Pontypool RFC loses High Court relegation fight

Pontypool RFC
Image caption The WRU is reforming a new 12-team Premiership but Pontypool will not be in it

Pontypool RFC has failed in its High Court bid to stop its forced relegation from the Welsh Rugby Union's top league.

The club is the victim of a major restructuring of the game in Wales, which will see the formation of a new 12-team Premiership.

In a trial in London last month, the club challenged the WRU's decision, arguing that it was unfair.

But judge Sir Raymond Jack has dismissed the challenge to overturn it.

Returning to the High Court on Wednesday, he said: "I conclude that Pontypool has failed to establish any breach of contract or breach of duty on the part of the WRU and that there are no grounds for the intervention of the court."

The club's barrister, Ian Rogers, had argued that, after originally deciding on a 10-team Premiership, the WRU had succumbed to pressure from regional clubs to extend it.

The pressure, from Ospreys and Scarlets, led to a decision - against the rules, he said - to add Carmarthen Quins and Bridgend Ravens to make up a 12-team division, called the Principality Premiership Division.

'Proud history'

The WRU said the two clubs were next in line to be added to the Premiership because they came 11th and 12th in a "meritocracy" based on recent on-pitch performance.

Pontypool, described by the judge as having a "proud history", was the 13th in the list and so not in line to be awarded a place in the league, the WRU said.

That was despite it having achieved a so-called A-licence, relating to the quality of its stadium, which was deemed necessary for entry to the Premiership.

Sir Raymond said changing the structure to include 12 teams was against the rules as they stood, but that the WRU has power to change those rules even at a late stage.

"The issue between the WRU and Pontypool here must be whether the late change involved unfairness to Pontypool such that the court should intervene," he continued.

"The answer to that is, in my judgment, plainly that it did not.

"This is because Bridgend and Carmarthen were 11th and 12th in the meritocracy.

"It was not unfair to Pontypool to enlarge the Premiership.

"It was not unfair to enlarge it by adding the next two clubs by meritocracy.

"The fact that they were added because they were Bridgend and Carmarthen does not change that. Pontypool's position was unaffected.

"If Pontypool had been ahead of them, or one of them, by meritocracy, then quite different arguments would have been open.

"It is, however, clear that the decision was to add these two particular clubs."

Court of Appeal

Mr Rogers asked the judge for permission to appeal, but the request was refused and the WRU was granted permission to get on with plans for the 2012-13 season.

Pontypool could now make an application directly to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal Sir Raymond's decision.

The WRU welcomed the the High Court decision and said its planned reforms of the Principality Premiership and the establishment of a new fourteen club National Championship Division will now be implemented.

Roger Lewis, group chief executive of the WRU, said: "We cannot achieve change without facing up to difficult decisions. It is important we all now move on in harmony for the sake of the game."

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