BY STEVE BALE
With the battle lines being drawn for the International Rugby Board's decision on the host for the 1999 World Cup, Wales yesterday launched a pre-emptive strike in support of its faltering bid. The wrangling home unions have a crisis meeting at Heathrow today to try to resolve the issue.
The Welsh problem is that in order to stage a tournament leading to a final at Cardiff Arms Park - if that is still the home of Welsh rugby by then - it needs not only the facilities available in England but also those in Scotland and Ireland.
However, the Scots and Irish are so incensed at the games allocated to them in a mainly Anglo-Welsh package that they are threatening not to support Wales, thereby condemning the '99 World Cup to an unholy alliance of Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
"In the end they have a simple choice: are they going to blow millions of pounds each and the chance to play all their pool matches on their own turf, plus their quarter-final, in exchange for playing in a group on the other side of the world?" Vernon Pugh, the Welsh Rugby Union chairman, said yesterday.
Under the present proposal, Wales would host the final, third-place play- off, one quarter-final and one-and-a-half pools, England both semi-finals, a quarter-final and one-and-a-half pools. Scotland and Ireland would each have a quarter-final and all their own home matches but want the third- place match and a semi-final as well.
Pugh is also the chairman of the IRB, whose annual meeting takes place in Bristol next week with the announcement on the 1999 tournament to be made on 14 March. "The Scots and Irish are not pleased that Wales and England have the bulk of the games, but when we approached them a couple of months ago with a far better package, we were rebuffed," he said.
"We are seeking to show IRB delegates that it makes far more financial sense to go for Wales. But individual unions are acting in their own interests rather than the game in general. Our chances of winning the vote are not as good as they were a couple of weeks ago."
Finance to redevelop the Arms Park, or the unlikely alternative of a move to a new site near Bridgend, is heavily dependent on success in this campaign. The Bridgend option is widely seen to have been floated to extract a reduction in the union's rates bill in Cardiff and the WRU will make a choice between the two at the end of this month.
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