Rugby Union: Welsh rebels will refuse to pay pounds 150,000 in fines

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WELSH RUGBY was last night thrown into chaos once more by the decision of its governing body to fine the rebel clubs, Cardiff and Swansea, pounds 150,000 each for leaving their domestic premier division and playing friendlies against the top English sides.

The two clubs, who turned their back on Wales in the summer after refusing to sign a 10-year loyalty agreement, immediately responded by saying they would refuse to pay.

The clubs have been playing unofficial games against the Allied Dunbar Premiership clubs with unofficial referees, and negotiated their own television deal, which goes against the International Board rules and regulations.

The Welsh Rugby Union's action came on the eve of today's IB meeting, when they were expected to be carpeted and asked what action they were going to take to bring the clubs into line. After a month during which certain progress towards a British League has been made, the rebel clubs reacted angrily and claimed that the WRU's decision could ultimately damage the immediate future of the game.

The Cardiff chief executive, Gareth Davies, said: "We are not going to pay this fine. I don't think they were really interested in listening to our case. They had a number of set questions and that was that.

"I am absolutely appalled at their actions and I believe the consequences are far reaching. We were trying to build bridges, not knock them down. It is just a despicable day for Welsh rugby."

Geoff Atherton, the chairman of Swansea, who until recently were suffering financial hardships, was equally defiant. "We won't pay," he said. "We are extremely disappointed because in this situation there is only one winner - the lawyers."

But Glanmor Griffiths, the chairman of the WRU, said: "While we have imposed the fines which are payable by February 28, 1999, we have done so knowing that in the intervening two and a half months there is likely to be important developments and amongst those developments we are hopeful of making meaningful progress. We are optimistic that positive discussions will continue in the meantime to resolve our differences."

The WRU will today explain the penalty to the International Board, but how its action will affect the proposals for a British League remains to be seen.

Both clubs were fined pounds 60,000 on two counts. Firstly for leaving the Premier Division to play unofficial games, and secondly for negotiating a broadcast deal without Union consent. They were also fined pounds 30,000 each for using unofficial referees.

The clubs have until 28 February to pay the fines, although the goalposts could be moved by then if a proposed British League is launched before that date.

Cardiff were represented at the hearing by their millionaire backer, Peter Thomas, and Davies, while the Swansea team comprised of Atherton and their former Welsh internationals, David Richards and Alun Meredith.