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Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 17:26 GMT
Clubs react to regional plan
After months of debate and in-fighting, Welsh rugby clubs are facing up to the prospect of life under a regional umbrella.

The Welsh Rugby Union has recommended that four franchises should represent Wales in European and Celtic competition.

Clubs will now decide whether or not to bid for one of the franchises, which will be based in south Wales, covering the east, south, south-west and west.

It is designed so that certain individual clubs will win the franchises

Pontypridd chief executive Gareth Thomas

With no alternative plan agreed by the nine Premier clubs, WRU chief executive David Moffett's regional plan will be voted on by an EGM on 23 February.

Neath and Bridgend will tender a joint bid for the south-west franchise, while Newport and Ebbw Vale will do the same in the east.

As bids can also come from "individual clubs or individuals", Cardiff and Llanelli could still bid for a franchise yet remain essentially unchanged as a stand alone club.

Their respective financial clout within two of the four designated geographical areas could leave the likes of Pontypridd and Swansea out in the cold.

Both clubs could consider legal action in an attempt to block the plans.

This is what some of the clubs have had to say about the WRU's blueprint for the future of the game.


Swansea

Chairman Roger Blyth: "We welcome David Moffett's involvement in Welsh rugby and the four-team franchise plan is right.

"But we fervently believe that a franchise between Llanelli and Swansea must represent both clubs 50-50, it can only be done on an equal basis.

"There's a great opportunity here to play in red and white, at Stradey and St Helen's, and represent all of west Wales.

"We want the best for Welsh rugby. It's tough at Swansea at the moment, but we've contributed massively in the past.

"Only a couple of years ago we were the most successful team in Wales by a country mile.

"Litigation is the last thing we want, we're rugby people. I'm very optimistic. Rather than bicker and moan we need to work together."



Pontypridd

Chief executive Gareth Thomas: "If the franchises were put out without being restricted to geographical areas, our track record compares to anybody.

"But the way this has been put together, it is designed so that certain individual clubs will win the franchises.

"There are some massive financial implications for Pontypridd if we fail to be a successful bidder and we have to seek legal advice accordingly.

"We are faced with the real possibility here of Pontypridd and Swansea disappearing from the face of Welsh rugby."



Neath

Chief executive Mike Cuddy: "It's good news. People have now got to sit down and talk about merging.

"People who think they can stand alone will find there is no one club bigger than three clubs in Wales.

"It's always been our preference to merge with Bridgend. It would be a very strong franchise if we got together.

"I think the provinces plan will get a good reception at the EGM - it's the only fair way to go.

"The only solution is to have Llanelli/Swansea; Neath/Bridgend; Pontypridd/Cardiff and Newport/Ebbw Vale.

"We'll keep our tradition of 130 years, we'll just have four stronger teams to compete on the biggest stage."



Bridgend

Owner Leighton Samuel: "There is enough funding and players just for four clubs or entities.

"But we were prepared to join with Pontypridd to enable a second option to go before David Moffett.

"I think everybody in Wales agrees there is a move for change, although I just wish we had gone along with the second (five superclub) option.

"The committee took a brave decision but they had just the four provincial teams or we stay as nine clubs - so there was no real choice for them."




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