Staying the same, but different?

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There is a definite feeling that we are approaching the end of the debacle that has been the handling of Project Reset’s financial aspect, with proposals going before the Welsh Rugby Union board this week, hopefully followed by an announcement to the supporters shortly after.

Since the Professional Rugby Board first met in the first week of January there have been all sorts of rumours regarding what professional domestic rugby in Wales will look like next season, including new East and West entities, bringing RGC into the fold, and merging Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys.

At different times both Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys have been in precarious financial positions directly due to the uncertainty that Project Reset has created, while none of the four regions have been able to re-sign players out of contract or begin the process of securing new faces for next season without budgets being set.

In some respects it all came to a head before the Ospreys v Munster game on Friday night, when head coach Allen Clarke in his pre-match interview alluded to something serious happening at the Liberty Stadium which threatened the future of the region.

20.08.17 - Ospreys v Bath - Preseason Friendly -Allen Clarke.
Allen Clarke was outspoken both pre and post match on Friday

Subsequently in his post-game comments he confirmed that the Ospreys would live-on, but the key question is what does a post-Project Reset regional game look like with the four current teams staying in place?

We have previously looked at how the regional game cannot hope to ever compete in the Heineken Champions Cup with budgets as they are, so something needs to change if we want to start troubling the knockout stages on a regular basis again.

While the Cardiff Blues and Ospreys merger rumours were floating around last weekend, what came out in the days after that was talk of going to a ‘2+2’ funding model, with Cardiff Blues and Scarlets taking the top tier of funding, while Dragons and Ospreys operated on lower budgets in more of a development role.

Of course as a Cardiff Blues supporter on a selfish level that would be a good outcome for us at the Arms Park, with the sense that the added budget if used wisely to boost our engine room and add some depth in other positions could see us develop a squad that would push for the European knockout rounds.

However, there is a flip side that sees both of our closest rivals ‘downgraded’ to a development region, in what would take an edge off the derbies no doubt, and putting myself in the shoes of Ospreys supporters I would not be too pleased if we were pushed into more of a developmental role.

There would be light at the end of the tunnel though, with their academy bringing through a promising generation of young players at the moment.

Four of the starting Wales U20 XV that beat England U20 on Friday were Ospreys, including fly-half Cai Evans and impressive hooker Dewi Lake, while in the Ospreys first team that played Munster on the same night there were youngsters Matthew Aubrey, Luke Price, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Keelan Giles, Will Griffiths and Reuben Morgan-Williams involved in the matchday 23.

Tiaan Thomas Wheeler Ospreys
Centre Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler has a bright future ahead of him

At the moment they are struggling financially with Swansea City FC having been relegated from the Premier League, and subsequent commercial revenue generated through the Liberty Stadium being lost, while the WRU’s removal of private investment from the game has also hit them hard.

If they spend the next few years developing those youngsters into a first team squad, then they can return to the top of the regional game at the same time as private equity investment from CVC hits the Guinness Pro14.

Short term pain for long term gain in Swansea, while simultaneously allowing Cardiff Blues and Scarlets the chance to push on, while it’s a similar story to the Ospreys in Newport, as the Dragons bring through a promising crop of youngsters with CVC money and Rodney Parade redevelopment on the horizon.

Admittedly this is all easy for me to write as Cardiff Blues emerge from a 2+2 model in decent shape, but maintaining budgets as they are is a risky game with no long-term playing improvements or certainty that it solves financial issues in the Welsh game.

We wait to see what comes out this week…

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