Welsh rugby plunged into new crisis as peace talks between regions and union collapse
Wales has been plunged into a crisis that could see national captain Sam Warburton without a club next season after the country’s four regional clubs claimed negotiations had broken down with the Welsh Rugby Union over a new participation agreement.
Hopes that a new accord to underpin the elite game was imminent were dashed on Friday as Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), the body that represents the four regions, described the negotiating process as “indescribably tortuous”.
It is understood that while the rugby aspects of the new agreement have been accepted, following strong input from Wales coach Warren Gatland, the major sticking point has been the amount of money the WRU is prepared to pay the regions.
Under the old Participation Agreement, which expired on June 30, the regions received £6.7 million from central funds in return for international player release, overseas player quotas and the fourth autumn Test. RRW, the umbrella body of the Cardiff Blues, Newport, the Ospreys and the Llanelli Scarlets, issued a statement claiming they were now preparing instead for life without any form of “WRU support or involvement”.
Such a doomsday scenario would leave Warburton, who signed a national contract with the Welsh Rugby Union in January, without a club to play for and consign the regions to a bleak financial future.
Cardiff’s hopes of signing Gareth Anscombe - the 22-year-old fly-half qualifies for Wales through his Cardiff-born mother, Tracey - from Waikato Chiefs in a joint deal with the WRU will also have been put on hold.
RRW said that while it welcomed comments by WRU chairman David Pickering about the need for urgency in reaching an agreement, it insisted the process behind closed doors was not reflecting this desire.
“Sadly, the regions regret to confirm that despite an indescribably tortuous process of endless telephone calls and meetings since Jan 6, 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,” said an RRW statement.
“The regions have 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 said it was “saddened and surprised” by the RRW statement. “The WRU remains determined to conclude an agreement which will ensure the four regional organisations continue as the nominated teams for all IRB -sanctioned competitions for professional rugby involving teams from Wales,” it said.