Wales four regions 'ready to take legal action against WRU'

Wales' regions could take legal action for the right to play in cross-border tournaments without permission from their governing body.

The Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragon and Cardiff Blues are to have talks with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) next week.

The regions want to play against English clubs, rather than be forced by the WRU to compete in the Heineken Cup.

They are also upset the WRU reportedly tried to persuade Wales players not to sign new deals with the regions.

They claim that happened during the autumn internationals with Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny, who are all coming out of regional contracts, among those believed to have been spoken to.

Wales players in "exile"

Lee Byrne - Clermont Auvergne

Luke Charteris - Perpignan

James Hook - Perpignan

Dan Lydiate - Racing Metro

Jamie Roberts - Racing Metro

Mike Phillips - Racing Metro

George North - Northampton

Paul James - Bath

Craig Mitchell - Exeter

Jon Davies - Clermont (from 2014)

Ian Evans - Toulon (from 2014)

And there is increasing speculation that the regions will not sign the participation agreement with the WRU before the 31 December deadline.

The participation agreement is the contract which sets out which competitions the Welsh regions take part in and how much money they are paid by the WRU for doing so.

The Guardian  reports that the regions have taken legal advice and believe a precedent set 20 years ago makes success against the WRU more likely than not over playing cross-border matches.

Newport County, the football club which had been reformed after going bankrupt, was told by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) that it would no longer be able to play in the English league system and had to take part in what was the then League of Wales.

The club, along with Colwyn Bay and Caernarfon Town, took the FAW to the High Court and won, and last season secured promotion back to the Football League.

Part of the problem is the participation agreement between the WRU and the regions, covering the release of players to Wales, which runs out at the end of the 2013-2014 season.

The union has given the regions until the end of December to commit to what would be a rolling on of the agreement until 2018 but with no sign of any extra money.

The players were reportedly told that if the regions did not sign an agreement which would mean that they would receive the same amount in real terms in 2018 as they did in 2009, the union would offer them central contracts and look to set up their own teams.

The regions and the WRU are due to meet on Wednesday when the professional rugby game board convenes for the final time before the 31 December participation agreement deadline.

One reason that the four have refused to sign is uncertainty over the future of the Heineken Cup and the offers that have been made to players in the last year of their deals are conditional on there being a European tournament next season.

England's leading clubs last night again rejected the possibility of playing in next season's Heineken Cup, and it is believed one of the alternatives they are considering is expanding the Premiership and including Welsh sides.

On Friday the Press Association reported it expected the Welsh teams to sign-up to a cross-border tournament in defiance of the WRU, provided the legal hurdles can be overcome and guarantees provided for the regions.

Who wants what in Euro row?

Each of the six countries on the European Rugby Cup board has two seats.

  • England: The Rugby Football Union has been non-committal, while Premiership Rugby has reiterated that its clubs will not play in next season's Heineken Cup.
  • The Irish, Scottish and Italian unions each hold two seats and remain committed to the Heineken Cup.
  • France: The French Rugby Federation and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, which represents the clubs, are now both committed to the Heineken Cup - although the latter says that depends on the English clubs taking part.
  • Wales: The Welsh Rugby Union wants its sides to remain in the Heineken Cup. Regional Rugby Wales, which oversees the four regions, had expressed an interest in the breakaway competition.

The Guardian quotes an unnamed regional official as saying: "The WRU, by telling us we have to play in the Heineken Cup with a more modest increase in funding than the other teams in the tournament at a time when we receive less centrally than any of them, are not allowing us to run our business properly.

"It amounts to a restraint of trade. We believe we have the right to explore opportunities elsewhere, whether it is an Anglo-Welsh league or an alternative to the Heineken Cup.

"We are being squeezed by our own union to the point where they are telling our players not to sign contracts. This cannot go on."

The regions had supported the Rugby Champions Cup, a tournament proposed by the England and French clubs to replace the Heineken Cup, only for the WRU to commit them to the competition run by European Rugby Cup Ltd at a meeting of unions in Dublin towards the end of last month.

The regions, says the Guardian, are considering a move to call an extraordinary general meeting of the Welsh Rugby Union and proposing a vote of no confidence in the executive.

It is a tactic they will adopt not because they believe they have any chance of winning a vote but because they want to make their dealings with the WRU in the last couple of years public.

While uncertainty continues the player drain out of Wales is ongoing, with some internationals having already decided to play in England and France next season.

The latest could be Richard Hibbard, who looks set to join Welsh rugby's player exodus by leaving Ospreys in the summer of 2014, a year before his contract ends.

The Wales and British and Irish Lions hooker has been linked with Gloucester. 

The 29-year-old signed a five-year deal in 2010 and has since established himself as Wales' first-choice hooker.

Hibbard is set to join Wales lock Ian Evans (Toulon) and Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne) among the latest Test stars to move abroad next season.