Welsh rugby in crisis as talks break down
Welsh rugby was plunged into crisis on Friday after acrimonious talks between Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) over the future direction of the sport - by Nicolas Tucat
The four regions which form RRW -- the Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and the Scarlets -- have been negotiating with the WRU over the terms of a 'participation agreement', which covers issues such as the competitions the teams play in, payment for international player release, overseas player quotas and the fourth end-of-year Test match.
The previous agreement ended on June 30, but all attempts to agree on a new document have foundered, with RRW on Friday claiming the situation had reached breaking point.
The failure to find a resolution throws into doubt the future of the regions and, potentially, professional rugby in Wales.
A RRW statement read: "Sadly, the regions regret to confirm that despite an indescribably tortuous process of endless telephone calls and meetings since January 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.
"The regions have consistently 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."
RRW stated public comments from leading figures in the WRU were not matched by actions in negotiations.
The statement added: "The regions are most grateful for the time and consideration of Wales' national head coach (Warren Gatland), who has worked hard to reach a constructive and positive balance on the core rugby elements of the agreement.
"The public statements of the WRU chairman (David Pickering) referring to the need for urgency are welcomed, together with the positive position of individual WRU Board members following the Regions' presentation to the Board during May 2014.
"Unfortunately, these comments in the public domain do not reflect the actual process that the Regions continue to experience, with every apparent step forward eventually being replaced by two steps back."
Wales captain Sam Warburton signed a central contract with the WRU which, at present, leaves him without a team to play for next season.
With rugby the main national sport in Wales, the issue has already ignited heated debate.
But the WRU refused to be drawn into a public slanging match wit the RRW, insisting it was following correct protocols in discussions.
"Following receipt of a copy of the draft RSA (Rugby Services Agreement) with marked comments by Regional Rugby Wales the WRU responded in writing on Thursday, July 10, with comments to the RRW amendments," an WRU statement read.
"This is the legitimate, proper and private method adopted within corporate governance for agreements to be negotiated and concluded.
"It is extremely unhelpful to the process for emotionally charged statements to be made, either verbally or in writing, to interfere with this process."