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RUGBY UNION: Gareth: I'll back Moffett ..but clubs don't.

Byline: HUGH STEPHENS

GARETH Llewellyn has backed plans for provincial rugby even though his club Neath are plotting an alternative.

Veteran Wales second row Llewellyn is in favour of Welsh Rugby Union chief David Moffett's radical plan for four Union-controlled teams including one based in Wrexham.

The provincial blueprint, which is also supported by Wales coach Steve Hansen, has split Welsh rugby and provoked an angry reaction from the major clubs when Aussie Moffett put it before them last week.

Neath director Mike Cuddy accused Moffett of doing a

U-turn over the number of teams and branded the North Wales idea as "like the Aussies setting up a new team at Ayers Rock."

Cuddy and other representatives of the Premier Division clubs met yesterday and unanimously rejected prophet Moffett.

But Neath skipper Llewellyn insisted: "From what I hear and from what I can see, this is the way forward and it's going to happen soon.

"People talk about a lack of team identity if we go to provinces, but having been involved with Wales and Wales A it doesn't take long to get a team spirit going.

"Of course I have an affinity with Neath, but I think a lot of players have come round to the idea of provinces with drafted teams."

Llewellyn, 33, returned to the Welsh squad last season and has re-emerged as one of the players Hansen sees as crucial during the build-up to next year's World Cup.

Llewellyn's enthusiasm, though, does not square with the view of Llanelli chief executive Stuart Gallacher, whose club would have to combine with both Neath and Swansea under the Moffett proposals.

Gallacher said: "What we have been offered by the Union is a dictatorship. They want total control.

"The clubs are against it, the coaches are against it, and the players are against it as it would mean the Union would be the only employer in the market place. Many of them would go and play in England.

"We should be talking about a partnership and I'm sure if we do work together we can deliver what Steve Hansen is looking for - a vibrant game that prepares players for international rugby."

Although the nine clubs yesterday gave a formal thumbs down to Moffett's plan, they failed to agree on a clear alternative among themselves.

They are adamant they want five club-based teams to play in the Heineken Cup and the Celtic League, but have yet to agree on how the new combined sides should be divided up.

As a result, tomorrow's planned meeting between the clubs and Moffett has been postponed for a week while the clubs try to agree on a formula among themselves.

The clubs are vehemently opposed to the North Wales idea - which the Union want Iestyn Harris to spearhead - but Llewellyn added: "I think a North Wales team is up for discussion.

"After all, a third of the Wales population live there and we get a big welcome whenever we go up to play."

CAPTION(S):

DICTATORSHIP: Gallacher; EAGER: Gareth Llewellyn
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Dec 11, 2002
Words:506
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