Rugby - Regional battle on course for court

It is an alarming and sobering thought that Welsh rugby's future could conceivably be decided in court.

Rugby - Regional battle on course for court
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For a country that has dominated the European game in recent seasons through winning successive Six Nations titles and reaching a World Cup semi-final, such a prospect almost defies belief.

But unless heads are banged together and experienced administrators on both sides - Welsh Rugby Union and Wales' four professional regions - thrash out an agreed way forward, there seems little alternative.

And if that legal course of action unfolds, then all concerned should hang their heads in shame.

"If this does go to court as has been suggested, a High Court judge stuck up in London is going to decide the future of Welsh rugby," Newport Gwent Dragons chief executive and former Wales fly-half Gareth Davies told BBC Wales this week.

"And I think that's a huge concern, or should be a huge concern, for the directors of the WRU that High Court judges are deciding on the future of the game."

The regions - Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues - have given WRU chiefs until January 31 to reach agreement.

The quartet want backing for the Rugby Champions Cup, an alternative European competition overseen by Six Nations bosses to the European Rugby Cup-run Heineken Cup, and they have not agreed to continue a Participation Agreement with the WRU, the deadline for which passed two days ago.

The Participation Agreement covers critical areas such as revenue and competition structure.

The regions say WRU bosses cannot currently confirm the make-up of either critical component moving forward, although the regions' umbrella organisation Regional Rugby Wales has also underlined a desire to work with the WRU.

"RRW and the regions reaffirm their commitment to the Rugby Champions Cup under the aegis of Six Nations, which will generate a guaranteed £12million additional funding across the four regions over the next three years and help reduce the funding gap compared to the French, English, Irish and Scottish clubs," RRW said, in a statement.

"A solution must be reached by the end of January 2014. Should this not be possible, the regions will have no choice but to pursue further competition options immediately.

"It continues to be the absolute intent and strong desire of RRW and the regions to work with the WRU in progressing such a positive position for the next five years of professional rugby in Wales, or indeed to discuss any proposals the WRU themselves may have that could provide an even stronger platform for sustainable and competitive professional rugby across Wales."

Davies' assertion that it has "got to be Wales plc, not the union against the regions" is a correct, and surely feasible, mantra.

RRW and the WRU, though, have entered the new year appearing to be some distance apart.

The WRU has even hinted that it could set up new teams next season, suggesting it is prepared to proceed without the existing professional quartet in an ERC-backed Heineken Cup and the PRO12 league.

And this endless saga is being played out against a backdrop of Wales Test stars departing regional rugby with Leigh Halfpenny looking destined to join Toulon and following the likes of George North, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Dan Lydiate, Luke Charteris, James Hook and Richard Hibbard in moving away from Wales.

The whole situation is a shambles, and not for the first time, Welsh rugby fans find themselves engaged in a collective bout of head-shaking bewilderment.

The WRU's latest statement, released on New Year's Eve, opened with the following: "The Welsh Rugby Union is confident that professional teams from Wales will continue to take part in sanctioned league and cup competitions in the best interests of all of Welsh rugby.

"The WRU also remains confident that a European rugby cup competition under the management of the ERC will take place next season. Welsh teams will also continue to play in the PRO12 league organised by Celtic Rugby Ltd.

"Furthermore the WRU reaffirms its commitment to the International Rugby Board's regulations which provide that cross-border competitions and tournaments may only take place with the full approval of the relevant unions."

The latter comment offers a clear response to widespread speculation that the Welsh regions are considering joining England's existing 12 Aviva Premiership clubs in a new league competition.

Such a venture offers considerable appeal to players and punters, but the over-riding attraction must be an outbreak of peace in our time between regions and union, however far-fetched a theory that currently appears.

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