Rugby Union: WRU turn to talking sweet

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SEVEN MONTHS after the event the bright sparks at the Welsh Rugby Union have finally decided to negotiate their way out of the ungodly mess involving the two strongest clubs in the country, Cardiff and Swansea, writes Chris Hewett.

Far from attempting to beat their high-profile rebels into submission with a big stick, the WRU are now keen to sweet-talk them back into the fold and thereby solve the most damaging domestic dispute in the history of the red-shirted game.

A four-man WRU team including the president Sir Tasker Watkins, the chairman Glanmor Griffiths, the secretary Dennis Gethin and, most significantly, the national team manager David Pickering, will meet representatives of both clubs next week amid high hopes that a lasting agreement can be reached.

Neither Cardiff nor Swansea have played Welsh Premiership rugby this season - they exiled themselves after refusing to sign 10-year loyalty agreements - but they have reached the quarter-finals of the cup, in which they meet Pontypool and Ebbw Vale respectively.

While the WRU agreed to suspend both clubs for failing to pay pounds 150,000 fines arising from their unsanctioned matches with English opposition, it was a purely cosmetic measure. "The intention is to solve the current situation," Griffiths said yesterday. He declined to divulge details of any proposals, but it seems certain that the WRU will tempt the refuseniks with so-called "super club" status, which would virtually guarantee them top level European Cup rugby next season as well as a handsome financial incentive from the union.

Pontypridd and Llanelli have been confirmed as "super clubs" and the national coach, Graham Henry, is keen to get the two big guns back on board in a similar capacity.

The Welsh decision to embrace the "super club" concept has caused something of a furore in Scotland. The Scottish Rugby Union wants its own super twosome, Glasgow Caledonians and Edinburgh Reivers, to forge close playing links with their brethren from the Principality next season, much to the disgust of the clubs in the Scottish Premier League. "We are totally opposed to this," said Brian Simmers, the Glasgow Hawks chairman, yesterday. "The SRU focus should be on rugby in Scotland, not Wales."