Welsh decide six is enough at the top

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The Independent Online

A week of protracted negotiations at the highest level of Welsh rugby concluded last night with Glanmor Griffiths, the chairman of the WRU, attempting to bring the public up to date. Griffiths announced in a statement: "Following a series of meetings over the past week between the Welsh Rugby Union, representatives of the six clubs comprising Rugby Partnership Wales, delegates from Caerphilly, Ebbw Vale and Neath and members of the Wales National Squad, I felt it was time to give an overview of what has been achieved and what still needs to be done.

"The first significant point is that on Thursday the WRU general committee, working on advice from the Union's Director of Rugby, Terry Cobner, and his department, agreed to reduce the Premier Division to six professional clubs as soon as legally practicable."

Griffiths went on to explain that the reasons for this decision centre on the development of Welsh rugby at an élite level. Griffiths also went on to given assurances that Wales will be represented in the Six Nations match with England on Saturday, stating that the so-called "Gang of Six" clubs and the players cannot hold the Union's general committee to ransom. However, Scott Quinnell should not be counted on to lead Wales at Twickenham next weekend just yet.

The discussions have centred on the question of who governs the professional and international game in Wales in the future. The clubs, in conjunction with the players, are seeking to get their hands on sponsorship, marketing and broadcast rights as well as having a hand in not only the professional club game, but also the international sector.

While the WRU have reached the decision to reduce the number of clubs in the Premier Division they cannot legally reduce it for some time. Under a previous loyalty agreement signed by a number of clubs the WRU are bound to have eight clubs in their top flight until 2007.

That is where it all becomes messy. The Union have told the clubs there have to be nine teams in the Premier Division next season and that those teams will have to share a maximum of £9.36m. There look like being more tears and a few more casualties before this long-running saga can be put to bed.

Off-field spats are not restricted to Wales, however, and the squabble between New Zealand and the International Rugby Board over the hosting of the 2003 World Cup could yet lead to blood-letting within the NZRFU, even though there were vehement denials that the jobs of the union's chief executive and chairman were on the line.

A report in the New Zealand Herald newspaper quoted IRB sources as saying the NZRFU chief executive, David Rutherford, and its chairman, Murray McCaw, would have to resign before New Zealand would be able to reclaim their status as co-hosts of rugby's showpiece event alongside Australia.

The story also suggested there was dissatisfaction within the NZRFU with the way Rutherford and McCaw had "lashed out publicly" at the IRB's chairman, Vernon Pugh. But after a meeting yesterday Rutherford dismissed the claims as "unsubstantiated".

The NZRFU have refused to accept last week's decision by the RWC, the IRB's World Cup arm, to withdraw the invitation to share the event with Australia. The RWC gave Australia 21 days to present a submission to be sole hosts of the tournament after the NZRFU failed to accept the conditions of the host agreement.

Italy are unlikely to make much of an impact on the World Cup, having not won in the Six Nations' Championship since their debut game. At least the Azzurri will have fly-half Diego Dominguez, back for the Six Nations game against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday. Denis Dallan and Paolo Vaccari also return but Carlo Checchinato and Juan Manuel Queirolo are injured.

England will play Fiji in the quarter-finals of the Beijing Sevens today. England beat Hong Kong 43-0, lost 10-7 to Canada and then beat a powerful Samoan side 7-5.

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