Angry fans plan protests over state of Welsh game

Recent political carnage over the future of the Heineken Cup has brought the fraught union-region relationship to a head

The trouble and strife between the Welsh Rugby Union and its four deeply disaffected regional sides will be exacerbated over the Christmas period when members of the paying public stage a series of protests aimed at the governing body.

Supporters of Cardiff Blues, Newport-Gwent Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets will take action during the Pro 12 derby games between 20 December and 3 January to voice concern over the mass exodus of top international players and the continuing uncertainty over their teams' long-term viability in the land of the Six Nations champions.

"Our future is under threat as never before and it is time for all Welsh fans to stand up and be counted," a supporters' clubs statement said last night. "The WRU cannot be allowed to turn its back on the very organisations and individuals who have provided its success. In addition to the many tens of millions of pounds benefactors and commercial sponsors have committed to sustaining Welsh rugby over the last 10 years, every season-ticket holder and match attendee has committed thousands of pounds. Every one of us deserves a voice and we are working to launch a concerted campaign to show the WRU how we feel about its unacceptable narrow-mindedness."

Recent political carnage over the future of the Heineken Cup has brought the fraught union-region relationship to a head, with the four professional teams refusing to sign a new participation agreement with the governing body because of concerns over central funding and issues surrounding cross-border tournaments created by the English clubs' planned withdrawal from Europe at the end of the season.

The regions are considering an offer from across the Severn to form an Anglo-Welsh league – a move that would throw the northern hemisphere game into turmoil.

With the rival delegates failing to reach agreement on the substantive issues at a meeting in Swansea on Wednesday, both the union and the regions were awaiting the fallout on the player front, with two of the biggest names in world rugby – Wales captain Sam Warburton and goal-kicking full-back Leigh Halfpenny – due to decide shortly whether to stay in the domestic game with Cardiff Blues or accept one of the many big-money contracts on offer in France.

Meanwhile, London Irish confirmed their move into new ownership and announced the arrival of the World Cup-winning South African prop C J Van der Linde – the first of several major signings expected in the coming weeks. Mick Crossan, the new club president and the major figure in the consortium that completed its buyout today, described the club as a "sleeping giant in terms of unrealised potential".

There was bad news for the Ireland international team as prop Cian Healy was ruled out for eight weeks after ankle surgery. He will miss the start of the Six Nations.

* Sam Egerton became the first player to be sent off in the 141-year history of the Varsity match. The law student was dismissed for an off-the-ball incident but his Oxford team still beat Cambridge 33-15.

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