CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Extra WRU funding could put Dragons under pressure

First published in Sport

IT was in December 2011 that Luke Charteris confirmed the inevitable – he would be leaving Newport Gwent Dragons at the end of the season.

The region’s talisman said he would be heading for pastures new in the same week that a Cardiff Blues coach called for the Welsh Rugby Union to provide help to keep hold of big name players.

As we approach the 2012 autumn internationals very little has changed… and the regions are getting restless.

In recent weeks the Union have been encouraged to act by former Newport owner Tony Brown and ex-Ospreys chief Mike Cuddy.

The party line is that the four regions and WRU are working closely for the best solution, that a financial review will allow them to tackle the "tough economic challenges" facing them.

But the fact that two such well-connected men, albeit individuals that are no longer talking in an official capacity, have spoken out says it all about the direction of those talks.

Blues chairman Peter Thomas followed, saying that without Union help there is no way that they can hold on to star centre Jamie Roberts when his contract expires at the end of the season.

The same applies for Alex Cuthbert, who penned a one-year deal at the end of last term, and the process will be repeated in 2014 when Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny are on the market.

The situation hasn’t changed since Charteris, Aled Brew and Gethin Jenkins headed over the Channel to join Mike Phillips, Lee Byrne and James Hook in the Top14 and the clock is ticking.

The WRU, with their fantastic financial figures, are benefiting from the region’s players.

But if they won’t stump up any more funds to help build or retain quality squads then the benefactors certainly won’t.

It’s hard to see any middle ground – the Union can either help by introducing some sort of central contract system or they can stick to their guns and see talent head elsewhere.

But where would that additional funding leave the Dragons, a region that is, barring a real ‘bolter’, likely to provide just one player to Wales’ squad for the autumn internationals?

If the Union are to splash the cash then they will want a considerable return for their investment.

Say they agree that they need to keep Dan Lydiate in Wales at the end of this season, would it be in their best interests to move him elsewhere so that the flanker is exposed to Heineken Cup rugby?

The Union would be subsidising squads so would want players to be fresh and accessible to international coaches.

That means capping the amount of games they play and ensuring those fixtures are of the highest possible quality. That equals Heineken, not Amlin.

If the Union are to sacrifice paying off their debt as quickly as possible to invest in a new way of doing things then they will want to reward those that are producing quality Test players, thus allowing them to keep making healthy profits.

There may be a couple of starlets on the way in Jack Dixon and Hallam Amos, but the Dragons production line has hardly be churning players out of late.

The region will be handed a stark warning if extra funding is the future – start contributing or you’ll fall further behind.

However, improving the academy ‘pathway’ (a ghastly word but something that the Dragons have been attempting to tackle of late) is not the only requirement.

The Rodney Parade board also need to invest in the squad or it won’t just be English and French rivals that benefit from the talent that does come through.

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