WRU earmarks £1m to keep international players in Wales

WRU and regions

The Welsh Rugby Union is to make £1 million available to help keep international players in Wales.

The four Welsh professional regions have been hit by a series of high-profile departures in the past year.

Current British and Irish Lions George North, Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate all left the Welsh regions at the end of the 2012-13 season.

A WRU says it will "target the development, recruitment and retention of Welsh international players."

The one-off windfall is part of a package worth £2.5 million for the Welsh game, split between grassroots, the regions and the national team.

However, the WRU statement does not say how the money will be allocated between the Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons.

Roberts and Lydiate have both joined Racing Metro in France, while North will play for Northampton Saints in the English Premiership.

North's departure from the Scarlets sparked a row between the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales, the body which represents the professional teams.

It led to the WRU accusing the Scarlets of offering North to the English club without the player's knowledge. The regions responded by refusing to attend a meeting with the WRU to discuss central contracts for players.

However, meetings have since resumed, and WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis, says he is optimistic about the new funding.

"We have identified the priority of keeping Welsh qualified players in Wales and developing them to their full potential," he said.

"Our discussions with the regions are continuing on a range of issues but this is a clear indication that the WRU will engage in a meaningful way within the financial constraints we all know exist.

"This is a one-off amount but the investment is of a scale which can be of true benefit to the game at the professional level."

Stuart Gallacher, chief executive of Regional Rugby Wales, said he was encouraged by the WRU's initiative.

"From a Regional Rugby point of view, we remain focused on our original published objectives, including the development of Welsh international players and their retention in Wales," he said.

"We are of course encouraged to hear of any proposed initiative that may help contribute to that particular goal.

"We have been consistent in our position that we need to work to define long-term structural solutions that can strategically improve the framework of professional rugby in Wales.

"We very much look forward to hearing the details behind the WRU's announcement and understanding the mechanism by which the proposed one-off action will make a positive and sustainable contribution to our game over time."

Aside from the new cash for the regions, the WRU is making £800,000 available in grants for grassroots clubs and schools aiming to improve their facilities.

It has also earmarked £300,000 to pay for website scheme for smaller clubs.

The union says the extra money is a direct result of their "strong financial performance over the past year."

The WRU's annual report published in October 2012 outlined a record turnover of £63m for the previous financial year, which included a Six Nations Grand Slam for the national team.

The side successfully defended their title in 2013 thanks to a 30-3 win over England in Cardiff in their final match.