Welsh rugby will be plunged further into crisis this week when the four regions will refuse to sign a continuation of their participation agreement with the Welsh Rugby Union.
The deadline is set for Tuesday and, after a meeting of the regions’ chairmen on Friday, it was finally decided that they would not sign the agreement, originally drawn up in 2009, and worth about £1.2 million to each region.
They will instead pursue the option of playing in an Anglo-Welsh competition next season.
It is understood that BT Sport and Premier Rugby Limited have offered each region £4 million to compete in such a competition.
The regions required such a guarantee before deciding to break away from the WRU, because at present that is approximately the figure they receive from the participation agreement for fielding Welsh-qualified players and international player release, added to £2.9 million from the competitions in which they presently play: the Heineken Cup, the RaboDirect Pro12 and the LV Cup.
It had been thought on Thursday that, after two sell-out derbies at Newport and Llanelli, the regions’ stance had softened and that they were willing to sign the agreement and work with the WRU.
The meeting on Friday altered that, however, and with no sign of any resolution of next year’s European Cup fiasco, the regions feel they will be committing financial suicide by signing the agreement. They will announce their intentions before Tuesday and are clearly ready for a battle in the courts.
Any cross-border competition would require union ratification, and it is believed that the Rugby Football Union would not give such approval, although it has yet to see any definite proposal.
The WRU has scheduled a board meeting for Thursday, after which it is likely to announce alternative arrangements once the present agreement ends on June 30, possibly including the creation of three new regions – in the west, east and north of Wales – and the imposition of central contracts.
Six high-profile players – Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Scott Williams and Rhys Priestland – have yet to agree deals for next season, and it is understood that they will be targeted for central contracts.