Division clubs, plus rebels Cardiff and Swansea, have been invited to put in bids for such status next season. They will have the opportunity to make presentations to the WRU by 31 December, before a final decision is made on 31 January.

For Graham Henry, the new Wales coach, the British League cannot come quickly enough. "The professional structure in the southern hemisphere is set in concrete - there are five Super 12 sides from New Zealand, three from Australia and four from South Africa, and that doesn't change," said Henry. "If we want to be a rugby nation of quality, then hard decisions have to be made. It is reality, we have just got to bite the bullet. If we don't then we will be also-rans for the rest of our lives."