CHRIS KIRWAN: Trusting partnership is vital if dark clouds over Welsh rugby are to clear

First published in Sport

PERHAPS Newport Gwent Dragons are merely mimicking Prince as their spat with the Welsh Rugby Union rumbles on.

When the Matthew Morgan-sized musician was engaged in a dispute with Warner Bros in the mid 1990s he took to the stage with 'slave' written on his face.

Then, after changing his name to a squiggly symbol, he fulfilled his contract by releasing albums that were a mixture of classic hits and lacklustre material.

Given the Dragons' botched summer poll for a new logo and the 'best of' signings of Andy Powell, Ian Gough and Aled Brew (who are in the classic category rather than lacklustre), there could be a Prince fan at the helm at Rodney Parade. There are certainly plenty of Black and Ambers that wish they could party like it's 1999, even if that year contained five defeats to Caerphilly.

But the saga of Regional Rugby Wales and governing body attempting to agree a fresh participation agreement between drags on and a letter by the former last week triggered images of Prince and what was scrawled in ink across his right cheek.

Signed by the chairmen of the Dragons (Martyn Hazell), Scarlets (Nigel Short), Cardiff Blues (Peter Thomas) and Ospreys (Roger Blyth), it demanded that a fresh agreement "must create a partnership and collaboration between us. It is not an employer/employee or master/slave relationship".

That letter arrived on the doormat of Roger Lewis and David Pickering, chief executive and chairman of the WRU respectively.

Lewis made his name in music – at Capital Radio, Radio 1, EMI, Decca and Classic FM – so perhaps it prompted him to think of Prince, the Stone Roses, Def Leppard or the many bands that have been involved in disputes with their record companies.

But this shouldn't be a case of the artist sticking it to 'the man', nor 'the man' keeping the artist on track.

The pair should be working together to help each other achieve their goals – successful regions would drive a successful national team, struggling regions will lead to Wales being among the also-rans of the Test scene.

But it is clear that the quartet feel the current relationship is not a pleasant one and they are unwilling to sign up for five more years of the same.

They believe that the WRU want to control them rather than work with them and at the minute the presence of Lewis appears to be a barrier to progress.

A RRW statement alluded to that, praising Pickering's comments and the attitude of some individuals on the board but expressing their frustration at "every apparent step forward eventually being replaced by two steps back".

It is NOT the region's place to be demanding who is at the helm of the WRU – and Lewis can point to mandate from member clubs at last month's EGM – but a proper relationship is required if a fresh deal is to work.

To that end the regions must do their part listen to the concerns of the governing body, who cite past financial incompetence at Rodney Parade, Parc y Scarlets, BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park and the Liberty Stadium.

If a deal is signed off then the two parties will need to work together for the duration of the contract and beyond; if individuals feel unable to do so because of past history then they should stand aside.

And it's not impossible for warring factions to come together – at the start of the year Prince signed a fresh, major deal... with Warner Bros.

While he belts out Purple Rain, Welsh rugby desperately needs the dark clouds to clear.

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