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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Warriors' buy-out 'mortal blow'
Warriors' scrum-half Gareth Cooper

Welsh rugby is reeling from a devastating blow following news that one of Wales' five regional sides faces closure.

Celtic Warriors - created just last year by merging players from Bridgend and Pontypridd - had been fully bought out by the Welsh Rugby Union.

The team is now likely to be disbanded, with the players being shared between the other regional sides.

Fans have already begun an online petition to save the side, and there is a strong belief in the region that it should be represented in the top flight of professional rugby.

Kim Howells, MP for Pontypridd, and the former UK minister for sport, said people in both communities were shocked.

If we are not very, very careful, it will be a mortal blow to Welsh rugby, too
Pontypridd MP Kim Howells
"People feel very, very disappointed that these thousands of rugby fans who have been such great followers of Pontypridd and Bridgend, and of Wales, for generations are not going to be able to go to local rugby grounds and see games any more," he said.

"It is two more great brands - world-famous rugby clubs - that have been thrown away, along with names like Swansea, Neath, and Newport, and replaced with a dwindling number of titles that people can't identify with.

"If we are not very, very careful, it will be a mortal blow to Welsh rugby, too.

"There has to be a sense of identity in the grass roots for the teams that provide the ways through to the national side for Wales."

When financial problems forced Pontypridd into administration, the WRU was given a 50% share of the region.

But on Monday it emerged that the WRU had agreed to buy the remaining shares from owner Leighton Samuel.

MP Kim Howells
Disappointing day: Pontypridd MP Kim Howells
The WRU has never hidden its preference for having just four regional sides.

Mr Howells said he hoped something positive might come out of the situation.

"Hopefully it will be an incentive to the junior sides to re-invent themselves, if you like - to bring that sense of identity back to valleys rugby and rugby right across Wales."

Gianni Orsi, chair of Pontypridd Chamber of Trade spoke of the "great shame and a big disappointment" when Pontypridd ceased to have a first class side in the town.

'Totally supportive'

He said: "Once they moved from Sardis Road, it felt like there was no longer a Pontypridd team and so in effect we have been without a first class team for a year now.

"In terms of business, when we had a full house at Sardis Road when they were playing Llanelli or whoever, it was a great day for trade and the town was buzzing because there were such a lot of people here.

"But we haven't had that for a year. We still miss it though and the buzz has gone."

He added that he expected the Warriors disbanding would have a bigger impact on Bridgend.

"I mean can you imagine Manchester without Manchester United or Liverpool without its team?"

The Warriors' head coach, Lyn Howells, said he, too, felt sorry for the fans who had stayed loyal despite not wanting their sides to merge.

"It's a very sad day for all concerned," he said.

"The fans have been totally supportive, both at club level, when it was Pontypridd and Bridgend, and at Wales level."

The WRU is to decide on the Warriors' future within the next 10 days.

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18 May 04  |  Welsh

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