Welsh back in the Celtic fold
June 20, 2005

The Welsh Rugby Union helped smooth out the reinstatement of the Celtic League by offering a ``significant financial contribution``, it was confirmed today.

Details of how the WRU managed to convince rugby chiefs in Dublin and Edinburgh to allow them back into the competition were made public today by the Celtic League Association.

And it has become clear that the WRU offered a financial incentive to their Celtic partners for a change in the calendar that allows them to compete in the Anglo-Welsh Cup over a maximum of five weekends.

It was agreed in Friday's seven-hour summit meeting at Heathrow that with Scottish and Irish sides refusing to play over international weekends, the Welsh will catch up their fixtures in midweek.

That was the proposal WRU chief executive Steve Lewis had taken into the meeting and one he stated firmly the Celtic League Association could not afford to pass up.

Arguing that failure to reach an agreement would be professional suicide for all parties concerned, he said: ``If the Scots and Irish turn down those plans then they will simply be cutting their own throats along with ours.''

Lewis' proposals were accepted by the Celtic League Association, along with a sweetener from the WRU. The size of the financial contribution has remained undisclosed but it was enough to secure the future of a competition that seemed doomed on May 31 when the Welsh sides were expelled in acrimonious circumstances for joining the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Now it is guaranteed for four years and the agreement also allows for the potential inclusion of Italian teams at a later date. All teams will start and end their league season on the same date, although the full fixture schedule for next season is still being finalised.

The number of midweek games to be played by the four Welsh regions will be determined by their success in the Heineken Cup and the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Celtic League chief executive David Jordan told BBC Sport Wales that the decision to switch some fixtures to midweek could actually prove a commercial masterstroke.

He said: ``The compromise is good for Ireland and Scotland, who are significantly affected on international weekends. The midweek games in Wales will actually create a bit more activity, which will be another opportunity for us to increase our coverage.''

Three weeks ago the Celtic League, won last year by the Llanelli Scarlets, was cancelled for a season after the WRU's decision to compete in the Anglo-Welsh
Cup drew a furious response from their counterparts in Scotland and Ireland.

The SRU and IRFU - angered at not being consulted - immediately announced they would be setting up their own cross-border competition.

Lewis later rejected claims the WRU had not been ``open and honest'' regarding their discussions over the Anglo-Welsh Cup as he sought to reinforce the Welsh regions' commitment to the Celtic League. He described the competition as ``our bread and butter''.

Friday's meeting, which also involved representation from broadcasters and the RFU, was a make-or-break showdown. If no agreement had been reached, the Welsh regions would have been left with just nine guaranteed fixtures next season.

While Scotland and Ireland would have their own club competition, the financial implications would have been severe, hence Lewis' dramatic declaration.

But with an agreement now in place, Jordan is looking forward to finalising plans for next season. ``We're delighted that the competition is back on track. It was excellent last year and the potential is clear, with Wales' success in the Six Nations and with the Lions being an added bonus,'' said Jordan.

``In addition, all three unions will base their Heineken Cup qualification on the Celtic League next season. It's a fantastic, powerful tournament, and we can now move forward, starting with arranging the fixture list.''

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