RFU labels claims of Premiership franchises as 'rubbish'

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The Independent Online

The RFU has denied that it plans to introduce 10 franchises in England in 2009 to replace the 12 Guinness Premiership clubs.

Reports at the weekend suggested the RFU was ready to announce this week that franchises would be established in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Coventry, Worcester, Bedford, Saracens, Richmond, Bristol and Plymouth by the start of the 2009-10 season.

But Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the union's management board, was quoted last night saying there "is very little truth" in weekend reports of the plan.

"Suggestions we intend to set up a franchise system are rubbish," he said.

The suggestion to reduce the Premiership by two clubs has been discussed previously as a way to reduce fixture congestion.

Meanwhile, in the Heineken Cup yesterday, Munster, the cup holders, clawed their way to a 30-27 win over Bourgoin in Geneva to regain top spot in Pool Four. The Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara landed six out of seven kicks at goal in a match that saw Bourgoin pick up their first points of the tournament by scoring four tries and losing by less than seven points.

Leicester must now beat Munster in Limerick on Saturday to win the group, though were they to draw and gain a try-scoring bonus point they would finish as one of the best runners-up and gain a place in the last eight by a different route. The Tigers' task is daunting either way - Munster have never lost a European match at Thomond Park.

Bourgoin made Munster fight for victory and after an hour the sides were level at 20-20. The Tongan centre Lifeimi Mafi scoredhis first European try and Munster's third of the match in the 66th minute. O'Gara converted and his third penalty edged them further away, but Matthieu Nicolas scored a 75th-minute try, his second of the game, to ensure a nervous finale.

On Saturday, Castres picked up maximum points in a 40-21 win at Treviso to set up a winner-takes-all match at home to Wasps in Pool One. The English side head the table by four points but need a point on Saturday to guarantee a quarter-final place. Leinster, the leaders of Pool Two, blasted past Edinburgh 49-10 to put themselves into an uncatchable position.