Look East, to the Gallagher

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Earlier in the week I wrote about how, after a bizarre week even for Welsh rugby where mergers were on and off the table, and statements were been thrown out like confetti, we were back to staring mediocrity in the face.

Since then there has been an interesting development with another project, ‘Project Light’, coming into public knowledge, with the Six Nations Unions looking into pooling television rights in order to maximise revenue.

CVC, the private equity firm who have recently invested £200m in the Gallagher Premiership, are linked with a circa £500m bid for the television rights that would provide a huge windfall for each Union, but would mean giving up a 30% stake in the Six Nations competition and have an impact on the new World Rugby Nations Cup type initiative.

However, with all that still very much at the discussions stage, we have to leave that to one side for now and focus on what we do know. In a nutshell, Welsh professional domestic rugby is poor.

The pot is not big enough to run three competitive teams, the only way we can get anywhere is to punch well above our weight, and while CVC investment in the Pro14 and extra money from additional South African teams would be welcome, it wouldn’t close the gap on our Irish and Scottish rivals.

As a result, we have to start thinking outside the box in our bid to secure additional funding and become competitive in both a league and European aspect.

Six Nations
The Six Nations are considering a huge offer from CVC

Now what I’m about to write will rub some people, particularly Irish people, up the wrong way, but it doesn’t come from a dissing the Pro14 perspective. However, Welsh rugby should be actively trying to get involved with English rugby to create an Anglo-Welsh league.

I personally don’t mind the Pro14 as a competition. Yeah there are some truly dreadful games, you just have to look at Cardiff Blues scraping past Southern Kings on a wet Saturday night at the Arms Park during the Six Nations period to understand that, but there are some decent encounters too, whenever we take on Munster for example.

Kick-off times and days aren’t always ideal, but that’s not a Pro14-only issue, it’s just the nature of modern professional sport in an era dominated by television companies, and although the likes of Leinster can afford to put out second teams and coast to victory, the races for the play-offs this season have been cause for excitement.

Unfortunately, the simple fact of the matter is that the Pro14 does not generate enough money for the Welsh regions to put together competitive squads.

We do not have the luxury of a decent size economy to prop us up, or having full control over tax laws to offer attractive contracts, but require four regions to provide enough depth for the national team which ultimately is the best fundraiser for the regions. A vicious circle of sorts.

Linking up with the English system would allow us a slice of their CVC/BT Sport pie, as well as boosting matchday income with the near neighbours of Bath, Bristol and Gloucester likely bringing a few more away supporters than Zebre and Cheetahs.

Cross-border games in Europe are always big occasions

The catch? There is no indication whatsoever that Premiership Rugby Limited are interested in an Anglo-Welsh League, but you never know unless you ask, and as it happens there might be a slight window of opportunity.

Currently the Welsh Rugby Union has to provide four teams to the Pro14, with that contract running up until 2022. Simultaneously, PRL are looking at the potential ring-fencing of the Premiership, with protests coming from some teams in the Championship.

There could be an opportunity to come together in a ring-fenced two division system, with the current 12 Premiership teams, the four Welsh regions, plus four from the likes of London Irish, Yorkshire Carnegie, Ealing Trailfinders, Cornish Pirates or Coventry RFC.

This would produce two 10-team leagues, with 18 league games fitting in perfectly around the international windows, during which a development cup competition could be played.

An ideal world type idea, I fully admit, but one that I would love to see come to fruition almost as much as my bank manager wouldn’t when the money for away trips started leaving my account!

Sorry to the Pro14, I still enjoy you, but it’s time to get drastic in Welsh rugby, and look to the East for greater riches.

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