Merger talk raises stakes for Bath visit to Bristol

Bristol believe they will attract a record-threatening crowd of 19,000-plus for their Premiership scrap with Bath at Ashton Gate next month – if there is a bigger draw than a derby fixture involving two sides who happen to be playing really well, it is one featuring two sides playing really badly – and if expectations are met, the future of professional rugby in what is meant to be a rugby city may yet be secured.

Malcolm Pearce, the Bath-based businessman who has lavished £9m on the Bristol cause since buying the club out of administration almost five years ago, could retrieve around 50 per cent of his expenditure from the plughole by flogging the entire concern to Firoz Kassam, the owner of Oxford United football club. There is a deal on the table and some of Pearce's closest advisers believe he should grab it with both hands and to hell with the Bristol sporting public, who have given him precious little support at the turnstiles.

But Pearce cares about his rugby and the offer of a permanent move to Ashton Gate, the home of Bristol City football club, with a 15 per cent holding in the stadium company attached, is making him think. The football club is known to be enthusiastic about a multi-code venture along the lines of those operating in Watford, Reading and Leeds, and increasing numbers of influential figures in Bristol believe a merger to be the most sensible way forward.

Many Bristol employees believe the move to Oxford to be a done deal – Pearce vehemently denies this – while others believe a more radical move is being planned: a merger between Bristol and Bath, with the new team playing at Ashton Gate.

This would solve the chronic accommodation problems affecting both teams – Bristol now rent their traditional home, the Memorial Ground, from Bristol Rovers, with whom they have a fractious relationship; Bath play at the council-owned Recreation Ground and have suffered repeated setbacks on the stadium development front. In addition, it would save the Premiership the torment of relegating one of its own.

Any merger would be bitterly opposed by the Bath trustees, who own 25 per cent of the club, and the vast majority of the 8,000 supporters who attend every home match. Yet if Bath finish bottom – along with Bristol, Newcastle, London Irish and Saracens, they are up to their chests in the relegation quicksand – a local link-up might be considered logical. Whatever happens, nothing will be decided until after 10 May, the final round of Premiership matches.

Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union will be astonished by their Australian counterparts' success in persuading the International Rugby Board to lift the £17m cap on host nation profits from this year's World Cup. The Wallabies will now pocket the first £11m plus 30 per cent of the remaining surplus. Last week, the RFU's bid for the 2007 event collapsed when the IRB imposed a drastic cut on host profits, thereby ensuring that England could not deliver on financial pledges to other unions.

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
people'Bring It On' actress says her legal team will combat the 'vultures'
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam