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Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Premiership chief defends quality

Saracens fans at Wembley
The fans poured into Wembley Stadium to see Saracens take on Northampton

Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of the Premier Rugby Association, has spoken out to defend the quality of the rugby played in the Premiership.

He was speaking after Wales coach Warren Gatland said the English league was the weakest he had seen in Europe.

McCafferty told BBC Radio 5 live: "It was a pretty cheap shot, I thought."

And he suggested Gatland was secretly frustrated that he could not force English-based players out of club commitments for the New Zealand clash.

Wales face the All Blacks in a 74,000 sell-out showdown at the Millennium Stadium on 7 November, before the International Rugby Board's official Test window opens.

McCafferty said: "What's going on underneath is that Wales have organised an extra international themselves.


"They know full well they don't have the ability to call up players from outside of Wales on a compulsory basis so I think maybe there's a bit of feeling about that maybe."

Defending the Premiership, he added: "The fact is attendances are up 17% this year, and one particular match - Saracens against Northampton at Wembley Stadium, there were more supporters there than in the entire Celtic League."

Gatland blamed the "weakness" of the Guinness Premiership for his decision to leave Sale prop Eifion Lewis-Roberts out of the Wales squad.

Gatland stated: "The fact a player's starting in the Premiership is no guarantee that he should be selected for Wales."

Warming to his theme, the New Zealander added: "The Guinness Premiership, having watched the games, is the weakest Premiership I've ever seen since I've been up here [the northern hemisphere].

But he also said Lewis-Roberts needed to slim down: "We have a concern about Eifion and we've told him that to play at international level he still needs to get a bit fitter and drop a bit of weight."

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see also
Gatland dubs Premiership 'weak'
26 Oct 09 |  Welsh
Lydiate dreaming of Wales debut
27 Oct 09 |  Welsh
Wales choose home-based stalwarts
25 Oct 09 |  Welsh

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