Welsh rugby regions risking future by not signing, says WRU chief
ROGER Lewis has turned up the heat on the Welsh regions, telling them they are risking their futures if they refuse to sign a fresh participation agreement with the governing body.
A new deal is due to be penned by the end of the year but the Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and Dragons haven't committed yet because of the uncertainty over European rugby.
The union have promised them an extra one-off funding boost of £1 million but have now confirmed that it is conditional on the professional sides signing a new participation agreement.
Some on the regions' side believe they are being held over a barrel.
And union group chief executive Lewis further increased the pressure by warning the four that unless they agree it could mean the end of regional rugby in Wales.
"We agreed with the regions in 2009 that the new agreement going forward would be signed between July of this year and December of this year, and it would continue on the same terms and conditions from next year, 2014 through to 2019," he told BBC's Scrum V programme.
"We now await that, because without that there's no certainty for the regions, and no certainty for ourselves.
"The four regions and the Welsh Rugby Union agreed this timescale. And together the four regions and the WRU agreed the process going forward and we all know that if one doesn't sign an agreement, well, there is no region, and that is the consequence of not signing an agreement.
"I don't want that to happen, I don't think the four regions want that to happen, but if that's the case we then have to think what is the future for professional rugby in Wales."
Asked to explain what that would mean in real terms for the regions, Lewis painted a bleak picture.
"Well, that means they would not be playing in Europe, they would not be playing in Rabo (Pro12)," he said.
"They'd not be receiving the monies off the Welsh Rugby Union, they would not have insurance off the Welsh Rugby Union for their players and they would not have any referees."
The regions want to know what tournaments they will be playing in before committing to a new agreement, reasoning that they need to know whether they will be financially viable in the seasons ahead.
"Everyone needs to model their businesses and manage their risk accordingly," continued Lewis.
"Risk has been taken, as I say — the Cardiff Blues have signed Gethin Jenkins in this context, they have laid a new pitch and I think the negotiation for certain players needs to be concluded as quickly as possible.
"And, yes, a million pounds is available and we want that to be spent as quickly as possible."
It is understood there are other conditions linked to the release of the seven-figure sum, including a suggestion that the regions might have to commit to contracting certain players.
Lewis added: "At the moment we are waiting to hear back from the four regions. We met with them last week, we outlined our joint views on players and those views were arrived at between discussions with the regions and the Welsh Rugby Union coaching staff. And we've also expressed the clear terms and conditions, and one of them ... is the participation agreement."
An option for the regions might be to seek to join English and French clubs in the proposed Rugby Champions Cup, but that would mean breaking away from the union — and unless the four could be absorbed in the Aviva Premiership, there wouldn't be enough games to fill a fixture list.
Meantime, Ospreys assistant coach Gruff Rees was personally unfazed by Lewis's apocalyptic warning.
Asked did such a pronouncement worry him, he said: "Not necessarily.
"Generally within the coaching world, if we're in the same situation in April or May we'll start to have some future qualms.
"But given the competition we're in, the game we've just come off the back of and who we play next, we're living in our own world, which is just about elite performance of Ospreys rugby. That's what we're about."
Asked whether he thought there'd be regions next season, he said: "I'd certainly hope so.
"The national game is in great health in terms of what's been done over the past ten years.
"You compare it to the old club game and I think strides have been made by the union and the regions independently.
"Let's keep working together and let's build on what's good about the game."