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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 18:29 GMT
Layman's guide to Welsh rugby's crisis
Layman's guide to the reform of Welsh rugby
Why does Welsh rugby need to change?

Results speak for themselves. There has been a long-term fall in performance levels from the international and club sides as Wales is no longer recognised as a force on the world stage.

More pertinently, the Union is broke. Debts of 66 million are crippling the game, leading to cutbacks in development programmes and the axing of the Wales 'A' team.

The Union plans to bring in regional entities with the best 150 or so players drafted into the sides for the Heineken Cup and Celtic League. This would be the only fully professional level of the game in Wales, and top players would take part in less fixtures at a more competitive level.

Why the controversy over regional teams?

Stalwart fans fear that long years of club traditions will be lost, along with all the brand identity that goes with their names. Opponents argue that the fans would not support the new entities.

What's this argument about four or five clubs?

WRU group chief executive David Moffett proposed a four-team plan that would have seen mergers between eight of the Welsh Premier clubs with games shared between their grounds. These would have been: Newport and Ebbw Vale; Pontypridd and Cardiff; Bridgend and Neath; Swansea and Llanelli.

The clubs have now agreed on a plan for five teams, though, and the WRU and ERC have accepted it. This allows Llanelli and Cardiff to stand alone and sees Newport merge with Ebbw Vale, Pontypridd with Bridgend and Swansea with Neath. Neath had been vehemently opposed to this move.

Moffett and Hansen still maintain that a four-team option is better suited to Wales' financial and playing resources.

Doesn't the Union own Neath?

Yes, but they are believed to be on the point of selling it to a consortium led by Neath chief executive Mike Cuddy.

So weren't Llanelli threatening to sue the Union?

The WRU signed a 10-year loyalty agreement with several Premier clubs in 1997, guaranteeing that at least eight clubs in the Premier Division would enjoy the privilege of being in the highest position in the Welsh club hierarchy. Llanelli sought a High Court injunction to prevent the four-team option from being implemented.

David Moffett acknowledged that there may be a legal problem in implementing plans against the will of those who signed the loyalty agreement, but wrote to the clubs suggesting that he was prepared to tear up the document.

How do the club benefactors fit in to all this?

Individual businessmen have poured millions into the clubs and have received very little in return. They are anxious that their investments don't go to waste, and with the Union in such financial straits their continued backing is vital to the game in Wales.

A compromise had to be reached that kept them onside, but not at the expense of putting individual club interests before the national game.

This means that the Union will not get complete control of the players and teams, unlike the provincial system implemented in Ireland.

What would happen to all the clubs outside the proposed regional structures?

The plan is for a 16-club, semi-professional Premier Division outside the regional structure. This will include all the current Premier sides, plus the best seven from Division One. The league will receive 800,000 funding, each team getting 50,000. Players from the regional sides could come into the premier league at the business end of the season.

The league will replace the current under-21 set-up and will be expected to prepare youngsters for senior competition. Each team below this level will be given 8,000 a season.

So what about all the foreign players?

In the short term, contracts with overseas players need to be honoured. In the longer term, the Union sees little value in seeing its scarce resources go into the pockets of players who cannot represent the Wales team. Some high-quality overseas stars may be kept to help raise the standard of the game in Wales, but there will be a major cutback in numbers.

Don't the English and French want to block change?

It had been suggested that English and French clubs would block moves to see Welsh regional sides entered into European competition. The fears were exaggerated, though - after Welsh rugby agreed amongst itself, the English and French approved the plans.

What do other countries do?

Ireland have a very successful provincial system, but this is based on traditional, historical entities. Scotland ditched their clubs for regional super teams, but the jury is still out on their success. France and England run successful club tournaments, but trouble seems to be brewing in England between club owners and the RFU.

Moffett has experience from the southern hemisphere where painful change led to the formation of the highly successful Super 12 franchises. It is uncertain whether such a model will be as successful in the northern hemisphere.

Why does change take so long?

Moffett and the general committee do not have the authority to authorise fundamental changes to the game. They have to be passed in an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), where all 239 member clubs vote and a 75% majority is needed for major change. Hence even committee men from the smallest clubs in Wales can influence the future direction of the game.

When will the changes be brought in?

Moffett wants the new structure in place for the 2003/04 season.

Hasn't everyone forgotten north Wales?

Moffett still feels that we should be trying to develop rugby in the north, and there are also arguments for creating a super team based on London Welsh, but in the current environment both ideas are, at best, improbable.

Llanelli's western region will have some responsibility for developing rugby in the north.

Er, what about Caerphilly?

The Cheesemen are already a semi-professional side and would take their place in the new 16-team Premier Division.




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