Unless you’ve been living under a rock called ‘pays little attention to Welsh Rugby’ for the last eighteen months or so, you’ll be all too aware of a bitter and divisive spat between the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales’ four professional teams (‘Regions’) that had threaten to rip apart the professional game in Wales. If you have been living under that rock, take a look at this article written by The Western Mail’s Simon Thomas which provides an excellent summary of the whole shambolic affair. It’s been a tale of claim and counter claim, renewed hope and false dawn, and along the way has included such illustrious things as a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, a continent-wide fallout over European rugby competition and even a guest appearance by an ex-WRU CEO.
But now it’s all over! Pop the champagne bottle and put a leek in it! The Welsh have found peace!
Earlier today, the WRU and Welsh Regions (under the auspices of Regional Rugby Wales) signed a six-year ‘Rugby Services Agreement’ with a total value of £60 million to the Regions over the length of the deal. The main headlines of the agreement are:
– Annual core funding to the Regions to remain at £6.7 million (with index-linked increases each year),
– An additional £3.3 million to be made available to fund new ‘dual contracts’, with the WRU providing 60% and the Regions 40%,
– Up to 15 of Wales’ leading players (chosen by Head Coach, Warren Gatland) to be placed on dual contracts. Such players will become WRU employees,
– A further £3.6 million available to the Regions in loan facilities from the WRU. The loan would be repayable during the term of the agreement,
– Each Region has received a one-off £500,000 payment for signing the agreement,
– The reintroduction of ‘Gatland’s Law’ which states that, in the future, players choosing to play outside Wales will not be eligible for national team selection,
– A limit of six foreign players at each Region (with an additional two being allowed if those players will eventually qualify for Wales on the IRB’s residency rule),
– Management of the four Regional Rugby Academies to be switched from WRU control to the Regions with £600,000 of annual support from the governing body,
– The right for the national team to play up to 13 tests a year is retained, with a 13-day release of selected players before the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals series,
– The return of the Wales ‘A’ team (disbanded in 2002) with a possible one-off initial fixture the weekend before the Six Nations,
– The Regions to guarantee that up to three players from each team will be made available for selection to the Wales Sevens team,
– The Professional Regional Game Board (remember that?) or PRGB to be maintained and will monitor the provisions of the newly signed agreement. The PRGB will be chaired by High Court Judge Sir Wyn Williams, who will hold a casting vote.
So, there you have it. An agreement is signed and not before time. Welsh Rugby can now look forward to the imminent new season with a renewed optimism, which can only be a good thing as we move ever closer to Rugby World Cup 2015. Look out for a Red Rugby blog post over the coming days on what Welsh Rugby can learn from the whole affair leading up to today’s agreement…
…but, for now, breathe that sigh of relief.
(Oh, and Sam’s now clear to play for Cardiff Blues)