WRU ‘will move their top stars to England’

Wales playersThe Welsh Rugby Union is proposing to sign six players and loan them to English clubs as a consequence of the war with their regions.

The WRU revealed their contingency plan when the players’ agents asked where their clients would be playing their club rugby next season given the governing body’s avowed threat to liquidate the four regional teams over their refusal to re-sign with the Union.

It raises the grim prospect of even more big-name Welshmen appearing outside Wales next season, not because they have been paid princely sums by French clubs but because their Union employers may opt to send them across the border to keep match-fit for Wales.

The six include some of the biggest names of all – Lions captain Sam Warburton, Lions man of the series Leigh Halfpenny, 95-Test tighthead Adam Jones and 80-Test lock Alun Wyn Jones. All are out of contract with their regions at the end of the season along with the Scarlets’ duo Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams, believed to be the other two members of the six.

“To be told that the WRU is considering allowing top Welsh players to play on loan in England is positively shocking,” a leading regional figure said last night. “We have had this information from two sources. There’s no doubt it has been suggested.”

Cardiff Blues chairman Peter Thomas told The Rugby Paper yesterday: “I am appalled that they are even considering such a thing.

“What kind of a message does this send out to all the fans and all the young kids who want to watch their heroes play here in Wales.”

Thomas, a multi-millionaire businessman and former Cardiff player, accused WRU chief executive Roger Lewis of attempting to “destroy” the regions, saying: “There is a desire within the regions to work with the WRU but there is no appetite from the regions to work with Roger Lewis. We have no confidence in him.

“His agenda is to destroy the regions and take complete control. Unfortunately for him, he has picked a fight with the wrong guys. As far as the regions are concerned, there’ll be no turning back.”

Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), representing the Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets, have given the WRU until the end of this month to end the conflict. In refusing to re-sign their participation agreement drawn up in 2008, the regions reaffirmed their support for Rugby Champions’ Cup “under the aegis of the Six Nations”.

The tournament, proposed by the English clubs and backed by the French until their volte face before Christmas, has been grounded because of the Celtic Unions refuse to hand over commercial control to the clubs.

As members of ERC (European Rugby Cup) the same Celtic Unions have signed a contract with Sky for the company to continue live coverage next season, assuming there is a competition.

The English clubs claim that the Champions’ Cup, as televised by their broadcast partner, BT Sport, will almost double commercial value to more than €70m.

Unless peace breaks out before the deadline, the regions will have “no choice but to pursue further competition options immediately” – meaning pushing ahead with plans to join the Premiership.

Thomas admitted yesterday that such a scenario would result in the dispute going to the High Court. The regions will find out this week what the WRU proposes in a new participation agreement.

“They call it an olive branch,” Thomas said. “I call it common sense although I’ve no idea what’s in it. As regions, we’re running businesses and the bottom line is we have to be allowed to run them for the good of the game as a whole so we can keep our best players in Wales.”

The ‘new agreement’ will offer no concession towards the Champions’ Cup. The WRU’s unequivocal stance is spelt out in a letter to its 320 member clubs, signed by president Dennis Gethin, chairman David Pickering and chief executive, Lewis.

“The WRU will not agree to any Welsh club or regional organisation playing in competitions which have not been agreed by the International Board,” the letter states. “The suggested engagement of an Anglo-Welsh league or a non-sanctioned European tournament are not viable in the best interests of Welsh rugby or across Europe.

“We will not countenance leaving Scotland, Ireland and Italy isolated from meaningful tournaments. Such a move would lead to decline for their national teams and consequently the demise of the Six Nations into a meaningless and unattractive competition.”

RRW countered by stating: “It’s disappointing the WRU’s disrespectful response to another positive proposal from the regions is  again to engage in a vitriolic and disingenuous attack.

“Equally it is yet to be explained by the WRU why bringing an additional £12m into the game by the regions is not in the best interests of Welsh rugby.”

PETER JACKSON

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