Another weekend of Heineken Cup, and another weekend of uncertainty over the competition’s future.
One of the biggest stories of 2013 has been the RFU’s proposed breakaway from the ERC and the Heineken Cup. Simultaneously, welsh rugby has been plunged into turmoil in a dispute between the WRFU and wales’ four regional teams – Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Newport-Gwent Dragons – that peaked when the regions announced that they would not renew the Participation Agreement.
Their reasons for not doing so are many and varied, and stem from the WRU’s inability to clarify the proposed scrapping of the Heineken Cup and the uncertainty over the future of the RaboDirect PRO12 – with the Italian teams threatening to leave the competition.
The WRU have provided assurances that those competitions would survive, but the difference in opinion stems from the regions’ demands for more money – in order to combat the exodus of welsh players to the wealthier French and English leagues.
Currently the Welsh regions receive close to £3 million from the WRU and the leagues in which they currently play; the offer from BT Sport and Premier Rugby Ltd. would see each region receive £4 million.
January 31st was the deadline for the regions to approve the current Participation Agreement. As they refused to do so, the WRU have proposed a new plan – the Rugby Services Agreement – that is now being considered by the regions.
So what happens if the regions turn down that proposal? For starters, the WRU could explore a number of options such as centrally contracting Wales’ biggest names – Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Alun Wyn Jones, among others – and creating replacement teams.
As for the regions, their funding will expire as of July and they could push ahead with plans to join the Aviva Premiership. Sounds simple enough, save for the fact that the WRU would need to approve the move.
This is highly unlikely given their commitment to the Pro12, so all signs point to legal proceedings and a drastically-changed rugby landscape in late 2014.