Walkinshaw puts credibility on line

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The Independent Online

The big-money financiers behind English Premiership rugby were due to gather in London today for a meeting that could provoke the most serious political crisis to hit the sport since the élite clubs voted to boycott the European Cup almost two years ago.

The big-money financiers behind English Premiership rugby were due to gather in London today for a meeting that could provoke the most serious political crisis to hit the sport since the élite clubs voted to boycott the European Cup almost two years ago.

Tom Walkinshaw, the Formula One racing entrepreneur who owns 70 per cent of Gloucester RFC, was expected to bring recent rumblings to a head by demanding support for the early introduction of a British league - a development that would throw as many as four current First Division clubs to the wolves while guaranteeing the remainder immunity from relegation for at least four years.

It would also precipitate a wide-ranging dispute involving the Rugby Football Union, the Six Nations' Committee and, most seriously, the International Rugby Board, all of whom would immediately stand against any attempt by Walkinshaw to drive through a British league agreement on his own terms. The RFU has already warned Walkinshaw that it will not support any deal negotiated outside official channels, but those clubs whose professional futures are threatened by a new cross-border competition - most notably Bedford and Newcastle - are lobbying for more decisive action from the union.

Walkinshaw has staked his chairmanship of English First Division Rugby, the leading Premiership clubs' umbrella organisation, on the British league and any failure to carry today's meeting would seriously weaken his position. It is worrying for him that the club owners are split down the middle. While hard-liners such as Walkinshaw as well as Northampton's Keith Barwell are keen to press ahead regardless of the consequences, most are reluctant to fly directly in the face of the RFU and run the risk of expulsion.

Edinburgh Reivers grabbed four Welsh-Scottish League points with a comfortable 24-6 victory over Caerphilly in the Scottish capital. Cammie Murray and Graham Dall scored the Reivers' tries with Gordon Ross kicking 14 points. Luke Richards scored Caerphilly's consolation try in front of a disappointing crowd of just 580.

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