WRU to offer regions new deal

Hampshire Chronicle: Millennium Stadium Millennium Stadium

Welsh rugby chiefs are to present the country's four regional teams with a new agreement regarding the professional game in Wales.

The regions - Newport Gwent Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues - want the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) to back its commitment towards the Rugby Champions Cup next season, a breakaway European competition initially forged by top English and French clubs.

The WRU has been given a January 31 deadline to provide that support, or the regions have said they will "pursue further competition options".

The RCC is an alternative European competition overseen by Six Nations bosses to the European Rugby Cup-run Heineken Cup, and the regions have so far 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.

WRU board directors met on Thursday, after which the WRU said in a statement: "The Board of Directors of the Welsh Rugby Union met today and unanimously agreed that a positive way forward for professional rugby in Wales as set out in the WRU's statement of 31 December 2013, is in the best interests of Welsh rugby.

"The WRU has today informed the four regional organisations that they will shortly be presented with a new agreement in respect of professional rugby in Wales.

"A timetable for discussion has been provided by the WRU.

"The new agreement will further reflect the WRU's desire to ensure that Welsh player development and the retention of Welsh players is properly recognised.

"This is in the best interests of all of rugby in Wales, from the grass roots to the international level."

Two days ago, the WRU suggested it was prepared to form new professional sides in the wake of the regions refusing to commit to extending the Participation Agreement.

The Union also backs an ERC-organised Heineken Cup for its regions to play in, and that stance is unchanged.

An alternative Anglo-Welsh league involving the four Welsh regions and England's 12 Aviva Premiership clubs has been mooted as a possible alternative to the RCC, while a key aspect for both the regions and WRU is halting a player-drain abroad.

Wales stars like Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and James Hook currently play in France, where they will be joined next term by Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans, and Leigh Halfpenny has been strongly linked with a move to reigning European champions Toulon.

Wing George North, meanwhile, is successfully plying his trade in the Premiership with Northampton, and hooker Richard Hibbard will be a Gloucester player from next summer.

Premiership Rugby on Thursday welcomed support from Wales' regions for the creation of a new Rugby Champions Cup.

"We believe that the new competitions are clearly the best solution," Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said.

"They will deliver more matches between the top teams, as decided on merit, and as the Welsh regions have stated, they will generate the financial returns to ensure continued strong investment into the club game, including player development and retention."

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