Welsh rugby
Gloves off as hopes of Welsh deal collapse
ESPN Staff
July 11, 2014
Central contracts, such as the one handed to Sam Warburton, have been part of peace talks between the regions and the WRU © PA Photos

The uneasy truce in the row which has blighted Welsh rugby this year ended with a resumption of the public war of words between the Welsh board and Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), the umbrella body for the four professional regions.

On Friday afternoon, RRW announced a proposed new agreement for the future of the game was "completely unacceptable" to it and said negotiations over a new participation agreement with the WRU had broken down.

No winners, only losers

Roger Lewis © Getty Images
  • The RRW remark that "every apparent step forward [is] eventually being replaced by two steps back" seems to be rather generous. To bemused bystanders, it is hard to see there have been anything other than a few, faltering steps forward amid a gallop backwards.

    After the EGM in June when a clumsy proposal to oust the board was rejected, it had been hoped there was a new appetite to find a solution ahead of the new season. The bitter rhetoric issued by each side suggests that a compromise is a long way off. Once more, the only loser in this sorry affair is Welsh rugby which continues to be dragged through the mud.

    It is interesting that board members are accused of saying one thing in public but doing another behind closed doors. It seems he remains a major obstacle to any successful resolution. One of the major stumbling blocks is Roger Lewis, the WRU's far-from-popular chief executive. As he is unlikely to go anywhere, it is a barrier than must be worked around.

    For now, the Welsh game continues to feed on itself and the damage to its reputation and credibility grows.

In a blunt statement, RRW referred to "an indescribably tortuous process" during which it had been asked to agree to terms "completely unacceptable for any responsible independent business to enter into". It also accused Roger Lewis, the WRU's controversial chairman, of making public comments which "do not reflect the actual process that the regions continue to experience, with every apparent step forward eventually being replaced by two steps back".

In reply, the WRU issued a statement of its own, saying it was "saddened and surprised" at the RRW comments, and that "it is extremely unhelpful to the process for emotionally charged statements to be made, either verbally or in writing, to interfere with this process".

Following months of discussions with the WRU aimed at reaching a new agreement to underpin elite rugby in Wales - the previous deal expired on June 30 - RRW has now conceded it must face life without any form of WRU support or involvement, outside what is required by IRB regulations.

The RRW statement laid bare the exasperation felt on its side. "Sadly, the regions regret to confirm that despite an indescribably tortuous process of endless telephone calls and meetings since January 6th, the control, commercial and financial conditions that are being demanded of them under drafts of the proposed new service agreement would be completely unacceptable for any responsible independent business to enter into and expose itself to.

"The regions are most grateful for the time and consideration of Wales' national head coach, who has worked hard to reach a constructive and positive balance on the core Rugby elements of the agreement.

"The public statements of the WRU chairman referring to the need for urgency are welcomed, together with the positive position of individual WRU Board members following the regions' presentation to the board during May 2014.

"Unfortunately, these comments in the public domain do not reflect the actual process that the regions continue to experience, with every apparent step forward eventually being replaced by two steps back.

"The regions have consistently made every possible effort to reach a positive and progressive agreement that truly works in the interests of both parties, to ensure a sustainable and competitive professional game in Wales at both regional and international level. They remain totally committed to the hope of reaching that solution.

"However, after many months of working hard to try to progress a new agreement, it is with heavy hearts that the boards of all four regions 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 response urged RRW "to continue to fully engage in this process and has been encouraged by some recent comments from senior RRW personnel confidently predicting a positive outcome soon. 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 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."

Under the previous participation agreement, Welsh regions received £6.7m from the WRU in return for releasing players for internationals and observing quotas on overseas players. The regions argue that funding has not kept pace with soaring player wages and has left them unable to compete with Europe's top teams.

WalesOnline reports that the deal which had been under discussion is believed to involve an additional £2m being made available for central contracts for players in a bid to halt the exodus to France and England.

With no new agreement, there are now fears that Welsh regions may lose WRU funding altogether.

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