Rugby Union: Windfall for top Welsh clubs

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The Independent Online
Next year's Welsh champions will rake in well in excess of pounds 500,000 in prize-money under new financial arrangements announced in Cardiff yesterday. Broadcasting and sponsorship revenue will allow the Welsh Rugby Union to put a pounds 3.5m pot on the premiership table, enough to ensure all eight participating clubs at least pounds 367,000, just for turning up.

As a result, the big guns of the Principality can look forward to competing on a level playing field with the Leicesters, Baths, Wasps and Harlequins of this world. Although previously impoverished sides like Neath will look on this latest cash injection with an ironic eye - had the reigning champions picked up half a million for winning last season's title, they would almost certainly have kept Leigh Davies and the Llewellyn brothers at The Gnoll - they are now secure in the knowledge that the wolf has moved further away from the door than at any point since the onset of professionalism.

There is, however, no such thing as a free lunch - or, in rugby's case, a free pint. Fearful that clubs might spend most, if not all, of the cash on six-figure salaries, the WRU is laying down a number of conditions designed to ensure at least some investment in player development and will reserve the right to examine the books of all participants.

Such strings have caused problems in the past; Llanelli, up to their eyeballs in debt, recently passed up the opportunity of a pounds 200,000 loan from the WRU because they objected to restrictive clauses in the agreement. But the signs are that full agreement between the clubs and the governing body will be reached before the end of the current campaign.

Happy news at Bath, too, where Gareth Adams, the England A hooker forced to retire from all contact sport at 26 because of neck problems, has been appointed director of youth development. Adams will be expected to strengthen ties with the club's high-profile rugby academies at Colston's School in Bristol and Bath University.

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