A new operational roadmap to strengthen elite Welsh rugby and build on the successes of the national team in the years ahead has been agreed by the WRU and its four Regions.
The groundbreaking agreement will deliver more financial security to each Region and contractually ensure that rugby in Wales has a greater focus on recruiting, retaining and selecting talented Welsh players in future.
Match squads for all Regional games are intended to contain on average at least 17 players qualified to play for Wales out of the 22 or 23 named from now on.
There is a commitment to reduce the number of non-Welsh qualified players in each Region (excluding those in the course of qualifying to play for Wales) down to no more than six with the ambition for that ratio to reduce further.
In future the Wales team will be able to play up to 13 international matches plus two more non-international games on an agreed tour every year with the appropriate training release times built in.
Before each competition players will be released from the Regions 13 days before the first international for squad training to begin.
The wide-ranging Participation Agreement will ensure that professional rugby in Wales can flourish within a coordinated strategy designed to identify and develop Welsh qualified talent, help players and teams achieve their full potential and deliver the best players onto the international development pathways.
It is seen by all the signatories as an historic agreement which will ensure the WRU can strive to achieve a winning Wales team aligned to successful Regions where Welsh talent is championed.
For the first time player release for the Wales Seven's squad will be officially sanctioned by contract.
The deal which has been evolved over two years of discussion and debate was finalised and signed last night at the Millennium Stadium (Monday, September 7, 2009) after being presented to and agreed by a special meeting of the full WRU Board on Sunday evening at the National Centre of Excellence at the Vale Resort, Hensol.
The WRU allocation to the four Regions which now stands at £3.6m will increase to £6m a year.
The renewed Participation Agreement will now define how all strategies and structures are aligned going forward within an agreed and funded structure.
The new Participation Agreement was finally brokered at talks led by the WRU Group Chief Executive, Roger Lewis and Stuart Gallacher, representing the Regions as Chief Executive of Regional Rugby Wales.
The key components of the agreement form a landmark series of initiatives which will directly shape the game in Wales and deliver:-
* agreement that every Regional match squad is intended to contain an average of at least 17 Welsh qualified players from now on, increasing to at least 19 over the term of the agreement
* agreement that a six non Welsh qualified player plus two 'time serving player' limit in Regional squads will be honoured. This is intended to fall to a minimum total of six including 'time serving players' by season 2013/14
* agreement on a range of key rugby performance protocols which include medical, player welfare, conditioning, analysis and, nutrition
* a formula for international player release which will allow up to 13 international matches for Wales each year
* agreed international player release for match preparation and games
* agreed release of Regional squad players for Welsh international Sevens duty.
* confirmation that all international training will be based at the new WRU Centre of Excellence
* approval for development regions such as the North Wales project
* the transfer of the four core academies to Regional administration
working alongside the new WRU National Academy
* significantly enhanced funding allocations to all four Regions from the WRU
The main operational agreements for the game are contained in a Rugby Charter as a schedule of the new agreement.
The content of the Charter was established in discussions led by the WRU Head of Rugby Performance and Development, Joe Lydon, and the four Regions with input from the four Regional coaches and specialists from the Regions and the WRU.
The agreement of the new Participation Agreement has removed the necessity for any legal debate over international player release for the planned Invesco Perpetual Autumn Series international between Wales and New Zealand on November the 7th and the proposed High Court action has been settled. The game will kick- off on schedule at 17.15hrs at the Millennium Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd.
As the gradual reduction of the number of non Welsh qualified players takes place all current contracts will be honoured.
Under the Rugby Charter each Region will also run development squads which will play up to six matches each season.
The Regions will release up to two players each to a core Wales Sevens squad which could be made up to 10 players with some included from other leagues or structures.
The Participation Agreement and the Rugby Charter will effectively shape the elite game in Wales to 2014 and will continue for a further five years on the same terms at the option of the Regions.
It will be monitored by a Management Board consisting of representatives from the four Regions and the WRU.
Roger Lewis said: "This agreement is an historic landmark for Welsh rugby and will help shape the future of our national game.
"At its heart it gives the Regions the financial security to carry out a mandate to recruit and develop Welsh international players.
"We have achieved an agreement which is rooted in the best interests of the whole of Welsh rugby because a winning Wales will deliver the support and commercial success we need to sustain rugby at all levels across our nation.
"It is a wide-ranging agreement which required a lot of hard work to complete and I want to publicly thank everyone who has helped devise and broker it.
"It was never going to be easy to achieve, but we have all remained totally focused through the passion we all share for Wales and Welsh rugby.
"A key priority of the WRU is to deliver a winning Wales and the success of our four Regions is a crucial component of that aim.
"The chief executives and chairmen of the four Regions have given significant commitment to this document and I want to thank them for that.
"Now a lot of hard work lies ahead of us all in turning this agreement into a body of work which truly shapes the future of our game. The WRU now has to achieve its financial goals so that the game at large can prosper and the four Regions will deliver a range of initiatives which develop Welsh rugby talent."
Stuart Gallacher said: "I am delighted that we have been able to reach this agreement which will undoubtedly help us all achieve our ambitions for our Regions and for Welsh rugby.
"It has taken a tremendous amount of hard work and compromise but both sides have remained determined to get this deal over the line.
"I believe this agreement delivers to the WRU what it has wanted to achieve for a very long time in that it guarantees the release of Welsh players to pull on the international jersey.
"What we now have is a very clear contract which delivers what we all need and I am absolutely certain that all four Regions will honour the commitments we have agreed.
"This will deliver a vital financial boost to the Regions and ensure there is a true focus on doing our level best to keep Welsh qualified players in Wales.
"This agreement will give us the strength to meet the challenges of the future and make decisions which will ultimately benefit the whole of Welsh rugby.
"In the past we have never been able to attain 17 Welsh qualified players in each match squad but this agreement gives us the potential ability and rewards to achieve that."
The Participation Agreement and its Rugby Charter will now herald a new relationship between the Union and the Regions in which best practice will be shared and aligned across the whole of the game.
Decisions and strategies will flow through the Regions into the academies and through the national squad system onto the WRU National Academy and all the international pathway teams.
The operational agreement will be implemented and monitored through regular meetings between representatives of all signatory parties.
The WRU Chairman, David Pickering, said: "This is a significant moment in the modern history of Welsh rugby and signals a period of great hope for the future.
"This agreement has been achieved through a meeting of minds across business and rugby expertise and has therefore required a profound level of understanding and intelligent debate.
"The glue which has held the discussions together has undoubtedly been a shared passion for our national sport.
"We have been making decisions which fundamentally affect the direction Welsh rugby goes in future and this agreement delivers on that responsibility.
"It sets high targets for the WRU and for the Regions, but we know from recent history that we can achieve the kind of rapport and the required levels of success to get there.
"I now urge all the true followers of Welsh rugby to get behind our four Regions and the Welsh international team to show the world that Wales is determined to flourish as a force to be reckoned with.
"It is important that we all acknowledge that this agreement could not have been achieved without the support and wise counsel of the WRU Board, its executive, the boards of our Regions as well as our lawyers Hugh James, M and A Solicitors who advised the Regions, the senior administrative and rugby staff from within all the organisations involved."