From merging to mediocrity

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Last week was up there with the most turbulent in Welsh domestic rugby since the game turned professional in 1995, incorporating the birth of regional rugby in 2003 as well as the civil war between the regions and Roger Lewis.

First came the news that Scarlets and Ospreys were set to merge to form one West Wales team, with details sketchy but the opposition from supporters almost unanimous, while a North Wales team would appear as a professional development region, taking the fourth Welsh spot in the Guinness Pro14.

Then it all kicked off as the merger was taken off the table, before the Ospreys, Welsh Professional Rugby Players Association, Professional Rugby Board, Scarlets, Joint Supporters Group and Ospreys Supporters Club all started pumping out official statements, each one seeming to contradict the last.

The Ospreys have continued to make statements even up until Sunday night, with an increasingly combative tone in an exercise that has seen them gone from having widespread support on social media, to just being left to rant and rave like the old drunk in the corner of the pub.

justin tipuric ospreys
Ospreys have done a few u-turns over the last few months it would appear

In the end we are left with no information really, and no obvious solution when it comes to a medium-to-long term direction for regional rugby.

On an entirely selfish level there was a certain amount of excitement over a Scarlets and Ospreys merger. Not because I want them to merge, quite the opposite in fact as I enjoy the historic rivalry with the Turks, and the more recently developed rivalry with the Os, but because it meant a boost for Cardiff Blues’ budget.

With Dragons and the North Wales team being Union-owned they would become development regions on a reduced budget, allowing Cardiff Blues and the new West Wales superpower to operate on larger budgets and hopefully become more competitive in the league and Europe.

However, that is now off the table, and with it seemingly goes any chance of a ‘2+2’ type setup as the only other obvious possibility of that taking place was the Ospreys accepting a development role due to a poor financial position.

On that point the most recent OSPREYS STATEMENT expressly states that “the Ospreys are adequately funded for the foreseeable future”, not exactly convincing but not on the brink of ruin as has been suggested.

They state that these rumours are “malicious propaganda”, but when their most recent set of accounts states “a material uncertainty exists that may case significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”, you can understand why people might question their finances. Anyway, I digress.

Where we are now is a status quo of sorts, a ‘3+1’ setup that sees Scarlets working on a budget of around £7m, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues around £6m, and then Dragons closer to £4.5m, pretty much as we already are.

Project Reset WRU
Project Reset will drag on for another few weeks at least yet

This will inevitably leave the door open for more mediocrity, as we have already looked at how none of the Welsh regions have enough money to compete in Europe. WalesOnline may as well get their articles ready bemoaning a lack of regional competitiveness for next season now, as that will be the case unless someone punches well above their weight again.

We can survive on that until a cash boost might arrive from CVC, as it has done in England, or from more South African investment as the league may become a Pro16, but there will be similar cash boosts for the Irish and Scottish sides, leaving us with bigger budgets, but still behind our counterparts.

Perhaps what would be handy now would be the WRU management actually offering some leadership, rather than operating under the radio silence they have thus far, and encouraging additional investment into the professional game rather than letting us scrap it out for pennies.

That is just a pipe dream though, and it seems we will stay as we are unless something drastic happens, which leads on to one obvious course of action, for the next blog…

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