The Rugby Union of Wales proposes to reduce the number of regional teams from four to three as part of a grand plan that will change the game in Wales.
Proposals that WRU chief Steve Phillips will discuss with the regions next week are likely to consider the previously doomed merger of Scarlets and Ospreys as one option, while eliminating dragons owned by WRU or Ospreys was also discussed. Any move that threatens the existence of the side is likely to meet fierce resistance from some sides.
The union has spent around £ 25,000 on the Oakwell Sports Advisory report, known as the Umbers report, with recommendations that losing the team is a way to make professional rugby in Wales financially viable and successful. It is clear that Dragons and Ospreys are the two parties mentioned in the report as potentially under threat, mentioning the Dragons ownership model and the lack of ownership of the stadium in Ospreys.
The changes will take effect in two years.
WalesOnline said another option discussed earlier – model two plus two, which would have two fully funded regions and two given development status – is now considered unfeasible.
The possibility that the three regions will be complemented by the development side in North Wales is not ruled out at this stage, although it is difficult to see that the surviving regions agree to such a proposal.
A series of meetings continued behind the scenes for weeks when Welsh rugby is in crisis. The current four professional sides, Cardiff, Osprice, Scarlets and Dragons, have gone through mostly miserable seasons, and the disastrous team of the Six Nations national team, which suffered its first-ever home defeat by Italy, was a turning point for WRU action.
All regions have suffered significant financial losses in the wake of the Covid pandemic and are still burdened by a $ 20 million loan indebtedness taken on their behalf by the WRU. All coaches from the four sides were asked to express to the Union their views on what should happen for the game in Wales to be successful, with more funding and better paths for players at the top of their wish list.
In recent weeks, the WRU has received criticism from all sides amid growing concerns. WRU head Phillips has focused on investing in capital projects that will bring long-term profits, such as the new Parkgate Hotel on Westgate Street, but opponents doubt why the Union is not investing more directly in professional games now to improve gameplay and coaching standards.
The proposals of the Union will certainly face serious problems if they are considered by the Professional Rugby Council, which includes the bosses of all four teams. Fans will also have strong views on the future of their teams.
A source from Welsh Rugby has confirmed to WalesOnline that a radical step is on the table and that difficult decisions will need to be made if Welsh Rugby wants to succeed.
However, the path to an agreement is likely to be difficult. “It is clear that not everyone sings from the same anthem,” said another well-placed source in Welsh rugby.
“We all know that the game is in a difficult position, but not everyone is sure that the answer is to reduce the number of professional teams and thus reduce the pool of players at the top.
“Indeed, a long-term plan must be devised that ensures the success of the national team as well as the regions, because if you don’t have a thriving Wales team, you don’t have a thriving professional game either.
“And to have a successful Welsh team, you need four teams because of the number.”
The proposed merger of Scarlets-Ospreys three years ago hit the buffer amid a lot of anger and fierce claims, counterclaims and accusations from those involved. You can read all about it here.
Wales first represented five teams when the game became regional in 2003, but the Celtic Warriors were rejected within a year amidst great ferocity.