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Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 17:26 GMT
WRU drops provincial bombshell
Wales coach Steve Hansen could get caught between a club versus union row
The plans could cause problems for Steve Hansen
New Welsh Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett has unveiled plans for the future of club rugby that could spark a bitter civil war.

At a meeting with the Premier clubs on Thursday, Moffett proposed the creation of four new provincial sides under the control of the WRU.

"What we're going to find out is how much people are really looking for change," Moffett said.

"Whether it's a real desire or whether people just want to paper over the cracks, look for soft options and easy ways out.

"I don't think that's an option for the future of Welsh rugby."

The clubs had expected the creation of four or five 'super-clubs' largely running themselves, that would compete in European and Celtic League competition.

You've got to go forward in competition with other nations

WRU chief executive David Moffett

Bridgend and Neath were so sure that the domestic game in Wales would follow that path, that they tried to get a head-start by agreeing to merge for European competition.

None of the Premier clubs is likely to stand for Moffett's blueprint and, as a last resort, they could refuse the use of their players for international games.

That could have huge ramifications for Wales coach Steve Hansen's preparations for next year's Six Nations and the World Cup.

"Ultimately we would like to take everybody with us and that's what we'll be attempting to do, but there's some water to go under the bridge yet," Moffett added.

Moffett's plans would see four new provinces created along these lines:

  • Llanelli, Swansea and Neath would feed into a team playing at Stradey Park.

  • Cardiff, Bridgend and Pontypridd would support an Arms Park-based side.

  • Newport, Caerphilly and Ebbw Vale would combine into a team playing at Rodney Parade.

  • There would also be a north Wales province, probably based at Wrexham FC's Racecourse Ground, using players from clubs in south Wales.

    Moffett believes that there is a "huge opportunity" to establish top level rugby in the football heartlands of north Wales.

    But such a move means that the nine existing Premier clubs would have to squeeze into three provincial sides.

    Llanelli president Ray Gravell has already labelled a merger between the Scarlets and bitter rivals Swansea as "unthinkable".

    It remains to be seen what the reaction will be to Neath being thrown into the mix as well.

    Moffett promised that the traditions of individual clubs would be preserved, but warned that inter-club rivalries and tribalism would not interfere with future plans.

    "Tradition hasn't been able to take us as far as we would like, but we're not going to ignore it," Moffett said.

    "But you've got to go forward in competition with other nations, and unfortunately that hasn't happened in Wales."

    Details of Moffett's plan were presented to the WRU's general committee on Thursday night.

    The committee will now wait for responses from the top clubs before deciding whether the plan should go before the 239 member clubs as official policy.

    However, the plan could turn out to be a piece of bargaining brinkmanship by the WRU, aiming to force the warring clubs to compromise.

    WRU chief David Moffett
    "We're in ongoing discussions"

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