Green light for Andrew's blueprint

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The Independent Online

England's Premiership clubs have unanimously agreed to adopt Rob Andrew's proposals for overhauling the structure of the domestic game - which means that alternative plans for a British League will not be realised.

While English First Division Rugby yesterday released a statement which said that talks would continue until 30 June, there is little doubt that plans for a British League have been jettisoned.

Instead, talks will immediately be held with the Scottish and Welsh Rugby Unions and, with their acceptance, a British Cup will be launched in theautumn.

The Gloucester owner Tom Walkinshaw, who had proposed the rival British League plan, put on a brave face yesterday. "I am pleased with the unanimity achieved within EFDR and look forward to developing a successful partnership with the RFU [Rugby Football Union] in the long term," he said yesterday.

On a long-term basis, Andrew has proposed that 12 franchises should be set up from the 2001-02 season. Clubs in the Premiership next season will be given the first chance to apply for a franchise, although they will have to meet minimum standards for their ground and potential development. Capacity will have to be at least 10,000,

This could cause a problem for the ambitious Rotherham club, who will play Bedford in a promotion play-off later this month.

Andrew also proposed there should be an end-of-season play-off between the top eight clubs and that a pre-season challenge match should be held between the Premiership champions and a nominated team from the Celtic countries.

While those issues should be resolved quite painlessly, the arguments over the franchises could be voiciferous.

Under Andrew's proposals, each franchised club should have a ground with a minimum capacity of 10,000, of which only Leicester, Saracens, Wasps and Gloucester currently meet. Of that 10,000, 4,000 must be seated and 7,000 must be under cover.

And, as the plan would be for three franchises to be offered in four geographical areas, London, the South West, the Midlands and the North, Harlequins and London Irish may be the first clubs to come under pressure to merge.