Welsh Rugby
WRU claim legal victory in player-release row
PA Sport's Andrew Baldock
October 24, 2008

Welsh rugby chiefs are claiming what they term "a major and significant legal victory'' in the battle over international player release. A High Court judge has ruled in favour of the Welsh Rugby Union that Wales coach Warren Gatland's 32-man autumn Test squad be released from their regions for training next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The four professional regions - Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons - did not intend releasing their stars until Monday week, just five days before Wales face world champions South Africa.

Gatland initially wanted 13 days' preparation, starting next Monday, before voicing his support for a compromise arrangement of three days next week, followed by the entire Test week itself. Gatland's squad could then be released back to the regions in time for the final round of EDF Energy Cup pool games between October 31 and November 2.

In a statement, the WRU said the High Court had ordered in favour of them and directed the regions should not "prevent, hinder or obstruct'' the players from attending training next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

They will also be available for training during the whole of the following week. Judge Havelock Allan QC's ruling was based on his decision that the WRU has first and last call on the availability of players for training sessions.

The judge explained that his ruling is binding on the regions by virtue of the express terms of the Participation Agreement, and also by virtue of their membership of the WRU.

According to the WRU, the court refused an application from the regions for leave to appeal against his ruling. Roger Lewis, the WRU's group chief executive, said, "This is a victory for the fans of Welsh rugby. Wales will face the world champions on November 8, and we have taken this action to ensure they have time to prepare properly for that historic encounter.

"This has been an unfortunate episode, but the court ruling justifies our contention that the request was just and we had right on our side. We will now put this matter behind us and focus on the priority of finalising the draft Participation Agreement document (between the WRU and regions) over the next few days.

"We are determined to deliver an agreement which is good for rugby and fully recognises the efforts being made by all our regions to advance the professional game in Wales."

The High Court hearing took place via a telephone conference between the judge and lawyers in London and Bristol. The row prompted the regions to appoint former WRU chief executive David Moffet as interim chief executive of Regional Rugby Wales.

And, although Moffett conceded the players will be released for training on Monday as instructed by the court, he warned there could be more battles ahead after claiming the decision will seriously harm the relationship between the regions and the WRU.

Moffett said, "As the judge in the case stated, this interim ruling has no legal significance and does not set a legal precedent. This was a one-off decision without proper consideration for evidence and has no legal value in future.

"What the ruling does do however is cause a serious deterioration in relations between the regions and the union.

"The union had already initiated legal proceedings before they sat down with us, ignored IRB offers to mediate in the dispute and demanded player attendance at training on Monday before the case had even been heard."

Moffet also claimed the International Rugby Board's 'regulation nine', which governs player release to play for their countries, as having "serious" implications "with regard of the ability of the regions to run their own businesses in future".

© Scrum.com

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