Why the regions were right to say no

After the news broke today about the offer of central contracts by the Welsh Rugby Union to the regions in Wales, with that offer being refused, it’s worth looking further then WRU propaganda to see the truth of the situation.

Currently, the WRU distributes circa £15 million to the four regions in Wales, £9 million of which is the competition and television revenue earned by the regions. Approximately £6.2million is then paid by the WRU to the regions for the release of international players. For this they get twelve international matches, a thirteen day release clause pre-internationals and fitness and training sessions during the season.

This £6.2million, spread between the four regions, is then used to not only fund international players but also their replacements in the squad which will be needed when the international players are absent.

The regions have had to decide themselves to put a £3.5million salary cap in place, to simply help keep their accounts viable and for them to continue existing. They have then been forced to ask for extra financial help from the WRU to help keep their best players. This is simply due to the money in the French and English game being far too much for Welsh regions to compete with.

Here we reach the offer made by the WRU. This was to keep the £6.2million figure and use it to fund the elite player contract of the current Welsh squad in Wales. For a few simple reasons, this is not a good deal for the regions.

Firstly the cost of the elite squad in Wales doesn’t currently add up to £6.2million so the Union would be giving less money to the clubs.

Secondly the clubs would have less money to find replacements in the squad for the large periods of time the international players are away and they would have no control over approximately 40% of the salary cap.

Thirdly the Union would gain much more control over these players and as a consequence they would not only play less for their regions but would spend less time training with them too.

The WRU’s offer of central contracts can be neatly surmised by offering nothing, or even less than nothing, for a loss of control and for the regions to be put at a great disadvantage.

Roger Lewis, the Chief Executive of the WRU, had an open letter published today, and through the propaganda and blustering, it simply contains snide comments and a complete misrepresentation of facts.

There is no doubt that a re-structuring of the game was needed in Wales, but it was needed to better the European prospects internationally and domestically. The current financial model has become far too top heavy and the WRU is at a great risk due to their short term success in overlooking what it is based on; the development of the young players by the regions and not by the WRU committee members.

Whilst the WRU have been applauded for reducing their debt, it is a short term view of rugby in Wales. For example, is paying off your mortgage in record time while stunting your children’s growth, the best way of paying off the family home?

There is a real financial problem facing the regions and it needs to be dealt with now. The WRU could well be on their way to paying off their debt, in say, 10 years, but they do so at the real threat of the decline of the Welsh domestic game. In effect, they are cutting off their own source of income, because once the domestic game is gone, where exactly are their international players going to come from?

For years the regions have relied on generous benefactors and boards of directors, but it is not a sustainable way to survive. The WRU need to act, not drive away the benefactors due to the inequalities of the partnership, and offer up deals that take more than they give.

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13 thoughts on “Why the regions were right to say no

  1. Just a couple of points. Why did the regions have to introduce a salary cap? Because they were far too frivolous with the little money that they did receive, spending much of it on journeymen and gravy train jumpers wanting a cushy number in Wales before they put theur feet up. Very few of the “big” names these regions signed made a massive impression. The Ospreys for instance signed Marty Hollah and Jerry Collins. Neither had a dramatic effect on the field of play, and often times their experience didn’t show up during matches and you would never have believed that they were vastly experienced International the way they played. The Ospreys best back row signing was Tia Tia, who actually looked like he wanted to be there.

    The regions have spent lots of money on their accademies, its taken them until now, when they have wasted most of their cash to relaise these youngsters need to be blooded and played. If the short term pain long term gain principle had been used at the start the regions would be in a much healthier place, as would Wales.

    Central Contracts are most definitely the way forward. The regions aren’t the be all and end all, the National side is. These players play the game to play for their country – they should do anyway. I do not and history does not hold out that when the regions play well, so does Wales, In fact, judging by our performances in the Heineken Cup, when Wales have had 1 semi-finalist since regionalisation and some seasons when we didn’t even have a team in the knock out stages, but we have managed three Grand Slams in eight years, there is little or no correlation between the two.

    Knocking the WRU is lazy criticism, standing up and saying to our regions, get your act together, stop bickering, stop moaning and start hiring coaching and playing staff who actually are proud to play for and coach your super clubs is nearer the mark.

    I agree that this offer is not terribly well thought through, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the way our regions are protected and we lose sight of what proffessional rugby is all about. Its time to get away from our colloquial view of the game, Its time that fans and management realised that Wales does come first and its time that our players stopped thinking what the regions can do for them and ask more what they can do for the regions.

    Its a well crafted article, but I find it very short sighted and narrow minded. I for one would love to see central contracts, but I also would love to see the whole tapestry of Northern Hemisphere rugby shaken to its core.

  2. Steve – ta for the reply.
    Just a point, but I’m not sure you realise that I am a Scarlets fan. I am perfectly aware of the need to invest in the youngsters and the good that can do, I can see the proof of that in front of my own eyes. (also our academy and the Ospreys’ has been working for years – now wasted money there 🙂 )

    Knocking the WRU is a must in my eyes and whilst they are doing some good (investments in grass roots etc) they are compromising the regions in a big way. The extra Autumn international being a prime example. Going into the 3rd round of the Heineken the regions will now have to face teams after just 2 days together as a squad, coming up against teams that will have been together for 2 weeks – do you honestly think that that is fair?
    The WRU does not need to be reducing it’s debt as quickly as it is.
    The regions are supplying the players to Team Wales that is ensuring that Team Wales is successful, if the regions are left to struggle and fade, just where do you think the players are coming from?

    I actually agree with you that team Wales is at the pinnacle of our sport, but at the moment the balance is badly badly turned towards Wales, it isn’t fair on the regions at the moment and it’s a problem that needs fixing and quickly.

    The Scarlets are currently the only region that is able to hold on to its stars (although with contracts up end of next season that could change) but the others are in trouble. Yes they need to get their academies working (I am a big fan of that) but their senior players, their internationals are needed also else we’ll just end up with teams that are mediocre in the domestic league. If they are mediocre, the crowds will fade, players won’t want to sign for them, sponsors will pull out and slowly but surely our domestic game will fade. That will happen, it’s a real concern and for me the WRU are shirking their responsibility.

    A balance needs to be struck between them, but the offer the WRU have given is just quite frankly not good enough.

    We all want to see Wales do well, but not at the expense of our domestic game, which is what’s happening at the moment. It’s wrong, and I felt that needed commenting on.

    thank you again for your comment 🙂

  3. Aware you are a Scarlet’s fan and am extremely impressed with what the Scarlet’s are trying to achieve. My Point is that there is a danger of a circular arguement going on. I think its a very cynical view to say that the 4th International is just a moneymaking exercise and I also thinks that using the “we haven’t been together long enough” arguement for a region is a stretching the point. They pend much of the year toogether, and unless the coaches are capable of re-invrnting the wheel in the four weeks their players are away from their regions it shouldn’t be too hard to slot back into their teams, as proffessional players.

    The WRU aren’t solely to blame in the state of Welsh rugby, the regions have as much to answer for as they do. It is not possible to compete money-wise with the French – the moneybags English teams are coming to trms with that.

    Am very sckeptical about the whole “WRU” are the root of all evil argument. The regions need to take a long hard look at themselves too. (I do believe that they do a lot wrong so I am not standing up for them as such) I could go on but I think I should probably leave it there.

  4. Gareth says:

    If someone thinks Marty Holah and Jerry Collins didn’t have a dramatic effect on the field of play, I would suggest they don’t know as much about rugby as they think they do!

    As for the academies, things don’t happen overnight. You can’t expect suitable players to be churned out after a couple of years, things need to bed down and, down west at least, they seem to have and the Turks and Jacks are reaping the rewards.

    While the Welsh national side is the pinnacle, it isn’t the be all and and all of Welsh rugby either. The national game has been restructured to give the national side every advantage and we have had some success because of it. It has left the regions in a horrible situation and the WRU simply want to have everything in their favour.

    RRW are happy to contribute to the national side, but there is no equality in the partnership whatsoever. As for central contracts, the IRFU haven’t shown a desire to shackle their clubs at every turn when it comes to extra internationals and taking the best players away before key matches in the season.

    The regions have cut their costs and said “This is what we can afford”. They are in a market with England and France so need help. It hasn’t been forthcoming. They aren’t perfect by a long way and need to sort things out to a degree, but they can’t do it alone.

    Without a club game there will be no national side and rugby in Wales will be finished. The WRU need to be challenged as they have shown no sign of any compromise and want their cake, to be able to eat it and not have to pay for it!

  5. CapItAll says:

    The fact is the regions (most of them) are poorly run while the WRU is well run. That means the union spending the £6m will get more out of it than the regions do themselves. One reason will be that four welsh teams will no longer be bidding against each other for the same players. The other reason is that central contracts would allow the WRU to place players so that the four regions have a better share of the talent eg either ken Owens or Matthew Rees would be at the Blues. This would make for closer games and better crowds with more on-field clashes between Wales squad members.

    One last thing – it’s the WRU who fund the regional academies outside the core funding for the regions. So the regions don’t really produce their own players – the WRU and amateur clubs do.

    • hey there,

      The WRU are doing good at the lower levels, and yes they give the money to the academies but it is the regions who run them and develop the players (which the Ospreys and Scarlets are currently doing very well). Am not saying the regions are perfect in this but over the past two seasons we’ve seen them cut their cloth accordingly and all they are stating is that they aren’t getting enough. I’m not calling for them to be spoon fed, but the WRU has a duty to do more to keep the regions running, I just honestly don’t think they are. And the open letter from Roger Lewis just proves it for me.

  6. Okay Gareth, would you enlighten me as to how much they improved the Ospreys when they were there? Might I suggest that you are blinded by their previous excellence in New Zealand and couldn’t see the wood from the trees because of that? I won’t push that point, suffice to say that the Ospreys admitted themselves at the end of last season beginning of this that the big name signing policy they began with was not the way forward, and it was time to invest in youth not stars.

    As for the IRFU – their Irish Internationals are shackled. They have a maximum number of games they play during a season, many of them aren’t present at the start of the Rabo League, and play the majority of their games during the Heineken and not many at other times. Do the Irish fans stay away when their Internationals don’t play? Do the regions buy has-beens and money grabbers or do they buy players who have a massive effect on their teams?

    The regions landed themselves in the mess they find themselves in, not the WRU. The approach of the regions is selfish, the approach of the WRU is perhaps one-eyed but they look to the future. You obviously haven’t read my thoughts on the accadamies – I didn’t say they would have an immediate affect – I used the term short term pain for long term pain.

    Thank you for your response Gareth. i take it all on board, but I can’t say I agree. I won’t, however, be cowed by someone who will try and tell me I know nothing about rugby, while not exactly covering himself in glory with his subsequent comments designed to educate and enlighten.

  7. Siobahn haven’t read that letter yet, will do now. Haven’t meant to be aggressive, am just a passionate Welshman, who has grown up seeing the clubs and regions he supports grab and gripe and moan and complain and not actuallyachieve much at all. Have also seen the WRU squander millions of pounds, in a nefarious manner, and who have still not fully embraced the proffessional era. I’m not saying the WRU are blameless, but I do believe that the Regions need to stand up and be counted now, instead of turning everything round. The “Wasn’t me” line of arguement is wearing thin.

  8. Gareth says:

    Steve, before you work yourself up too much I didn’t say you didn’t know anything about rugby.

    Marty Holah was often a one man side for the Ospreys when he played. To say they didn’t improve the Ospreys when they were there is, in my opinion, ridiculous but I guess we won’t agree so yes, lets leave it there.

    The Ospreys aren’t signing big names anymore because the welsh domestic game means they can’t afford it. They were an excellent side with the majority of their stars being home grown anyway who were complemented by excellent foreign players. If they could do this again, and sign an 8, 13 and 15, they would.

    Yes, the Irish players have a certain number of matches they can play. But they aren’t compromised before the crunch Heineken Cup matches of the season or playing extra matches at the end of the season like the welsh players are.

    Who are these hasbeens or money grabbers you are referring to? We need to fill in gaps in our squads when we don’t have welsh players good enough. I am sure the regions would have liked to sign better players but they don’t have the money. Or would that be signing big name players again, so frowned upon?

    How exactly did the regions land themselves in this mess? The game was restructured for the benefit of the national side and in that respect it is working. We can’t compete with the French, and I wish we had the tax break that helps Irish players stay in Ireland, but we don’t.

    Don’t think I support everything the regions do. The Dragons area shambles, Cardiff have worked hard to destroy everything they had in their favour and the Scarlets were horribly run for years. They still need to sort things out in their own houses without a doubt.

    Money men have always been needed to back the pro game in Wales and this is still the case, However, if the WRU don’t budge towards a more centre ground (which will still be in their favour) then I can see them walking away and pro rugby dying in Wales, which no-one wants.

    Oh, and as for the point made elsewhere about sharing players around the regions? If all sides were producing players you might have an argument but it isn’t fair on the two sides finally producing players to have their players sent elsewehere. As I said before, it isn’t ALL about the national side.

    • CapItAll says:

      That’s why the elite performance people at the WRU should run all the academies with the staff at each academy paid bonuses depending on how many internationals they produce.

      The big issue still hasn’t been addressed though – the regions have historically been poorly run. That might have changed over the last few months, especially at the Scarlets, but the damage has already been done.

      So why give more money to teams that squander it due to poor financial control?

      And why give it to teams who spend a lot of money on overseas dross? Take the second choice cardiff hooker from ulster. Why on earth sign him? Why not sign an average welsh hooker from ponty, glam wanderers or somewhere else instead?!

      As for Holah, one good season. His last season or two he was pathetic. Truly pathetic. Tipuric is a different class.

  9. Gareth, we will have to disagree . I watched the Ospreys, hoping beyond hope they would produce something special. When COllins and Hollah turned up I was filled with hope. When they played, for the majority of games my hope left in a hurry, Yes, on times Hollah played well, overall he did not. I won’t be budged on that, and better people than me have put that view forward.

    As for the hasbeens – there are two names right in front of you but your view of them is tarnished by their previous good name. There are many more.

    As for the open letter Shiv, I would like to know how Roger Lewis is in any way a snide – and this isnt an inflammatory request – because I can’t see it in any way, There is no bluster in there, he states the facts. These voices he spoke of have remained remarkably quiet. Its interesteing that Stuart Gallacher, a thorn in the side of the WRU when he was at the Scarlets, is a name mentioned as being a positive influence. Well done Mr. G – you were always a proper pain in the backside when you were at Stradey, I am glad he has put something back into the game.

    As for dictating who plays where, I’m sorry, this is the whole point. In actual fact, many of the players reared by the regions, came through the accadamies, which are funded by the WRU. As a result, officially, they are owned by the WRU and are theirs to do with as they please, if you want to take it to the extreme.

    The problem exists that some of us are still stuck in the past, where club loyalties outweigh all else. Roger Lewis is 100% correct – rugby is about Wales, not what some pedant feels in Aberdeaddog about their boy. They play for their regions to play for Wales. They are paid for through the success of Wales, and they enjoy a life of a superstar, because of Wales.

    Our regions have been a money pit for way to long. The old school ties principle is still very much in force, and most of the administrators are only bothered about their free tickets and the benefits they can get from running their teams. Its a downright disgrace that the regions and the WRU are at each others throats all the time. I have never been a fan of the WRU, far from it. However the way they have turned round the game in Wales is remarkable. Regional rugby is a stepping stone. This old fashioned romantic view about our players is nothing but that. We are in the proffessional era, every player that is qualified to play for Wales in the regions wants to play for Wales, ultimately, half of them because they know what rewards they can get from it. We are in a new era now. The location of the four teams doesn’t mean a lot anymore. The fact that the regions are still populated by moneygrabbers is their fault, not the WRU’s.

    • Steve,

      I think we’re agreeing on quite a lot but just approaching it from different view points.

      The way the game is structured, playing for Wales is always going to be the pinnacle and rightly so. We all know the regions are a stepping stone, that is their role in Welsh rugby. Same as with the Premiership being the area the academy players get their experience before they make the step up to the regions and so on and so on.

      The point it the regions are struggling to survive as a business (which is essentially waht they are) they only exist because of the money men. Without them, there would be no regions, there would be no place for our players to play and then team Wales would struggle, surely you can see that?

      The regions haven’t been perfect in the past but over the last two seasons they’ve been looking at getting their houses in order, and they are simply not getting enough help from the WRU to 1. simply survive and 2. be able to actually compete in europe.

      As much as roger lewis might want to ignore it, it’s a give and take relationship and so far, all I can see is the WRU taking. The balance is wrong, and that needs to change.

      I’m sorry if you can’t see that, and I thank you for your comments, but it looks like we shall just have to agree to disagree! 🙂

  10. I must add, the Ospreys have never been an excellent side. They have been a mediocre side, capable of periods of decency, never achieving the excellence that their team sheets have required, no demanded, since they got the best part of the Warriors rejects. I’m frankly fed up of hearing anyone say our regions have been excellent. Excellent where? The Os have won the Magners/Rabo. Big deal. What have they achieved in Europe? A hatful of naff all. Lets get one thing straight, every one of our regions have been run like someone’s little plaything, The players have rarely fulfilled their potential, but they have taken and taken and taken what money has been thrown at them, and then decided to play a little bit when they get with Wales. In 2008 the Ospreys won a Gran Slam. Why couldn’t they produce for thei region? because they were resting on their laurels and the region didn’t demand the excellence that is demanded by Gatland and Edwards. The longer I think about it, the angrier I get. As a passionate Welshman I have my eyes open. The sooner more Welsh fans do, the stronger the game will be in Wales.

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