Celtic League drops Welsh clubs after cup controversy

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The Independent Online

Wales' four regional franchises were yesterday kicked out of the Celtic League when it was announced that they would be taking part in the inaugural Anglo-Welsh Cup next season.

Wales' four regional franchises were yesterday kicked out of the Celtic League when it was announced that they would be taking part in the inaugural Anglo-Welsh Cup next season.

The four teams, Cardiff Blues, Llanelli Scarlets, the Ospreys and Newport-Gwent Dragons announced that they would be taking part and as a result of their decision the Scottish and Irish Rugby Unions cancelled the Celtic League for next season.

Stuart Gallacher, the chief executive of Llanelli Scarlets, said: "Their [the Irish and Scots] decision could spell the death knell for professional rugby in the three Celtic countries."

The Anglo-Welsh Cup, to be sponsored by Powergen, is to be run on a round-robin basis, with four groups of four playing each other home and away. This would mean the Welsh sides, as they see it, playing a minimum of six matches on a home and away basis, although the way the English fixture list stands there would only be room for one-off games within each group.

But what is not in doubt is the booty from the tournament, with each team being guaranteed a minimum of £200,000 from the £7m pot courtesy of television and the sponsors.

The RFU management board meets tonight and there is every chance that there will be confirmation of the Welsh regions' participation and clarification over the number of matches at the round-robin stage.

The Welsh decision has left the Scots and the Irish fuming. An Irish Rugby Football Union spokesman said: "The Scottish and Irish rugby unions are disappointed that the Welsh Rugby Union did not consult its partners in the Celtic League prior to making commitments to the Anglo-Welsh Cup, given the serious negative consequences it has on the Celtic League.

"It is hoped that discussions may continue between the Irish, Scottish and Welsh rugby unions along with the Italians to structure a new competition in season 2006-07 which would incorporate four Irish teams, three Scottish teams, four Italian teams and four Welsh teams."

In the meantime, the Irish and the Scots will compete in a cross-border competition starting in September. It is proposed that this will be a 12-game, home and away league competition with qualification for Europe and a cup competition. There is still a chance of the Welsh being reinstated, provided the division of TV money can be resolved.

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