New year, old woes in Wales as regions fail to do deal with governing body


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The Independent Online

The four Welsh regional sides – Cardiff Blues, Newport-Gwent Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets – have until midnight to toe the establishment line by signing an extended deal with their governing body. As there have been precious few signs of them doing any such thing, it seems certain that political meltdown will move ever closer and the lawyers will be preparing for many a long and lucrative day in court.

Not unreasonably, the regions say they cannot enter into a participation agreement when they do not have the foggiest idea what competitions they might be participating in.

The continuing wrangle over the Heineken Cup, which is now close to collapse, and growing uncertainties over the long-term future of the Pro 12 league, in which the Welsh teams currently play alongside the Irish provinces, the big-city Scottish teams and the two Italian professional franchises, have left them in a very dark corner. The risk of several front-line international players – Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Priestland – following many of their brethren to England or France grows greater by the day. And, according to reports in France last night, Cardiff Blues full-back Leigh Halfpenny has just agreed a move to Toulon.

If the agreement remains unsigned, the regions will continue discussions with the top English teams about forming an expanded Anglo-Welsh Premiership while the Welsh Rugby Union will take initial steps to set up two, perhaps three, new teams under central control.

Perhaps Adrian Hadley, the former Wales wing who coached in the Premiership with Sale, had a point when he suggested that the biggest names in the game should play hardball. "If the players went to the WRU and said, 'Unless this is sorted out either way, we are not playing in the Six Nations Championship', it would be interesting to see how quickly they got round a table," he told the BBC.

One player certain to miss a big chunk of the Six Nations, if not all of it, is the outstanding Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien, who dislocated his shoulder while playing Pro 12 rugby for Leinster against Ulster at the weekend and requires surgery.