Welsh delay transfer ruling

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The Independent Online
THE on-off transfer saga of the Wales lock Gareth Llewellyn between Neath and Harlequins is unlikely to be resolved until the Welsh Rugby Union's general committee meeting on 4 April.

It had been anticipated tomorrow's special meeting of the committee would discuss the proposed big-money move of Llewellyn to London, which was thrown into doubt after being blocked by the WRU's regulatory and trusts committee. But the WRU chairman, Vernon Pugh, insisted the matter would not be discussed. He said the special meeting had been called to deal exclusively with matters relating to the development of the National Stadium in Cardiff.

It is more than a week since the WRU, intent on blocking Llewellyn's transfer to preserve the strength of domestic Welsh rugby, claimed the former Wales captain had not adhered to the International Rugby Board's controversial residential rule.

This discretionary rule states that a player moving to a club in the country of a different union must have been a resident there for 180 days before he can play. "He has abided by the rule" was Quins' immediate response. "Not to our knowledge he hasn't," the WRU retorted.

"It is my understanding that the transfer application lodged by Gareth with the WRU did not indicate he would have been in compliance with the 180-day regulation," Pugh said. "He has been a Richmond council taxpayer since 1 March," a Quins' spokesman volleyed back.

The WRU are sticking to their guns, but with a proviso. Selwyn Waters, the chairman of the regulatory and trusts committee, has written to the International Rugby Board asking whether the "180-day rule" is sustainable in a court of law.

Llewellyn, 27, has reputedly been offered a four-year deal by Harlequins worth a minimum pounds 250,000, as well as a City job and accommodation for himself and his wife Mara. "My contract starts on 1 July and my house is already on the market," Llewellyn confirmed.

If he is impatient to get the matter resolved then so too are Harlequins, who may resort to legal action. "We have been discussing matters with our lawyers and anticipate in the next few days deciding on an appropriate course of action," the Quins' chairman Roger Looker said. He concedes the WRU may not have received "chapter and verse" from the Neath captain, who has won 44 caps for his country. But he said he had "no doubt whatsoever" that the player would soon move to the Stoop.

Pugh insisted that any legal steps taken by Quins will have no influence on the speed with which the WRU process the case, nor on the decision reached. The broad topic of player eligibility at this early stage of open rugby, he maintained, needed careful thought. "I'm afraid this was a row waiting to happen," Pugh said. "Rugby is like a teenager growing up too quickly. It wants everything immediately. We have got to reinvent the wheel before we spin it at 1,000 miles per hour."

The prospect of a breakaway by the Welsh First Division clubs was averted yesterday when Pugh met their representative Alan Meredith in Cardiff. A joint working party will meet again this week.