WRU’s threat of ‘new’ regions is laughable… and dangerous

adam jones
To say Welsh rugby is in crisis would be an understatement. Having missed the New Year’s Eve deadline set by the Welsh Rugby Union to sign a new deal, Regional Rugby Wales have been offered one more chance to do so, with the Union promising that a new agreement will shortly be tabled.

It is believed that this will offer a tiered system of remuneration for the creation of test players, but is this all too little too late? It is no wonder the regions have been playing hardball so far, given the lack of clarity over so many details.

Progress is being hampered further as the WRU and RRW are still at loggerheads over the future of European rugby, with the regions expressing in no uncertain terms their desire to join the English in the Rugby Champions Cup, while the WRU maintain their allegiance to ERC and the Heineken Cup.

As their best players flock out of the country, behind the scenes the regions and the union continue to squabble rather than swallowing their pride and working on a system to retain the ever-increasing number of players that are seeing their rugby futures elsewhere.

What happens if the regions refuse the new deal as they have every other one so far? It has been speculated in some parts that they will look to create new regions, based in Neath, Pontypridd, Colwyn Bay and the Millennium Stadium, to replace the current ones. The Union’s recent statements have certainly heavily hinted at this:

The decision of the existing Regional Organisations not to continue with the PA [Participation Agreement] has now freed the WRU to present a new Participation Agreement focused on recognising and rewarding Regions which identify, develop and retain players capable of challenging for international honours with Wales. This is in the best interests of Welsh Rugby.

How on earth would that work? To comply with their promise made to ERC, the WRU would have to create these teams before the start of next season. That means finding players, coaches, sponsors and, most crucially and unlikely, fans, for these new regions within six months. What planet are they inhabiting if they think that is a possibility?

And what of the regions? Should they fail to agree a new deal with the WRU, they will surely look across the Severn Bridge to the Premiership for acceptance, in a move that has been welcomed by many in England. Premier Rugby yesterday stated that they ‘welcomed the news that the Welsh Regions are backing the creation of the Rugby Champions Cup next season and has endorsed the need for resolution in a short timescale.’

However, the WRU would be expected to block any attempt to form an Anglo-Welsh competition – and where would that leave the players? Those left at the current regions would be faced with no fixtures to play in, so their options would be… what? Join the new regions or head abroad as well? Does the WRU really think the top players are more likely to join the new teams than head for a vastly more substantial payday elsewhere?

Of course the regions are not without blame in all this, possibly being guilty of relying too heavily on central funding in the past and not creating a better means to support themselves if this very situation were to arise.

But that does not take anything away from the fact that the WRU’s decision to continue to play hardball with the regions is ludicrously dangerous for the future of rugby in Wales. If their next offer is rejected by Regional Rugby Wales then this sorry affair will surely end up in court, a situation that would be almost impossible to resolve before the beginning of next season.

The number of times the recent statements from the WRU have mentioned the ‘best interests’ of Welsh Rugby is laughable – does anyone really have a clue what they are?

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

13 thoughts on “WRU’s threat of ‘new’ regions is laughable… and dangerous

  1. Laughable yes but unfortunately I have no doubt that Roger is deadly serious and will go through with it. He has a load of small minded little village generals backing him up – all desperate for the chance for “their” club to be turned into the next pro region and to give Cardiff/Swansea/Newport/Llanelli a kicking for daring to be more than 2.8 miles away from their little valley.

    Likely outcome I think is that existing regions return to being clubs, move to AP, all Welsh internationals leave them for Fre/Eng clubs due to them therefore being outlawed from WRU.

    WRU sets up new “regions”, nobody watches them. They play mostly U19s etc who are looking for contracts. They quickly become semi-pro at best due to lack of funding. They regularly get hammered, even by Connaught’s third XV.

    We roll along like this for a few years – Wales drop out of IRB top ten. Court cases galore.

    Ireland and Scotland flirt with bankruptcy due to lack of meaningful (and/or enough) international and province/region competition. Fra/Eng look to join the Rugby Championship so they can have someone decent to play against.

    Maybe, in 30 years, Wales come good again.

  2. I think this whole mess just papers over the original mess which has never been sorted. The four teams in questions are not regions, All for come from 2 regions at best. The WRU created these clubs, basically stifling rugby north of the M4.

    The problems these clubs are facing comes from the fact that, as their representation is limited, they are completing for the same crowds whilst the rest of Wales is ignored.

    I know it is too late now but they should get rid of Newport and llanelli, create two new regions – Valleys and north Wales for example, and start afresh.

    It’s not going to happen I know. Whatever is going to happen with carry on killing the grass-roots game in Wales as it has been slowly doing for years.

  3. “basically stifling rugby north of the M4”

    The Blues ground is what, 4 miles south of the M4? The edge of Cardiff is the M4. I think the real problem here, as your geographical comment shows, that no matter how regions are made someone will always complain that they do not represent their region enough because they’re 0.X miles too far away from their fave ground. No amount of rejigging regional lines is going to please all of these people.

    Valleys region – you mean “Ponty” don’t you? The idea that the “Valleys” has a homogenous identity is laughable. Residents of Llynfi/Garw etc. valleys have far more in common with Neath/Swansea than they ever will have with Ponty.

    One of the big issues in all of this is the constant desire from Ponty to have a pro club, a desire which they pretend to be about “Valleys” rugby so they can avoid accusations of being parochial.

    The original regions were created where the money/grounds were. To do anything else would be madness. Even on bad days the Arms Park gets bigger crowds than Sardis Road could even accommodate.

    Why create a North Wales region, especially at the expense of, for example Gwent? Why kill off one of the most fertile dev regions of Wales and open a new pro club in an area where rugby is far and away a minority sport? “if you build it they will come” doesn’t work with something so important. In all of the time before the game went pro not a single major rugby club emerged from North Wales so why now spend millions creating one there at the expense of having less rugby where the fan base is?

  4. New year, same old s#$t.

    This sounds like some titanic deck chair shuffling from WRU, slicing an insufficient amount of money a different way won’t change the fact it’s an insufficient amount of money. I expect we’ll get something from the WRU about a “fairer way to distribute money” for the “good of the game we all love so dearly” we-are-the-good-guys type statements later this month that change absolutely nothing in terms of total amount of money available for the regions.

  5. As an Edinburgh and Scotland supporter I really hope this gets sorted out quickly and with some sort of broadly acceptable agreement. The Pro12 would suffer terribly from the loss of the Welsh regions, both financially and in terms of interest and quality. In Scotland we can empathise about the geographical spread of pro rugby. I live in Aberdeen and have to travel 120 miles to watch Edinburgh. Making kick off on a Friday night is usually a tight affair! Would joining the English Prem really be the best solution for the WR though? Are there concerns amongst Welsh supporters about the risk of failing to qualify for Europe, or being relegated? I can’t see that the overall balance (across the 6 Nations) will be better than the status quo. I think France will be largely unaffected; pro rugby in Ireland, Scotland and Italy will suffer; English clubs may benefit slightly and enjoy the diversity; but it’s not clear to me whether the Welsh Regions will actually benefit…

  6. I would love an Anglo Welsh league (just like football and cricket).
    The Welsh fans would find it easier to get to away games and the Welsh teams are quality.

  7. Latest RRW statement:
    The Rugby Champions Cup will bring the biggest increase of funding into the Welsh game in five years. It will increase funding to the Irish clubs and protect the Scottish clubs. Bringing in £12m in three years into the Welsh game does not threaten the Six Nations or bring about its demise.

    In only two months, the Welsh Regions have themselves, negotiated the biggest increase in funding for Welsh Rugby of the last five years and are simply asking the WRU as the governing body for support in this.

    The WRU not only has full responsibility, but is also contractually obliged to negotiate competition revenues and TV distribution revenues under the Participation Agreement. The WRU has failed miserably to negotiate equitable and fair revenue distribution for Welsh clubs in line with clubs in England and France.

    The ERC Accord finishes this year and the WRU’s latest proposal for a replacement to exclude the English clubs includes six undefined French clubs and maintains an unequal distribution of revenue to the Welsh clubs. Given the other opportunities that now exist, it is an inferior competition. The proposed competition would only be available on Sky TV, not terrestrial television, as is the case with the existing European competition.

    It’s disappointing that the WRU’s disrespectful response to another significant and positive proposal from the Regions (as it was to the real PRGB last year) is once again to engage in a vitriolic and disingenuous attack on the Welsh Regions; with the purpose of detracting attention away from the real issues Welsh regional rugby is facing and that need addressing urgently.

    The Regions would question why the WRU are scaremongering about a break away. This has never been mentioned by the Regions who have only asked for positive support as outlined in their most recent statement of 31st December. As stated then; it continues to be the absolute intent and strong desire of RRW and the Regions to work with the WRU in progressing such a positive position for the next five years of professional Rugby in Wales, or indeed to discuss any proposals WRU themselves may have that could provide an even stronger platform for sustainable and competitive professional rugby across Wales.

    It is incredulous to the Welsh Regions that the WRU refused to discuss any item in the current Participation Agreement before its deadline of 31st December but is now willing to offer a “new agreement” on different terms. Equally it is yet to be explained by the WRU why bringing an additional £12m into the game by the Regions, is not in the best interests of Welsh rugby.

    It would seem from the recent correspondence from the WRU to clubs in Wales that their focus is all about control and not the best interests of Welsh rugby.

    RRW and the Regions, through no choice of their own, have been forced to consider every alternative to secure a sustainable future for regional rugby in Wales; and have worked tirelessly to be able to plan their futures positively based on new options in the absence of any concrete proposals on income and distribution for Europe or the PRO12 league.

    The proposed “one-off payment” of £1m for the recruitment, retention and development of Welsh international players was always linked to a requirement for the Regions to sign an extension to the Participation Agreement. In the Regions view, it was purely a hollow stunt because it always carried impossible conditions.

  8. Who controls rugby union? If the WRU allow the Regions to sign up to the Chumps Cup then Unions control will be diminished not just in Wales but elsewhere. The argument in wales is a direct result of the PRL clubs being unable to get the French on their side. Now they have the Welsh regions fighting their case for them. Once the WRU are defeated, they will target the other Unions who dared defy them in the first place. The WRU have International rugby and 320 clubs to think about, the regions only account for four of them. Who has the best interests of Welsh rugby overall? I doubt it is the regions, like the PRL they have pro rugby only on their minds and could not care a whit outside of that. Unions control rugby to protect the interests of the vast majority of players, clubs and supporters which are outside of the professional game. If the Pro clubs dont like the fact the Rugby Union is run by Unions then they should do a Rugby League on it and start their own game. Breakaway altogether!

  9. ro, the issue in Wales predates the current fuss over the European cup by a long way. So it’s not right to say that the Welsh regions have simply been duped into supporting the English. The regional/WRU crisis in Wales coincides with the end of the PA – the agreement between the regions and the WRU that defines how pro rugby is run and paid for in Wales. It’s an anglocentric view to assume that we’re only having this problem because of something happening in England. It’s not really related other than we find ourselves trying to negotiate a new PA at the same time as England want a new European tournament – in short, even if the HC etc. was continuing next year there would still be a PA negotiation.

    Your view takes one side of the argument – that money men cannot have anything else in mind than more money. That the WRU (and other unions) are massively benevolent organisations intent on one thing, the proliferation and support of rugby union for the masses. That would be lovely if it were true. Most unions are now also multi million pound organisations with vested interests, executives with power, etc. They are as susceptible to the lure of power and control as any club owner or rugby player. So I disagree with your assessment that on the one side we have saints (the unions) and the other evil money grabbers – in much the same way that the rugby league breakaway was for more complex regions than your insinuation that it was just about money.

    So now the question is which of the two groups do you think has the best way forward for supporting pro rugby in Wales? I think it is the regions and support their plan.

    1. brighty. The Regions have made a hames of running, promoting, growing winning in the pro game. The Ospreys for years have had squads most teams could only dream of yet failed to win more than the Pro 12. Failed miserably to attract decent crowds and basically underperformed on and off the field. The Regions have had their chance and the failures were pointed out in the PWC report. Do you believe they will suddenly turn things around? Why? How? Breaking the ties with the WRU and joining the Premiership will be the final nail in the coffin for them. I wonder is four regions too many. All are based in south Wales less than an hour and a half drive apart. For Welsh teams to be competitive in the HC (or whatever Euro competition happens in the future) maybe a concentration of players in three or possibly even two pro teams would be the way to go. It seems fairly obvious that four regions are unsustainable and even if they join the premiership will not survive. Not because they would not be good enough on the pitch (I think they will surprise people in england) but because they cannot generate enough income at home.

      1. I believe they will turn it around because I believe that WRU control is part of their problem.

        One problem the WRU have created is in making Wales the “5th region”. I live in Cardiff. I can therefore go to, on average, 8 home Welsh matches a year. Mostly at £60+ a ticket. I could also go to ~16 decent Cardiff matches but why bother when I’ve already spent most of my money on watching Wales 8 times AND when I watch Wales I see Cardiff’s best players who I don’t see when I watch Cardiff. This is a big part of why they have “underperformed” on the field and hence this has led to low crowds.

        Also, leaving the Pro 12 would increase the number of interesting matches. As a Blues fan I know all too well not to dismiss the rugby quality of Zebre BUT it’s still nowhere near as big a draw as Bath/Leics/Gloucs/Exe, etc. Teams I feel something for as they’re near me. As the Welsh derbies showed, with decent matches we get decent gates.

        Further, the regions are not properly compensated for the work they do. The WRU do not give them 100% of the TV money for the Rabo or the HC. The WRU give them a pittance for player release and even less for academies. There are 4 academies in Wales – these created Halfpenny, Warburton, etc. The WRU chip in less than 100K a year to fund all four of them. Ridiculous.

        The regions are not perfect but I believe the WRU is currently ruining them – it wants zero negotiation. The regions do not want to breakaway, they simply want some changes e.g. to play in a more financially lucrative competition. We know that the WRU wants to centrally contract the players but knows it can only do this by the regions going bankrupt so it’s forcing them towards it by refusing to negotiate.

        On the number of regions I agree with you there – there are too many but the only sensible split I can see is to merge Ospreys/Scarlets. We need a Gwent region, we need our Capital city to have a side (700K+ of South Wales ~ 2million population live within half an hour of our city centre) so perhaps one “West Wales” side? Concentrate the players, more funding.

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