Saturday 24 March 2018

Welsh regions given union ultimatum

The risk of players like Sam Warburton moving to England or France is growing
The risk of players like Sam Warburton moving to England or France is growing

Chris Hewett

The four Welsh regional sides have until midnight to sign an extended deal with their governing body.

As there have been precious few signs of them doing any such thing, it seems certain that 2014 will be born under a bad star, with political meltdown moving ever closer and the lawyers preparing for many a long and lucrative day in court.

Not unreasonably, the regions say they cannot enter into a participation agreement when they do not have the foggiest idea what competitions they might be participating in.

The continuing wrangle over the Heineken Cup, which is now close to collapse, and growing uncertainties over the long-term future of the Pro12 League in which the Welsh teams currently play alongside the Irish provinces, the big-city Scottish teams and the two Italian professional franchises, has left them in a very dark corner.

The risk of several front-line international players -- Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Priestland -- following many of their brethren to England or France grows greater by the day.

If the agreement remains unsigned, the regions will continue discussions with the top English teams about forming an expanded Anglo-Welsh Premiership, while the Welsh Rugby Union will take initial steps to set up two, perhaps three, new teams under central control.

Both courses of action would be deeply divisive and lead to legal challenges.

Perhaps Adrian Hadley, the former Wales wing who coached in the Premiership with Sale, had a point when he suggested that the biggest names in the game should play hardball.

"If the players went to the WRU and said, 'Unless this is sorted out either way, we are not playing in the Six Nations', it would be interesting to see how quickly they got round a table," he said. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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