RUGBY Union enjoys a unique place in the culture and in the economy of Wales.

In recent years Welsh Rugby has enjoyed considerable success.

With its huge popularity, rugby makes an important contribution to the Welsh economy.

A recent report found that the Millennium Stadium alone was worth £130million annually to the economy of Cardiff and Wales.

Given the importance of Rugby to Wales’ economy and culture the current dispute between the Welsh Rugby Union and Regional Rugby Wales is a matter of great concern.

The four regions have a collective turnover approaching £30million a year with a direct economic contribution to Wales in excess of £50m a year.

However, the Welsh Rugby Union and the Welsh regions are currently locked in a bitter row over funding, the exodus of Welsh players to other teams outside Wales and the proposed Anglo-Welsh league.

Regional Rugby Wales claim they are concerned about the state of the game below international level and genuinely fear that unless immediate action is taken then irreparable long-term damage will be caused with a very real risk that top level professional regional rugby in Wales will disappear.

They point to an independent report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers which confirmed there was a funding shortfall in the regional game in Wales.

A way needs to be found to address this funding gap and to address the player drain which has seen a growing number of Welsh players leave to play in England and France where they can earn much larger salaries.

I believe both the Welsh Rugby Union and Regional Rugby Wales recognise the importance of developing and maintaining a strong grassroots and regional structure to enable rugby to grow and to thrive in Wales.

This dispute demonstrates the wider difficulties associated with the way Welsh rugby is run.

It is time the National Assembly held an independent inquiry into the future of Welsh rugby such as we held in the past into Welsh football.

We could act as an independent and impartial third party to broker a long-term solution to this problem.

In the meantime, I urge the Welsh Rugby Union and Regional Rugby Wales to continue discussions to end this dispute which is damaging the credibility of Welsh rugby as soon as possible.

Then we can ensure Welsh rugby has a vibrant future leading to even greater success on and off the field.