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Derrick King
"It's good all round"
 real 14k

Irish Times rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley on the formation of the Celtic League
 real 14k

Saturday, 7 April, 2001, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Celtic League agreement reached
Scotland will have two districts in the league
Scotland will have two districts in the league
The introduction of a Celtic League has moved a step closer after the Welsh Rugby Union gave its backing to the proposal.

A compromise on Monday allowing the inclusion of a ninth Welsh club clinched the agreement.

Original plans were for a 14-team league in two pools of seven, consisting of eight Welsh teams, four Irish districts and two Scottish districts.

But on Monday evening, the Welsh, Scottish and Irish unions issued a joint statement announcing the introduction of a 15-team league, starting in August and featuring nine Welsh teams.

The three Unions believe that the Celtic League will have long lasting benefits for rugby in Ireland, Scotland and Wales
Joint statement
The WRU's support for the league, which will run for an initial period of three years, paves the way for commercial deals to be finalised and a TV deal announcement is expected soon, along with a major sponsor.

The nine Welsh clubs are likely to be Swansea, Newport, Cardiff, Llanelli, Bridgend, Neath, Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Ebbw Vale.

Cross Keys are currently six points adrift of Ebbw Vale in the Welsh/Scottish League Premier Division with seven games remaining and are likely to miss out on the new league and be relegated to the First Division.

The Welsh contingent, and current Welsh/Scottish League members Glasgow Caledonians and Edinburgh Reivers, will be joined by Irish provinces Munster, Ulster, Leinster and Connacht.

The formation of the Celtic League means the Irish Interprovincial Championship will now feature only one round of games as opposed to home and away contests.

Extra revenue

Chairman of the Welsh Premier Division clubs Derrick King was delighted at the news.

"It was very important for us to have nine clubs and the whole thing can only be good for Welsh rugby.

"It will get the clubs in good form for the European campaign, because the new league will start early in the season," he said.

King, who is also chairman of Bridgend welcomed the extra games and extra revenue the new league would bring, with sides in Wales now guaranteed a minimum of 33 games per season.

And he dismissed fears that the top players would face too many matches.

"They are all full-time professionals now, train daily and will have to cope with it and get on with it," King said.

Note of caution

The joint statement read: "The Irish, Scottish and Welsh Rugby Unions are delighted to confirm that the Celtic League has now been given the go ahead by each Union.

"The three unions believe that the Celtic League will have long lasting benefits for rugby in Ireland, Scotland and Wales as it will provide a high intensity stepping-stone between domestic competition, the European Cup and international rugby."

There was a note of caution, though, from IRFU spokesman John Redmond.

"From the Irish perspective, the format is welcome and it will provide the Irish provinces with more high profile competition," he said.

"But we still have a final lap to go. The league won't become a reality until the commercial aspects (TV and sponsorship deals) are in place and each union signs up to them."

WRU spokesman Chris Tau said he believed this was a step in the right direction.

"It could be the forerunner for a British League. This is not set in stone - there is scope for change and development," he added.

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