Leeds to 'set record straight' over funding controversy

It has been an unhappy week for Leeds. On top of having Colm Rigney banned for nine weeks for stamping, the Tykes are now spoiling for a fight with their immediate bosses.

This latest upset for the Headingley-based club, who visit London Irish tomorrow, involves Premier Rugby Ltd, the body which runs the top dozen clubs. Gary Hetherington, the Tykes chief executive, intends to "set the record straight" during a press conference on Monday following the release of a statement by PRL which claimed that Leeds, along with Rotherham, had been awarded extra funding for the next two seasons.

"The Premier Rugby Limited statement is totally misleading and divisive," an angry Hetherington said yesterday. "We have not sought financial assistance. We have asked to be treated in the same way as the other Premiership clubs.

"We were deeply unhappy with the events which took place leading up to our entry into the Zurich Premiership in May 2001. We maintain we were misled by arrangements that were done behind closed doors upon our promotion and in which we were prohibited from taking part. The arrangements announced by Premier Rugby Limited in their statement are nothing more than a proposal put forward to, and rejected by, us last month.

"In the full knowledge of our rejection, Premier Rugby Limited repeated the proposal in a letter dated 30 September 2003 and gave us seven days in which to accept it. We have not accepted it. If we accept the proposal, it worsens our position by £400,000 this season."

Meanwhile, PRL blithely issued another statement yesterday which said: "Premier Rugby Limited is pleased to confirm that Rotherham have accepted the financial proposal offered by the Premier Rugby Board. Premier Rugby can confirm that Leeds are still considering the proposal, and that they have been seeking to vary the current Shareholders Agreement for this season onwards."

The quantity of cash distributed to each team is determined by the length of time they have spent in the Premiership - the Shareholders' Agreement - so established sides like Leicester and Bath will receive more funding than Leeds, who are enjoying only their third season in the élite.

But with only one win in three starts thus far, their time at the top may be short-lived, which is why a gritty performance is needed in Reading tomorrow. But Leeds are not the only club with other things on their minds.

While Saracens are still mulling over what to do about the docking of two points for playing an unregistered player - the hooker James Parkes - they have also decided to appeal against a yellow card shown to the lock Kris Chesney for tackling a player without the ball in the match at Gloucester last weekend. The appeal has been set for Monday at Twickenham.

The points deduction shoved Saracens back to 11th place in the Premiership, just what they needed in the run-up to their toughest match to date - against the leaders Harlequins at Vicarage Road tomorrow.

At least their French international Thomas Castaignède has passed a fitness test and will be at full-back, and the talented centre Ben Johnston has recovered from a viral infection and returns to partner Kevin Sorrell in midfield. The aforementioned Parkes makes his first start of the season.

Austin Healey also gets his first start of the season, for Leicester against Sale at Welford Road today. The visitors will give a Premiership debut to the former Wigan rugby league player Chris Mayor at inside centre.

The other match today, Rotherham and Northampton, sees the former forced into several changes because of injuries, but Saints have been lifted by the return of Andrew Blowers to the back row.

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