Saracens chairman Nigel Wray is thought to have pumped more money into the English club game than any other owner.
Saracens chairman Nigel Wray has added fuel to the debate about the future of the European club rugby landscape by suggesting the Welsh regions could join the Aviva Premiership.
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This season’s Heineken Cup is set to be the last unless stakeholders can reach an agreement on the future structure of the competition and the distribution of revenue. Frustrated at the perceived reluctance of the Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh to find a compromise since they served notice to leave the competition last year, the English and French clubs have tabled plans for an Anglo-French tournament that they insist would also be open to their European partners.
And in an intriguing twist to the saga, Wray has dangled a significant carrot in front of the cash-strapped Welsh regions – the Dragons, Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets. “I feel we should have the Welsh clubs in the Premiership,” Wray told ESPN earlier this week. “It would be a league to replace the LV Cup as what the customers want are big games every weekend.”
Expanding on his idea in The Rugby Paper, Wray said: “I’ve thought for a long time, and this is a personal opinion, that we should have the four Welsh teams in the Aviva Premiership.
“That would make it a fantastic tournament. The customer is king and he wants to see big games. I can’t speak for the Welsh but I’d be greatly surprised if they wouldn’t jump at the chance of playing the English clubs more often.”
More pressing is the need to cement plans for a European competition beyond the end of this season at which point the agreement governing the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup will come to an end.
Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing English rugby’s leading clubs, has stated it no longer has any interest in dealing with European Rugby Cup Ltd, organisers of the current competitions, and Wray has urged the Welsh sides to join them and their French rivals in forming the breakaway tournament.
“My message to the Welsh teams is simple – ‘Join the competition’. At the end of the day, you have to have guts. They would be a hell of a lot better off than they are now.”