Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Civil war escalates in Welsh game

The four Welsh regions will not commit to extending the existing participation agreement with the Welsh Rugby Union before this evening's deadline.

Battle lines have been drawn in Welsh rugby's civil war after the Welsh Rugby Union suggested it is prepared to form new professional sides in the wake of the regions refusing to commit to extending the Participation Agreement between the two parties.

A deadline of Tuesday evening had been set to add a further five years to the agreement, taking it through to 2019.

The regions, under the Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) banner, had always looked unlikely to meet that cut-off given the uncertainty over the make-up of the competitions they may compete in next season.

They confirmed their position in a statement in which RRW said it was "astonished" the regions had been left in a position where signing an extension would put £16million at risk as they would be unable to confirm matters such as income from ticket sales, sponsorship and TV rights.

RRW did offer an alternative deadline of January 31 to solve these issues, but the WRU made no allusions to that date in an incendiary response in which it stated its contractual relationship with the regions will end in June.

The WRU is committed to fielding teams in the Pro 12 and Heineken Cup, whatever incarnation they take place in next term, and its statement read: "The Welsh Rugby Union is confident that professional teams from Wales will continue to take part in sanctioned league and cup competitions in the best interests of all of Welsh rugby.

"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 Pro12 league organised by Celtic Rugby Ltd."

It added: "The WRU has received notice that the four Welsh Regional Organisations do not wish to continue with the existing Participation Agreement, as agreed by all parties in 2009, beyond 30 June 2014.

"As such the current contractual relationship between the WRU and the four Regional Organisations will end on that date.

"It was always the hope of the WRU that the four Regional Organisations would have continued with the Participation Agreement and therefore maintain their contractual right to remain the WRU's nominated teams in sanctioned competitions.

"The decision of the existing Regional Organisations not to continue with the PA 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."

If the union did form new professional teams, it could opt to centrally contract players whose regional deals are set to expire in the summer - such as Sam Warburton, Adam Jones and Scott Williams - and place them with the franchise of their choice.

RRW had earlier warned the regions would be left with no option ''but to pursue further competition options immediately'', if no deal was agreed with the WRU.

RRW also reaffirmed its support for the Rugby Champions Cup; the alternative to the Heineken Cup proposed by the English clubs.

The WRU, on the other hand, has thrown its weight, along with the French, Irish, Scottish and Italian unions, behind European Rugby Cup and the continuation of the Heineken Cup.

RRW claims the Rugby Champions Cup would generate a guaranteed £12m additional funding across the four regions over the next three years.

But RRW insists it still has a "strong desire" to work with the WRU.

The statement said: "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.

"Without change, professional rugby in Wales will fall further and further behind the rest of the European game."

With a resolution to their feud with the WRU looking increasingly distant, and the resulting loss of funding the regions would suffer as a result of the schism, the four teams would be expected to press ahead with plan to join the Aviva Premiership; reports have suggested they have been offered £4million each to create an Anglo-Welsh league.

However, such a competition would require the support of the WRU, the Rugby Football Union and International Rugby Board, which would appear unlikely to be forthcoming, something the WRU hinted at in its statement.

"The WRU reaffirms its commitment to the International Rugby Board's regulations which provide that cross-border competitions and tournaments may only take place with the full approval of the relevant unions," it said.

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