Regions ready for the off after a summer of discontent

Glasgow Warriors Al Kellock, MunsterÕs Peter OÕMahony, ConnachtÕs John Muldoon, Newport Gwent DragonsÕs Lee Byrne, Cardiff BluesÕ Matthew Rees, ScarletÕs Ken Owens, LeinsterÕs Jamie Heaslip, UlsterÕs

Glasgow Warriors Al Kellock, MunsterÕs Peter OÕMahony, ConnachtÕs John Muldoon, Newport Gwent DragonsÕs Lee Byrne, Cardiff BluesÕ Matthew Rees, ScarletÕs Ken Owens, LeinsterÕs Jamie Heaslip, UlsterÕs

First published in Sport by

GOOD things come to those who wait and there will certainly be plenty of relief when the Guinness Pro12 gets under way next weekend.

The start of the new season is nine days away and the dark clouds over Welsh rugby could soon clear, for now at least, with a fresh participation agreement between the WRU and the four regions.

The representatives of Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets were certainly keen to stress at yesterday's Pro12 launch that sport and politics don't mix.

The regional coaches and captains fielded question upon question about the spat at the sponsor's headquarters in London, most of them getting a straight bat.

"It's got to the point where you switch off," admitted Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy, who will be looking to show that the Liberty Stadium side are still Wales' best despite the departures of Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Ian Evans and Ryan Jones.

But Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones was at pains to point out that the off-field troubles had not hindered the region's pre-season preparations, that it has been business as usual.

"What's been important is that none of our players have been involved in any understanding of what is going on," he said. "They've just been getting on with what they are paid to do, which is play and train.

"Other regions may have included their players in discussions but we have kept them well away; it's nothing to do with the players, it's how the administrators get on with running the game.

"Now we are looking forward to the start of the season and it's exciting because there are new sponsors and new broadcasters, there's a breath of fresh air."

The arrival of Guinness and Sky Sports, who will show 33 live games along with the existing broadcasters, added a touch of glamour to the launch day.

As usual Pro12 chiefs were quick to point out the quality of their product, which features 227 international players from 14 countries.

And they hope that qualification for Europe's premier tournament, something that has always benefited the English and French leagues, will provide added spice.

But despite ensuring plenty of media coverage by holding the launch in England rather than one of the four competing countries, the Celtic League will always come third given the financial clout of the Aviva Premiership and Top 14.

However, that's of no concern to the captains, who faced a day of smiling for the cameras and fulfilling media commitments rather than grafting on the training paddock.

"It really hits home how close the start is after all this," said Dragons skipper Lee Byrne. "Meeting the other captains and seeing that trophy, it's great and I can't wait to get started."

Plenty of rugby supporters will share his excitement after a summer of discontent.

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