Welsh regions offer WRU chance to take them over

By Gareth RobertsBBC Sport Wales
Regional Rugby Wales and Scarlets chairman Nigel Short
Regional Rugby Wales and Scarlets chairman Nigel Short is one of the signatories

Wales' four regions have offered the Welsh Rugby Union the chance to take them over and want a deal to end their impasse by 18 July.

The offer was made in a letter from regions chairmen Peter Thomas (Blues), Martyn Hazell (Dragons), Roger Blyth (Ospreys) and Nigel Short (Scarlets).

In extreme circumstances the regions may even be forced to offload players.

They stated if a deal is not done: "We will have to scale back on our playing costs and development."

It is unlikely that the WRU would accept the offer to take control of the game's professional tier because of the financial state of the regions.

In the letter the chairmen stated: "Together we can be strong, but in the disharmony that currently prevails, we will ultimately all be weak.

"We cannot continue in this fashion any longer.

WRU chairman David Pickering and chief executive Roger Lewis
WRU chairman David Pickering and chief executive Roger Lewis

"The alternative, which we have tabled before, but which you have always rejected, is that you [the WRU] makes a fair offer to take over the regions if you believe you could make a better job of running the same, although this is something you have refused to countenance previously.

"If it is of attraction, then it would need to be concluded rapidly."

Short, Thomas, Blyth and Hazell added: "There will be clear consequences for the WRU in respect of the retention of Welsh players, with regard to release periods and additional international fixtures.

"For the regions we will have to scale back on our playing costs and development accordingly with the financial consequences that will have for us.

"Unfortunately that is the harsh reality of the situation we find ourselves in and the outcome of the existing relationship we feel we have with the WRU."

The last participation agreement between the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) ended on 30 June, leaving the regions believing they face a combined £6.7m shortfall next season.

That contract guaranteed the release of players for Wales coach Warren Gatland's two-week squad training camps ahead of November games, the Six Nations and for the fourth autumn Test which Wales regularly stage outside the approved International Rugby Board window.

If a new deal is not finalised the regions could ensure Wales face South Africa on 29 November without any regional players.

The regions would also withhold players from Wales Sevens duty.

In the letter to WRU chief executive Lewis and chairman Pickering, Thomas, Blyth, Short and Hazell said: "We have been negotiating with the WRU for a considerable period.

"But we have come to the conclusion that... the harsh reality is that the WRU has no interest in concluding negotiations with the regions and entering into a long-term agreement for the betterment of Welsh rugby."

The quartet go on to say:

•Despite some reservations they have accepted - for the first time - the concept of dual national contracts for the nation's Test stars.

•On the subject of the regions' funding, that a failure to strike a deal would mean them having to live within their means and become less competitive against Pro12 and European rivals.

•The relationship between the WRU and "its principal clubs" is a "national disgrace" and has left Welsh rugby "not held in high esteem".

•That "the true objective of the WRU is actually to starve the regions to the point of financial ruin".

•The WRU and regions' goals "are not incompatible"

•Any agreement must mean a partnership, not an "employer/employee or master/slave" relationship.

•For developing players for Wales the regions should be "adequately rewarded".

The chairmen went on: "At every point when we think we have made progress and reached a commercial outcome, we are subsequently frustrated by the constant shifts and manipulation in the WRU position.

"This has been amply demonstrated on any number of occasions."

In the letter, the four chairmen go on to claim they have been left with no option but to suggest their current course of action.

"This is not meant as a threat nor is it a decision that has been taken lightly, but rather as a position in respect of which we have no alternative," they stated.

"That will have severe and dramatic consequences for all of us and in respect of which there will be no going back."

The row between the Union and regions has been running for over a year and a half.

Pickering outlined the WRU's position during the impasse when he said in May: "We will do whatever we can to support our regions, but we cannot bankrupt the Union.

"There will be a defined amount of money we have to give to our game at regional level, semi-pro level and the community game."

The board of the WRU overwhelmingly survived a vote of no confidence at an extraordinary general meeting on 15 June.

At that meeting board member Gerald Davies said the Union was "not held in high regard, it is held in low esteem overseas... it is distressing we have this reputation… we need to restore common purpose, trust and unity".

Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny celebrate winning the 2013 Six Nations with Wales
Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny celebrate winning the 2013 Six Nations - they are among a contingent of high-profile players who have left Welsh rugby to play in France.

The former Wales and British and Irish Lions wing has since announced he will not be standing for re-election to board.

During the protracted row, teams from around Europe negotiated a revamp of cross-border competitions that will succeed the Heineken Cup next season.

The regions, represented by RRW, were party to that deal and are represented on the board of the new company set up to run the three-tier tournament from Switzerland.

However, none of the funding from that tournament is scheduled to be in the regions' hands until October, 2014.

The regions have been partly funded via the WRU in an agreement which guaranteed a set level of income and covered the release of players for Wales international duties.

Other funding came via participation in competitions.

The regions contended the previous agreement did not give them enough money to compete against leading French and English teams.

A number of high-profile Wales international players have already made big-money moves to play in France or England, with the Welsh regions claiming to be unable to match the wages on offer elsewhere.

British and Irish Lions Leigh Halfpenny (Blues to Toulon), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys to Gloucester) and Jonathan Davies (Scarlets to Clermont Auvergne) are among the players to have left Wales.

None of the Welsh teams reached the knockout stages of the European Cup or the play-offs of the Pro12 in 2013-14.

Regional Rugby Wales issued a statementexternal-link saying they: "Must now urgently consider the stark practical consequences of operating within a business model that does not include any form of agreement with the WRU outside IRB regulations and no WRU support or involvement in the development of professional regional rugby."

The WRU responded:external-link "The WRU is confident that the governing body and RRW are in substantial agreement on the total monies contributed by the WRU within the RSA (Rugby Services Agreement) and the governing body will work to ensure the rugby commitments associated to the payments are acceptable to all parties and in the best interests of Welsh rugby."

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