Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) on behalf of the four Welsh Regions would like to issue the following statement to clarify its position on national contracts.
Firstly, it is important for the Welsh Regions to stress that they have the utmost respect for Sam Warburton as a player, a leader, a young man of great integrity and as an important role model for every young rugby player inside and outside Wales.
At the same time, the Regions respect and support the right of Sam or any individual to make their own decision for their future based on their understanding of the choices available to them at any one time.
The introduction of one individual national contract at this particular time, however, leaves the Regions bemused and they would question the strategy behind the bizarre action by the WRU given that a final agreement on the future of Welsh Rugby has yet to be reached.
The Regions would ask what kind of message this sends out about Welsh Rugby to our colleagues in the game across the world.
The Regions would also question how one national contract works as a constructive and sustainable strategy for the whole of Welsh rugby given that we have some 200 professional players in Wales contracted to the Regions.
The Regions are concerned about the impact of this action, the confusion it creates within Welsh Rugby at this time and how it may unsettle the balance of strong and close-knit team environments at the Regions.
For many months through the proper channels of the PRGB, the Regions have attempted to discuss a number of pragmatic options for different contract models with the WRU; as part of a wider structural solution that focuses on delivering sustainable and competitive professional rugby at all levels over the next ten years.
These proposals had at their core the objective of retaining our Welsh International players and ensuring they trained and played their weekly rugby in Wales.
The proposals also confirmed that the Regions would only play a centrally contracted player on collective agreement between all four Regions – as part of a complete structural solution for the future of the game in Wales.
This agreement between the Four Regions was to ensure that any national contract agreement was part of a clear and proper strategy and agreed framework to achieve long-term solutions for player retention in Wales; and guard against any quick fix, ad-hoc action.
No overall framework has been agreed between the WRU and Regions, so no agreement to play centrally contracted players in the Regions currently exists.
As concluded by PWC, the Regions do not believe a central contract structure alone is the answer to the challenges facing the professional game in Wales today or in the future – there is a much wider picture and more pressing issues to address.
Over the entire time of options being tabled, the WRU has resolutely refused to undertake any discussion, of any option, beyond the absolute conditions that the cost of any National Contract must be deducted from the Region’s existing income; and that the Regions must agree to sign the extension option to the previous Participation Agreement.
The Regions therefore cannot understand how, or why, the WRU have now completely reversed their stance in just weeks.
It is also important to make clear that the national contract announcement was made the day before the Regions were due to respond to the WRU’s recent proposal of a new Operating Agreement. The news arrived whilst the Regions were attempting to discuss and agree the fundamental principles on which any new agreement should be based.
The critically urgent priority remains the immediate confirmation of committed competition platforms and revenues for next season, to enable key commercial activity including fixture lists, season tickets and sponsor agreements to be delivered across the four Regional businesses.
This is the only outcome that will remove uncertainty for more than 400 professional, semi-pro and development players in Wales, together with coaching and regional staff and the passionate and dedicated supporters, sponsors and business partners that support the Regional game week in, week out.
Regional Rugby Wales outlined its concerns to the Welsh Rugby Union in a letter to the governing body earlier this week.