Celtic Warriors merger is off
January 17, 2004

Celtic Warriors chief executive Leighton Samuel last night announced that the controversial merger with the Cardiff Blues is off.

His statement came as the Warriors suffered a blow to their European hopes with a 17-12 defeat against Wasps at the Brewery Field.

Samuel's stunning news came at the end of a tempestuous two weeks during which the merger plans have provoked extreme reactions throughout Welsh rugby.

He says the plan is "dead in the water" because he maintains that Cardiff can't deliver it.

In particular, Samuel cites the fact the new team could not play at the Arms Park, because ground owners Cardiff Athletic Club won't let them.

Instead, he is committing himself fully to the Warriors and is stepping up his search for a brand new state-of-the-art stadium they can play at.

"In playing and financial terms, we only have the resources to sustain four sides in Wales, so a merger between the Warriors and the Blues would have made sense," said Samuel in today's Western Mail.

"But it will not happen because Cardiff cannot deliver it."

That was a clear reference to the ground issue which has complicated matters.

He went on, "We now have to concentrate on making things work here with the Warriors.

"Now the merger with the Blues is off, we will be looking for a new ground."

Samuel's decision will come as a boost for the vast majority of fans at both regions who have been protesting vehemently at the contentious plan.

Short of a U-turn by Samuel, the merger proposal is now over.

Looking to the future, the Warriors boss will have been boosted by the 8,000-plus gate for last night's Heineken Cup showdown with Lawrence Dallaglio's Wasps.

Stressing that he was encouraged by the demand for tickets for the game, he continued, "I have lived in Bridgend for 35 years and people have been at the club this week that I have never seen in my life.

"It is vital that this support is maintained because each month I supply the difference between income and expenditure to ensure everyone is paid and I cannot go on doing that much longer.

"If I leave, the Warriors will go into administration."

The merger proposals - first revealed by Cardiff chairman Thomas last week - have provoked a state of near civil war at the Arms Park, as well as fury among Warriors supporters.

Cardiff followers have been enraged by the plans and were intending to stage a protest against the merger at today's Heineken Cup clash at home to Biarritz.

There has also been fierce opposition from former Blue and Black stars such as Jonathan Humphreys and Adrian Hadley.

And even Arms Park legend Gareth Edwards, a board member, said he couldn't stomach the idea of the Cardiff name disappearing - something Samuel insisted would have to happen if the merger went ahead, with the Celtic Warriors title being retained.

The opposition has been stepped up this week, with Cardiff Athletic Club - the largest shareholders in Cardiff RFC - making it clear they would not allow a combined side to use the Arms Park.

They also pledged to come up with counter proposals for the future of the Blues.

With the merger off, Samuel says he will now concentrate all his energies on the Warriors and press ahead with plans to build a new stadium for the team.

His preference would be to build a new 15,000 all-seater stadium on University of Glamorgan playing fields in Treforest.

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