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Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 17:19 GMT
Llanelli remain last regional hurdle
Four regional entities looks like the way forward for Welsh rugby
Welsh rugby took a large step towards regional rugby on Thursday night, as the Welsh Rugby Union board gave its blessing to the latest version of a plan for four new teams.

Earlier in the day, six of the eight Welsh Premiership clubs agreed on a plan for four regional entities, with each club holding a 50% ownership, to be entered into European and Celtic competition.

Llanelli and Cardiff had been determined to remain as stand-alone entities, but Cardiff owner Peter Thomas is now thought to look favourably upon a partnership with Pontypridd.

Rugby in Wales is bigger than one club and bigger than one person

WRU chief executive David Moffett

That now leaves only Llanelli in outright opposition to David Moffett's new proposal, a fact not lost on the WRU group chief executive.

"Rugby in Wales is bigger than one club and bigger than one person," Moffett said, in a thinly-veiled reference to the Scarlets and their outspoken chief executive, Stuart Gallacher.

Llanelli believe they are big enough to stand alone in any restructuring, and this week said they did not want to merge with Swansea and inherit 50% of the All Whites' debts.

Moffett reminded the Scarlets that they still owe the WRU 2.3 million. Only around 350,000 of that is actual debt from ground rent, though, with the rest made up of WRU shares in the club and the money it would cost Llanelli to buy back Stradey Park from the Union.

The latest incarnation replaces Moffett's unpopular franchise proposal, that could have left the likes of Swansea and Pontypridd out in the cold and resorting to legal action.

The proposed four teams would see Swansea combine with Llanelli, Neath with Bridgend, Pontypridd with Cardiff, plus Newport with Ebbw Vale.

Caerphilly will meet with Moffett next week to discuss the Cheesmen's future role in the plans.

"This proposal was tonight unanimously adopted by the board of the WRU," Moffett added.

"Six clubs agree to this. Peter Thomas from Cardiff has accepted that on the basis of financial and player availability.

"Four regions is the way to go, and he is prepared to enter negotiations with Pontypridd.

"That leaves one club that we haven't heard from."

The Main Points:
Four regional teams for European and Celtic competition:
Llanelli-Swansea
Bridgend-Neath
Cardiff-Pontypridd
Ebbw Vale-Newport
Teams to be equal 50-50 partnerships, including use of stadia, unless otherwise agreed by both clubs
Players to be dual contracted between clubs and WRU
Draft system introduced to spread player resources
Expanded 16-team domestic Premiership

The playing staff in the four regional teams would be dual-contracted to a club and the WRU, but there would also be a draft system in place to help strengthen the regional sides.

For example, Cardiff and Pontypridd between them can boast Neil Jenkins, Ceri Sweeney, Iestyn Harris and Nicky Robinson at fly-half.

Four fly-halves are likely to be too many for the envisaged 30-man squads, so the surplus players would be available for selection by other regional teams.

Moffett's proposal will be put to Wales' 239 member clubs at the EGM on 23 February and requires a simple majority vote to pass.

The rejected franchise plans would have needed a 75% majority, as they would have required a change in the Union's constitution.

Moffett is confident the proposal will be well received, but the smaller clubs in Wales had a shareholding under his franchise proposal and may rebel at missing out on a say in the new system.

However, the Division One clubs will almost certainly add their support to the plans, as Moffett has proposed an expanded 16-team Premiership, although this would be semi-professional.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Moffett on the Llanelli question
"The issue of debt is interesting when it comes to Llanelli"
Moffett on regional plan
"We had a full and frank exchange of ideas"

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