Welsh rugby regions admit English Premiership plan

Gareth Davies (left) and Roger Lewis (right) took part in a BBC Wales debate

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The Welsh rugby regions have confirmed plans to join the English Premiership if a new European Cup is not launched.

The news comes as the regions and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) appeared in public together for the first time since a row over money, control of the game and tournaments erupted last year.

They took part in a BBC Wales Scrum V special broadcast on Sunday.

The WRU also said starting new teams, if the regions walk away, had not been discussed.

The regions say they want to take part in a new European tournament to replace the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, which, it is claimed, could generate £1m extra for each team every season.

Analysis by BBC Wales Sports News correspondent Gareth Lewis

There is a meeting tomorrow of all the Six Nations unions at which this question of the future of European club competition is going to be discussed.

Very briefly, English clubs and the Welsh regions want to play in a new European cup, not the Heineken Cup, run by different people.

The regions say it would generate another £1m a season each and crucially they would have the right to negotiate their own TV rights and commercial deals in that competition.

The WRU is not convinced and not happy about the idea of the clubs having carte blanche to go and sort out their own deals, and they think the structure of the game could fall apart if that were to happen.

Despite the fact they are a long way apart it is a key issue and all the unions in Europe will have a pop at sorting that tomorrow.

But the WRU insists on support for the present tournaments and associated television contracts.

Both sides have been talking behind the scenes since early January but met in public for the first time on Sunday in front of a studio audience.

Speaking in a round-table debate, Gareth Davies, chief executive of Newport Gwent Dragons, said: "The understanding we have with the English clubs is quite solid, whilst not underestimating the enormous hurdles that are in the way of that happening."

With the regions failing to sign a participation agreement with the WRU by New Year's Eve, there had been speculation that the union would create new teams to take part in the Heineken and Amlin cups.

But this was denied by WRU chief Roger Lewis on the programme.

"As the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, I've not had any private conversations about setting up any new regions," he said.

He added that he was "committed to making the four regions work".

'Pain and cost'

Meanwhile Martyn Thomas, former chairman of England's Rugby Football Union (RFU), warned that most of the top English teams were struggling financially and keen to boost income.

"There is no crock of gold at the end of the rugby rainbow - there is merely pain and in fact cost," he told the programme.

Rugby scrum The Welsh regions are keen to earn more money and hang on to their top players

"The majority of English clubs are losing money significantly and that's a problem in fairness that's replicated in Wales.

"In England it is far easier to get sponsorship - there is more money available.

"I think for the WRU and for the regions the issue for them is where they can bring extra money to the game."

As both sides fight for a position and solution, six of Wales' top players are considering central contracts from the WRU.

Wales captain Sam Warburton, who is understood to be close to signing, is among them.

The six unions representing England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy will meet again on Tuesday to try and sort out what next season's European Cup will look like.

The Scrum V Special on the state of Welsh rugby will be available to watch again on the BBC iPlayer

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