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Prospect of London-based clubs joining Pro12 distant for coming seasons

Italian sides Zebre and Treviso have paid their way and will continue to be part of the league.

THE PRO12 IS set to continue in its current guise for the coming seasons, despite ongoing speculation that London Welsh and London Scottish may join the league.

London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips fuelled those rumours further this week by expressing his club’s interest in joining the league, suggesting that the likes of Munster, Glasgow and Ulster might be more open to fixtures in London than to the current visits to Italy.

Al Kellock lifts the Guinness PRO12 Trophy Glasgow are the current Pro12 champions. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Towards the end of last season, Italian sides Zebre and Treviso had seen their positions in the Guinness Pro12 come under threat due to an outstanding participation fee of close to €1.5 million owed to the other clubs in the league.

However, that sum has been paid in full in recent months and, as such, the four-year agreement made between the Federazione Italiana Rugby [FIR] and the Celtic rugby unions [IRFU, SRU and WRU] in 2014 for the participation of two Italian teams in the Pro12 will continue.

The 2015/16 Guinness Pro12 season is scheduled to be launched in late August, with Zebre and Treviso very much part of the plans.

FIR officials are understood to be relieved to have settled the situation, given the perceived importance of having their club sides compete in the Pro12. Dropping out of the league would potentially have had damaging effects on Italy’s ability to challenge at international level too.

Nonetheless, the prospect of involving London-based clubs remains attractive to several Pro12 clubs, particularly in Wales, where the initial expression of interest in London Welsh and London Scottish joining is believed to have originated.

The Treviso team huddle before the game The FIR are contracted to have two teams in the league until 2018. Source: Stephen White/INPHO

Both London Welsh and London Scottish will play in England’s second-tier Championship this season, but Bleddyn Phillips can see the advantages of his club joining the Pro12.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship which could benefit all parties,” the London Welsh chairman told BBC London this week.

I think it would bring an added dimension to Pro12 if you are able to establish a London franchise. As an option it [the Pro12] is attractive to many people in this part of London. It would be attractive to a number of Celtic teams.

“I suspect the likes of Munster, Ulster, Glasgow and Edinburgh would rather fly into Heathrow than to certain other areas which currently participate in the Pro12, while Welsh fans would prefer to come to south-west London than perhaps go further afield.

“There would be a degree of support behind the possibility.”

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Murray Kinsella

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