Regions hit back in player release row

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The Independent Online

Welsh Rugby Union boss Roger Lewis has been told to "start acting like a chief executive" as the fall-out continues over international player release.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland still does not know when his Test stars will assemble ahead of the autumn series opener against world champions South Africa on November 8.

Wales' four professional regions - Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets - say players will not be released until five days before the game.

Gatland wants at least three days' additional access next week, and he would then be prepared to send players back to their regions for important EDF Energy Cup fixtures the weekend before Wales face South Africa.

The WRU sought International Rugby Board assistance earlier this week, but the IRB say it is beyond their jurisdiction to step in.

The IRB, although keen to see the issue resolved, announced they cannot get involved in "internal domestic and/or private contractual disputes and/or scenarios".

The verdict came after a three-man regulations committee discussed the matter via telephone conference call.

The WRU have now made another official request for the regions to "honour their contractual obligations" and release all Wales squad players from next Monday.

But the WRU's latest move prompted a furious blast from Regional Rugby Wales interim chief executive David Moffett.

Former WRU chief executive Moffett said: "After two days of calling on Roger Lewis to get round a table so we can strike a solution to this issue, to now just get a mealy-mouthed statement from the WRU press office is a disgrace, and it has taken an IRB ruling to get even that.

"Now is the time when Roger Lewis should be demonstrating his leadership skills and joining us in reaching for an agreement.

"I have phoned him and I've invited him to enter into constructive dialogue with me on behalf of the regions, but his silence is deafening.

"He needs to step up to the plate and start acting like a chief executive so we can agree a way out of this.

"Otherwise, he needs to get out of the way so we can get this thing dealt with quickly by someone else at the WRU."

The WRU said: "The Welsh Rugby Union is contacting its four regions with another official request for them to honour their contractual obligations and release all Wales international squad players for training from Monday, October 27.

"The WRU has been informed by the IRB that it considers the current issue of player release for Wales squad members does not fall within their jurisdiction, and that the IRB will issue no further ruling or guidance.

"The WRU believes the preparation of the national squad for international matches is a top priority for Welsh rugby, and that the reasonable requests of the national coaching team must be delivered.

"The regions have a proud history in the modern game of delivering in these circumstances, and we thank them for that in recognition of the pressures they are under as a result of the demands we all face in the professional era of rugby union."

Regional Rugby Wales has warned that any attempt by the IRB or WRU to force the player release issue could result in legal action by the regions.

RRW said in a statement: "The regions would be forced to release their star players ahead of the EDF Cup games, a competition established and partially organised by the WRU.

"By being forced to field weakened teams, the regions would be likely to argue that this has a serious impact on their commercial and financial position, especially as last year saw a Welsh region (Ospreys) scoop the lucrative title."

The South Africa Test will be Wales' first in Cardiff since victory over France last March secured the RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam.