Welsh rugby’s civil war is finally over...
The War of the Daffodils was brought to an end with the signing of the Rugby Services Agreement (RSA). The new agreement brings to an end a highly damaging period in Welsh rugby which has tarnished the reputation of the game in Wales, and its administrators, in equal measure. During the last 18 months the French, Kiwis, English, Irish, South Africans, and even the troubled Australian Rugby Union, have made varying degrees of progress on and off the field – whereas Wales has found itself in a crippling self-induced coma. This state of financial and administrative paralysis led to a mass emigration of playing talent and rendered the four Welsh regions impotent in all competitions.
Things will now hopefully change. The Rugby Services Agreement looks very positive and should benefit both the regions and the WRU. In essence it provides the game in Wales with £60m of investment over six years. The regions will receive an index linked payment of £6.7m a year whilst also benefiting from a pot of £3.3m set aside for the dual contracting of core players for the national team. These dual contracts will see 60% of the bill settled by the WRU with the remaining 40% coming from the regions. Some will still argue that even this positive financial move can’t match the financial might of the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership. However, Welsh rugby doesn’t have to match the contracts on offer in these leagues, it couldn’t – it merely needs to be competitive. The new agreement also provides a £3.6m loan facility and a £500,000 one off payment for each region.
Each region will be allowed to sign six non Welsh qualified players and a further two who are attempting Welsh qualification through residency. Warren Gatland will have access to players 13 days before the international window and for the fourth Autumn International which falls outside of the ‘window’. The new deal will see the return of Welsh A team fixtures (initially one a season) as well as the provision of three players from each region for Wales’ sevens squad.
Perhaps the most unrealistic element is the desire to implement ‘Gatland’s Law’ – whereby only under exceptional circumstances will those who play their rugby outside of Wales be selected for the national team. Whilst the notion of Gatland’s Law is commendable it is unrealistic. It’s like one of those weird abstract laws that you hear about down the pub – it exists but is of little relevance – did you know that the licensing act of 1872 makes it illegal to be intoxicated and in charge of a cow in Scotland? Even the Australian Rugby Union has recently changed its policy on selecting oversees players for the national team – players on one year sabbaticals are now eligible.
However, whilst Wales is finally in agreement with regards to its national game, it is very difficult to agree with how the agreement was reached. Friday saw Roger Lewis state that “On not one occasion in those discussions did we have a cross word”. This statement seems laughable, particularly when looking back through the press releases that were fired between the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales – some of the press releases were tantamount to hate mail. If it is indeed true that no cross words were spoken it can surely only be as a result of all parties becoming so angry with the protracted negotiations that they had chewed their own tongues off and were unable to speak at all.
Overall the new agreement is hugely positive and will benefit the regional and national game. But by far the most important aspect of the RSA is that Welsh rugby can finally get out of the board rooms and get back into the changing rooms. And all will surely agree with that.