Welsh clubs finally agree peace deal

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The Independent Online
Commonsense has prevailed in Wales, as financial pressure has taken its toll and rugby in the Principality has had a much needed outbreak of peace between its senior clubs and the governing body, the Welsh Rugby Union.

The new mood should spread across the border into England today when the Rugby Football Union, similarly feeling the heavy breath of their bankers on their necks, resumes its long-winded talks with its own recalcitrant clubs.

Talk of breakaway moves are seemingly things of the past. In a meeting in Cardiff yesterday it was agreed to set up a joint management committee to run the professional game in Wales.

The First Division clubs will provide four members to sit alongside four members chosen by the WRU general committee. Significantly, the Union will provide the chairman of the newly formed committee.

The clubs have agreed to comply with the constitution, bye-laws and regulations of the WRU and the International Rugby Board. In return, the WRU will provide funding to the clubs from this season.

Given the parlous state of the finances of many of the leading Welsh clubs - players at Neath, the league champions had been told their contracts could not currently be fulfilled - settlement had to be reached sooner rather than later.

"I firmly believe that the meeting and the concensus it has achieved is the best thing that has happened to Welsh rugby since the 1999 World Cup was awarded to Wales," Vernon Pugh, the chairman of the WRU, said.

First Division Rugby Ltd's chairman, Peter Thomas, said: "This agreement is an expression of the new realism prevailing in Welsh rugby and provides a firm foundation for our joint desire to succeed. We are pleased that all our differences have now been settled and that we can concentrate on working together to secure prosperity for Welsh rugby."

The pressure on the RFU to settle their dispute the English First and Second Division clubs is intensifying. Rebuilding work at Twickenham has put the RFU in debt to the tune of pounds 34m and their treasurer, Colin Herridge, admitted yesterday that the lenders would be taking a close interest in the progress of the latest round of negotiations. In addition, a hefty corporation tax bill is also about to land on the governing body's doormat and with Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB in impatient mood - they have offered pounds 227m for the right to broadcast European rugby and are pushing for an answer.

"It would be wrong to say that our bankers are telling us how to handle these talks, but they are taking a keen interest in what is happening and, like the RFU itself, recognise that it would be far more beneficial to all concerned to work together with the clubs rather than face a breakaway situation," said Herridge, who is on the RFU's four-man negotiating team. "I am upbeat about the prospects for today's meeting."

Epruc remains suspicious of their opponents despite the fact that some pounds 1.4m in new money is thought to be on the table. It has accused the RFU of throwing away about pounds 4m in corporation tax by failing to use profits to finance the game at grass roots level, although Herridge denied that allegation.