By Andrew Collins
January 4 2013
If you haven’t already read it, the above was the title of a recently published article from The Rugby Paper. In it, Peter Jackson uncovers the unnerving accusation that the WRU have been working behind the backs of the regions to shut down the Ospreys.
It was a brave article which makes for very interesting reading, so, with that in mind, I’d like to begin by sharing with you thee link to purchase the e-version of this week’s Rugby Paper, priced at just £1.49 – a very worthwhile purchase - http://subscriber.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/subscribe.aspx?source=4&eid=75ee243b-e072-4631-8997-5def967b88f2
On 5th December 2012, Roger Lewis sat beaming as he announced a new professional body had been set up to oversee the pro rugby. He said;
"By working together, we will create a unity of purpose for Welsh professional rugby which will be underpinned by collective management, enhanced with greater central resources and structured to ensure effective decision-making. The PRGB will play a significant role in helping regional rugby make real progress, both on and off the field, in the years ahead."
Just 19 days later, he told The Sunday Times,
"The Welsh Rugby Union has to take a far greater responsibility and therefore control over professional rugby within Wales [...] The minimum to me must be three teams. Two is far too few and four is preferable."
When this article was published, the Welsh rugby public gave a collective sigh as the realisation that, once again, the WRU are on the verge of making yet more changes. The general opinion was that this would see the Dragons downgraded to a ‘development side’, whereby young Welsh talents ply their trade with an under-funded Gwent side until they are good enough to be poached by one of the three remaining teams. What wasn’t expected, was the Rugby Paper’s article a week later.
It is accused that the Welsh Rugby Union have been plotting the demise of the Ospreys since before the PriceWaterhouseCooper report was commissioned. The plan was apparently so far advanced, that the Scarlets were told by the WRU to plan their recruitment policy around gaining a significant number of players from the Liberty-based region.
Over the past 10 years, if not longer, the WRU has been pushing domestic club rugby further and further away from the people who love it. The development of the regions, though necessary, was an absolute shambles which failed to take into account any public opinion and was only successful in destroying the traditions and reputations of some of the most famous sporting organisations in Britain.
After making such a mess of the initial regional set-up – 5 teams, including 2 stand alone clubs – the four surviving sides have worked hard to establish some sort of identity and heritage of their own. However it constantly feels like the WRU are making it incredibly difficult for the regions to survive. In recent years we’ve seen an increase in televised league matches on free-to-air TV, more Welsh International fixtures than ever before while the regions get less and less time with their highly paid Welsh international star players.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it’s beginning to feel like the WRU are letting the domestic game slip into oblivion in order to, as Roger Lewis himself says, “take a far greater responsibility and therefore control over professional rugby within Wales”.
CardiffSteve wrote in his excellent article (Link below 'Super Regions? No Thanks'), “the way we'll get through this stand off with the union and emerge with a healthier domestic game is for the four professional sides to stand together. We mustn't allow the union to play divide and rule.”
We are not hiding away from the massive issues facing the club game, but cutting another team, alienating another pocket of Wales and handing over all control of our clubs to the WRU is certainly not the way to get ourselves through this difficult time. How can you believe a word that comes out of Roger Lewis’ mouth when he is so quick to go back on it? If this behind-the-back politics over the Ospreys turns out to be true, how can any trust remain between the WRU and the regions? It’s time the regions to stand tall, stand together and stand up against the WRU.