Welsh rugby dispute takes a turn for the worst
Welsh Rugby Union threaten to set up new regions if to participate in competitions
Lloyd Williams of Cardiff Blues in action against Newport-Gwent Dragons on New Year’s Day – Blues won out 21-13. Photograph: Huw Evans/Inpho
Irish provinces could find themselves in the bizarre position of facing new Welsh teams in next season’s Pro 12 competition as the dispute between the four Welsh regions and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) considerably worsened over the New Year.
The WRU have responded to a threat by the regions –- Cardiff, Newport, Ospreys and Scarlets – by saying if there is no agreement by the end of this month they may set up new regions to participate in competitions. Those regions are thought to be Colwyn Bay, Neath, Pontypridd and the Millennium Stadium.
The WRU response came when the four regions declared that they would not be meeting a December 31st deadline to extend the Participation Agreement with the WRU for another five years.
Furthermore the regions said the WRU had until January 31st to agree to them taking part in a new European Cup or they would pursue other competition options, which seems to mean joining the Aviva Premiership.
There is now a Mexican standoff between the two groups with the WRU statement strongly suggesting that to maintain control and governance of the sport, they would continue without their four strongest clubs and push ahead with virtually unknown entities.
Irish clubs will now ask if that policy would hurt their gate receipts and how potential sponsors might react. This is the last season of the RaboDirect bank-sponsored tournament. The bank pulled out three years into a four-year contract. No new sponsor has yet been named.
“The WRU also remains confident that a European rugby cup competition under the management of the ERC will take place next season. Welsh teams will also continue to play in the Pro 12 league organised by Celtic Rugby Ltd., ” said the WRU statement.
“The decision of the existing Regional Organisations not to continue with the PA [Participation Agreement] has now freed the WRU to present a new PA focused on recognising and rewarding regions which identify, develop and retain players capable of challenging for international honours with Wales.
“The governance of rugby in Wales, through the elected Board of the WRU, will continue to remain in the hands of the 320 clubs of the Welsh Rugby Union. ”
What that means is the contractual relationship between the WRU and the four regions will end on June 30th as a result of the regions not signing up to the Participation Agreement. Pro 12 league officials are unsure of how the situation will unfold but they stress one important point.
“Our agreement is with the Union not the clubs,” said an official yesterday. “In the agreement it says . . . that they (WRU) have to provide their best professional teams to take part in the league. At this stage we have to wait to see how things unfold and what the Welsh Union have to say.”
It’s understood a draft five-year plan has been drawn up for a 16-team Aviva Premiership, which would see the Welsh regions ultimately receive up to €4.8m each. However to join the new cross-border event, approval of the WRU, RFU and IRB is required. The WRU board, which meets today, is unlikely to offer their support.
Yesterday chairman of Cardiff Blues Peter Thomas urged the Irish and Scottish clubs to row in behind an Anglo Irish-based competition.
The IRFU were yesterday circumspect about the developments. “Details are unclear at the moment but it is likely that any restructured competition would need agreement by participating Unions,” said IRFU Director of Communications Stephen McNamara.