Welsh domestic spat set for court

21st Dec 2013, 15:29

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Star: Leigh Halfpenny

Star: Leigh Halfpenny

The Welsh Rugby Union board is set to meet early in 2014 should the four regions fail to continue their participation agreement.

The Welsh Rugby Union board is set to meet early in 2014 should the four regions fail to continue their participation agreement.

That deal binds them to the Heineken Cup and Pro12 until 2018.

The WRU would have to decide on a response in that event, having set a deadline of December 31st for the regions to comply.

But it seems unlikely the regions will do so, given there is no increase in central funds, and the Guardian reports that a region loses around £40,000 every time a player leaves for an English or French club.

The upshot of this spat could mean the dispute heads for the high court, after WRU officials and Wales head coach Warren Gatland informed representatives of the regions' supporters' groups there would be no alternative plan at a meeting on Monday.

Any such alternatives will not be discussed until 2nd January, where a WRU board meeting will consider options should the regions miss the deadline.

BBC Wales reported on Friday that the body mused over offering central contracts to six of the regions' high profile players, including Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton.

The regions' fans groups issued a joint statement following Monday's meeting, bemoaning a lack of flexibility from the union, and "no solution" to the stream of top players leaving Wales.

"The understanding of the challenges the regions face to be competitive businesses and rugby teams aren't being fully appreciated," they said in the statement.

"We were disappointed to be informed that the WRU felt it was not an option to explore an Anglo-Welsh league, due to existing contractual arrangements, given the public excitement in Wales from regional rugby supporters.

"Whilst we appreciated the seniority of the attendees from the WRU who clearly wanted to demonstrate that they were willing to listen to us, we also felt surprised at the lack of empathy shown to supporters who are facing the demise of professional rugby and the regions they have invested so much time, money and emotion in over the past decade. The WRU could give no assurances over the future of our game ... no solution to the player drain was offered."

The regions have also sought assistance from local politicians and MPs, as well as Welsh Assembly Members.

The leader of the Conservatives on the Assembly, Andrew RT Davies, said the necessity for an independent inquiry was real.

"The need for an independent inquiry in the new year into the governance and funding of Welsh rugby is now very clear," said Davies.

"In particular, the Welsh Parliament should look closely at the repeated disagreements and complications, and their impact on grassroots sport.

"The Communities, Equalities and Local Government committee has the potential to act as an honest broker on what appears to be a deteriorating situation. Now is time to look very closely at the economic position our regions and union find themselves in."