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