WRU chief Roger Lewis: Welsh regions rejected central contract offer
WELSH rugby chief Roger Lewis has claimed the country’s four professional regions rejected a chance for Wales’s entire international squad to be centrally contracted.
Lewis says the Welsh Rugby Union offer to Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets was turned down in mid-August this year.
The Welsh game has seen several of its star names – players like Mike Phillips, James Hook, Gethin Jenkins and Luke Charteris – quit regional rugby to ply their trade in France, while Blues centre Jamie Roberts and Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate are the latest to be linked with moves abroad.
Lewis, the WRU’s group chief executive, said in an open letter to Welsh rugby that £6.2million already given to the regions for international player release would have funded central contracts.
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That sum is part of £15million the regions currently collectively receive from the governing body.
The regions’ financial struggles have been well documented and there are some in the Welsh game who believe the WRU should be doing more to assist them.
In his letter, Lewis said: “An important fact related to the salary issue is that the WRU, on August 14 this year, formally offered to the four regions to centrally contract the entire international squad of players within Wales.
“It would have meant that the WRU would have managed players’ salaries and careers, and directly we would negotiate with any player seeking to leave Wales.
“The £6.2m player release money would be retained by the WRU to fund this, and the surplus – and yes, there is a surplus – would be spent on nurturing new talent.
“That offer was not accepted by the regions. This may come as a surprise to many.
“But that is the contractual right of the four regions and I respect it. I have moved on.
“Subsequently, though, there have been half-baked comments in the press about dual contracts and top-up payments from people who I would think should know better.
“At this point, raise your eyes and say, ’that’s Welsh rugby for you!”’
Lewis continued: “But that said, the good news I can share with you today is that we are close to creating a new partnership with the four regions which is based upon all of us working together, to sort out all of the four regions’ problems, with a proper regional management board contractually underpinned and with real teeth.
“We are focused on the future and getting it right for the long term for regional rugby.”
Chief Executive of Regional Rugby Wales Stuart Gallacher said: “We have consistently stated that until we have found workable solutions for the challenges facing the whole of Welsh professional rugby, it is our firm belief that it’s not helpful to a complex process to get drawn into individual debates in public. What is important is that we consider and implement the right solutions for the whole of Welsh rugby; taking into account every level of the game in Wales and how that works together.
“It is also critical at this time that our regions and all our rugby supporters are able to concentrate on an important and exciting weekend of European rugby - both from performance and commercial perspectives.
“It is our primary duty to support our players and back the energy and effort going into Welsh rugby performances on the field in Europe’s top club competition; and it would be helpful, therefore, not to have any further distraction or disruption at this time from that task."