Despite months of protracted talks, at which very little has been achieved, a revised participation agreement has yet to emerge advancing the relationship between the WRU and the professional game in Wales. In fact, it would be fair to say, that negotiat
Despite months of protracted talks, at which very little has been achieved, a revised participation agreement has yet to emerge advancing the relationship between the WRU and the professional game in Wales. In fact, it would be fair to say, that negotiations between the WRU and RRW have, in reality, not only stalled but failed.
During the intervening months, the WRU's executive has made clear that it does not wish to entertain a formalised partnership between the governing body and the professional game in Wales. It has gone so far as to state that it will not enjoin in any structured and binding partnership with Regional Rugby Wales. At a time when other rugby nations have embraced the benefits of partnership working for the betterment of the game, the WRU's executive continues to treat the relationship with the professional tier in Wales as one of master and servant. Despite, at the WRU's request, RRW providing comprehensive amendments to the current participation agreement, the WRU has failed to present any form of revised draft in months; the last of which bore an almost identical resemblance to the one dismissed by the Regions last year.
Over this same period, the WRU has threatened to take the Welsh Regions to court on a number of occasions, following demands for the release of players that fall outside of the IRB Regulations. Not only did the WRU fail to properly consult with the Regions over new IRB regulations governing the release of players, it now believes these do not apply to them since their enactment. Prior to the Six Nations competition, the WRU demanded the additional release of players beyond that permitted by the IRB. Rather than see Welsh rugby suffer, or Wales having to witness the spectacle of another court action, RRW consented to the additional release. When the Summer Tour and pre-season training was scheduled outside of IRB's defined window, RRW once again agreed to release players, to save the WRU the embarrassment of having to re-schedule its tour.
As is well known, the Welsh Regions have provided the release of players, for international duty, more than any other rugby-playing nation in world. This is because those running the Welsh Regions are committed rugby men through and through, who have spent years developing and financing the professional game, far beyond the levels of any income provided by the WRU, to ensure Wales' success on the international stage. Since the advent of Regional rugby, this has seen Wales win two grand slams, Welsh teams lift the Anglo-Welsh trophy on two occasions, a Welsh Region win the Celtic League twice and Welsh Regions continuing to reach the final stages of the European Cup, not to mention Wales' significant contingent amongst the British and Irish Lions. And the individuals running the Regions remain as fully committed to the game, and to supporting its development and future, as ever.
Nevertheless, the WRU's executive continues to treat the Welsh Regions with little more than contempt and display a glaring lack of understanding as to the pressures and detail of professional rugby in the modern age. Time and again, the executive fails to consult the Regions on significant matters that materially affect the professional game and, in doing so, demonstrates an ever increasing level of arrogance.
Most recently, this has involved the Union seeking to unilaterally arrange additional international and touring fixtures that sit outside of any IRB regulation and without any reference to, let alone agreement with, the Welsh Regions. Specifically, the WRU has announced a fourth Autumn International fixture and has, unimaginably, invited the Regions, in writing, to take legal action against the Union if there is any objection. As a result, RRW has been left with little option but to face the Union's threats head on and take the WRU at its word. After being successfully granted an emergency hearing on Friday (3/7/09) in the High Court, RRW today served the WRU with an order to force a full High Court trial before a fourth Autumn International can take place, without the Regions' express permission. It is our sincere hope, that this will provide some much needed focus in any future discussions and, if any sense is to prevail, encourage the Union to finally adopt a partnership approach to the running of the professional game in Wales.
Our overriding desire is to see Welsh rugby succeed at every level but, in order to do so, this must involve the start of a genuine partnership and not simply the approach of a master to his slave. RRW is committed to not only pursuing best practice in the professional game, but to also ensuring Wales has the competitive advantage and the type of innovative approach to remain a top level force in world rugby. But the game of rugby is rapidly changing shape and the levels of development required to successfully compete at the highest level are increasing exponentially. These challenges have to be recognised and addressed in partnership if Wales and its Regions are to continue to flourish and succeed.