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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 18:14 GMT
Baron anger at 'ludicrous' report
English rugby
Reports that a franchise system is to replace the Guinness Premiership have been described as "ludicrous" by the Rugby Football Union's chief executive.

The Sunday Times newspaper claimed the RFU was planning to establish 10 "super clubs" to compete from 2009.

But Francis Baron told Five Live Sport: "Nobody in the RFU would put their name to such a ludicrous proposal.

"It was clearly someone wanting to make mischief - that's the only rationale I can see."

The report suggested the RFU wanted to create franchises in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Coventry, Worcester, Bedford, Saracens, Richmond, Bristol and Plymouth.

Northampton, Bath, Leicester, Harlequins and Gloucester - traditional superpowers of English rugby - were excluded.

There is not a Premiership club which would participate in anything so far removed from what anyone has ever contemplated

Mark McCafferty
Premier Rugby chief

Baron said: "I was flabbergasted [when he read the story]. It was a combination of anger, frustration and disappointment, because the article was nonsense.

"For anyone to consider scrapping Northampton and giving a franchise to Bedford, scrapping Leicester and giving a franchise to Coventry, awarding a franchise to Richmond, who don't have any facilities, when we have Harlequins just down the road, it just made no sense."

The RFU has already employed a firm of strategic consultants to advise on its "The Way Forward" project.

The project is designed to provide a solution to the ongoing dispute between the RFU and clubs over player availability and access.

The reports were so far-fetched to be in the realms of fantasy

RFU chairman Martyn Thomas

RFU chairman Martyn Thomas also dismissed claims that the story might have been placed or leaked by the RFU to push other parties towards a middle ground solution.

The reported proposals, Thomas said, were "so far off-beam to have caused a great deal of distress to clubs and the Union".

"The reports were so far-fetched to be in the realms of fantasy," he said.

"I wrote to the chairmen of all Guinness Premiership clubs last week setting out the proposed extensive game-wide consultation process that the RFU is going to put in place.

"This process will start on 9 February and last for four months.

"A consultation document is currently being produced. No proposals will be made until the consultation process has been completed."

Premier Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said the "proposals" outlined in The Sunday Times would have far-reaching consequences for the sport in England.

"If they really want to go down this route, they will cause a massive split," said McCafferty.

"There is not a Premiership club which would participate in anything so far removed from what anyone has ever contemplated.

"If the RFU are trying to knock over the major clubs, the split will be total. There would be potential for us and the French clubs to go our own way."

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