The future of regional rugby in Wales is back on the agenda this summer after the Welsh Rugby Union’s interventions at both the Newport Gwent Dragons and the Cardiff Blues. Owen Robins outlines a model he believes could re-connect all fans and clubs with the four regions.
The WRU Unity Pathway is a long term rugby development model that aspires to offer the game of rugby union in a unified way, so that all clubs and fans involved have the opportunity to develop, grow, identify and bond with our professional and national game.
The WRU have created pathways for players in Welsh rugby but have not created pathways for their member clubs. With the movement towards WRU owned regions, rugby in Wales is moving at a very fast pace of change. Recent developments include WRU purchase of Newport Gwent Dragons, potential WRU control of Cardiff Blues and increased WRU player ownership through dual and central contracted players.
This has raised some very important questions for Welsh rugby
Q – The owners of the WRU are the districts and clubs of the Union. With WRU ownership of regions these districts and clubs now become owners of their regions. As owners of WRU regions, how do the districts and clubs become integrated into their WRU owned regions?
Q – Are the districts, clubs and their regions “together as one” now – Success directly linked?
Q – What name do the districts and clubs call their WRU owned regions?
Q – Do WRU owned regions need to purchase their grounds & where should they play?
The WRU has made it very clear:
WRU wants regional rugby, not “super” clubs pretending to be regions.
We need to reform the current system so that the 9 WRU Districts and their clubs are integrated into their new WRU regions. With clubs and districts as owners and partners, working in collaboration with their regions, a viable structure can be obtained. This integrated approach creates an opportunity for all clubs of the union to support pro rugby and would create local community support, identity, affinity and real bond between clubs and their regions. Player pathway systems would feed into their district and club owned WRU regions. Player pathway players are to be linked to home clubs when not representing their clubs at their regions.
In countries such as Ireland and NZ this structure works well as clubs are stakeholders and partners of their regional provinces and regions. These real regions create, encourage and develop affinity and unity.
With district and club owned WRU regions we can move forward with sponsorship and business investment as supporters of the system and thus avoiding benefactor owners who can walk away.
Rugby is our national sport – We are a Union for all and not the select few.
PATHWAY TO UNITY – WRU OWNED REGIONS
1) WRU commissions a survey and works with the 9 WRU districts, in order to establish their preferred regional boundaries and their regional name. Clubs on boundaries can move between regions with agreement of WRU. Discussions are to include potential creation of regional boards or replacement / merging of districts to align with their regions. As districts and clubs are now owners of their regions then this should be a positive and proactive process of change. The findings must be transparent and open for fans to see.
The 9 Districts of the WRU are
- District A – Gwent • District B – Cardiff • District C – Valleys • District D – Mid Glamorgan • District E – Swansea • District F – Swansea Valley • District G – West Glamorgan • District H – West Wales • District J – North Wales
Proposed WRU owned Regions
Gwent (District A) – Current WRU owned region Valleys (District C / D / G) South Wales (District B / D / G) West Wales (District E / F / G / H)
RGC North Wales (District J) – Development region
Welsh Exiles / London Welsh – Development region.
East Wales (District A) – Current WRU owned region South Wales (District C / D / G) West Wales (District E / F / G / H) North Wales (District J) – Current WRU owned region
WRU reviews the findings and creates a unified and integrated structure that all clubs and fans can now support.
2) New reformed districts / regional boards to confirm a percentage of games at selected grounds around region. School, college, supporter group structures to be integrated into district / regional boards. Pathway players to be allocated to their home clubs when not playing representative rugby for their integrated regions.
3) Operating structure, business plans, governance, commercial strategy, branding and funding streams to be established with WRU guidance and agreement. Franchise system of operating the new WRU owned regions to be considered.