THE FOUR regions are preparing for life without a participation agreement with the Welsh Rugby Union after hitting out at the governing body to failing to convert constructive meetings into a fresh deal.
The five-year participation agreement, which sets out a financial package between the Regional Rugby Wales – the body that represents Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets – and the Union, expired at the end of last month without a fresh accord in place.
It had been hoped that a new deal was imminent and progress appeared to be being made regarding a financial package and issues including international player release, overseas quotas and central or dual contracts.
The regions claim that they held fruitful meetings with Wales head coach Warren Gatland and say they have been encouraged by statements made by WRU chairman David Pickering and some of his fellow board members.
However, in a statement that is sure the heap the pressure on WRU chief executive Roger Lewis, the quartet say it has been a case of “every apparent step forward eventually being replaced by two steps back”.
It reads: “Sadly, the regions regret to confirm that despite an indescribably tortuous process of endless telephone calls and meetings since January 6, the control, commercial and financial conditions that are being demanded of them under drafts of the proposed new Service Agreement would be completely unacceptable for any responsible independent business to enter into and expose itself to.
“The regions are most grateful for the time and consideration of Wales’ national head coach (Warren Gatland), who has worked hard to reach a constructive and positive balance on the core rugby elements of the agreement.
“The public statements of the WRU chairman (David Pickering) referring to the need for urgency are welcomed, together with the positive position of individual WRU board members following the regions’ presentation to the board during May 2014.
“Unfortunately, these comments in the public domain do not reflect the actual process that the regions continue to experience, with every apparent step forward eventually being replaced by two steps back.
“The regions have consistently made every possible effort to reach a positive and progressive agreement that truly works in the interests of both parties, to ensure a sustainable and competitive professional game in Wales at both regional and international level.
“They remain totally committed to the hope of reaching that solution.
“However, after many months of working hard to try to progress a new agreement, it is with heavy hearts that the boards of all four regions must now urgently consider the stark practical consequences of operating within a business model that does not include any form of agreement with the WRU outside IRB regulations and no WRU support or involvement in the development of professional regional rugby.”
If no deal is struck then Gatland being without any of his players – bar centrally contracted skipper Sam Warburton – for the fourth autumn international against South Africa, which takes place outside the IRB Test window.
The Welsh Rugby Union responded by saying they were “saddened and surprised” at the regions’ statement.
“The WRU will not respond to the highly emotional content of the document and assures all involved with Welsh rugby that the governing body will continue to work with complete focus on reaching agreement with the four regional organisations as soon as possible,” they said.
“Following receipt of a copy of the draft RSA (rugby services agreement) with marked comments by Regional Rugby Wales, the WRU responded in writing on Thursday, July 10 with comments to the RRW amendments.
“This is the legitimate, proper and private method adopted within corporate governance for agreements to be negotiated and concluded.
“It is extremely unhelpful to the process for emotionally charged statements to be made, either verbally or in writing, to interfere with this process.
“The WRU remains determined to conclude an agreement which will ensure the existing four regional organisations continue as the nominated teams to take place in all IRB sanctioned competitions for the professional level of rugby involving teams from Wales.
“The WRU urges RRW to continue to fully engage in this process and has been encouraged by some recent comments from senior RRW personnel confidently predicting a positive outcome soon.
“The WRU is confident that the governing body and RRW are in substantial agreement on the total monies contributed by the WRU within the RSA and the governing body will work to ensure the rugby commitments associated to the payments are acceptable to all parties and in the best interests of Welsh rugby.”