Regions hit WRU with court action
July 6, 2009
Will the Millennium Stadium see a full international fixture list this autumn? © Getty Images
Welsh rugby has again been thrown in to turmoil with the latest in a long line of battles between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), the umbrella group representing the four regions, Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets.
The two parties are at loggerheads over the WRU's recent addition of a fourth autumn international, against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on November 7, outside of the IRB's designated Test match window. RRW has initiated High Court proceedings against the WRU; serving them with an order to force a full High Court trial before a fourth autumn international can be played. The key issue, as before, is the regions' release of players for the fixtures.
"Specifically, the WRU has announced a fourth Autumn International fixture and has, unimaginably, invited the Regions, in writing, to take legal action against the Union if there is any objection," read a statement released through the regions' websites. "As a result, RRW has been left with little option but to face the Union's threats head on and take the WRU at its word.
"After being successfully granted an emergency hearing on Friday (3/7/09) in the High Court, RRW today served the WRU with an order to force a full High Court trial before a fourth Autumn International can take place, without the Regions' express permission. It is our sincere hope, that this will provide some much needed focus in any future discussions and, if any sense is to prevail, encourage the Union to finally adopt a partnership approach to the running of the professional game in Wales.
"Our overriding desire is to see Welsh rugby succeed at every level but, in order to do so, this must involve the start of a genuine partnership and not simply the approach of a master to his slave."
The group is calling for a full agreement on player release between the union and regions, in line with the prized Elite Player Squad agreement that is in place between the RFU and Guinness Premiership sides.
"Despite months of protracted talks, at which very little has been achieved, a revised participation agreement has yet to emerge advancing the relationship between the WRU and the professional game in Wales," the statement said. "In fact, it would be fair to say, that negotiations between the WRU and RRW have, in reality, not only stalled but failed."
RRW has argued that the regions have released their players whenever requested, with the best interests of the game at elite level in mind. They cite last season's autumn series, where a fourth game was also staged outside of the IRB window, and this season's Wales tour to the USA and Canada as instances when they have gone above the call of duty in terms of releasing players.
"The WRU has threatened to take the Welsh Regions to court on a number of occasions, following demands for the release of players that fall outside of the IRB Regulations," the statement continued. "Not only did the WRU fail to properly consult with the Regions over new IRB regulations governing the release of players, it now believes these do not apply to them since their enactment.
"Prior to the Six Nations competition, the WRU demanded the additional release of players beyond that permitted by the IRB. Rather than see Welsh rugby suffer, or Wales having to witness the spectacle of another court action, RRW consented to the additional release. When the summer tour and pre-season training was scheduled outside of IRB's defined window, RRW once again agreed to release players, to save the WRU the embarrassment of having to re-schedule its tour.
"As is well known, the Welsh Regions have provided the release of players, for international duty, more than any other rugby-playing nation in world. This is because those running the Welsh Regions are committed rugby men through and through, who have spent years developing and financing the professional game, far beyond the levels of any income provided by the WRU, to ensure Wales' success on the international stage."
This latest breakdown in communication looks set to have a huge impact on the future of the game in Wales, whose playing stocks appear to be at an all time high after their weighty contribution to the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, success in Anglo-Welsh competition and increased presence in the latter stages of the Heineken Cup.