Newport Gwent Dragons: Welsh Rugby Union plans takeover by 1 July

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Stuart Davies: No Newport Gwent Dragons deal leaves future 'bleak'

The Welsh Rugby Union has confirmed it intends to take "operational control" of Newport Gwent Dragons by 1 July.

The WRU has reached "heads of agreement" for a deal which includes the purchase of Rodney Parade.

A statement says the sale has been ratified by the boards of the WRU, Newport RFC and Dragons, but must be agreed by the Newport RFC shareholders.

"All parties recognise that it is now time to take a different approach," said WRU chief Martyn Phillips.

The WRU already owns 50% of the region, which was formed in 2003. The Rodney Parade ground is owned by Newport RFC and also used by Newport County AFC.

The announcement comes 11 months after the Dragons announced they were seeking investment.

As part of the deal, the WRU says it would:

  • Change the region's name to Dragons - dropping Newport Gwent
  • Be committed to Newport RFC playing at Rodney Parade
  • Want to lay an artificial 4G pitch to cure water-logging problems
  • "Call the shots" on dealings with Newport County AFC, who signed a 10-year lease to play at Rodney Parade in 2013.

It dismissed as "nonsense" rumours of plans to move the region to north Wales.

Martyn Phillips, Gareth Davies and Stuart Davies at the announcement of Welsh Rugby Union plans to take control of Newport Gwent Dragons
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips, union chairman Gareth Davies and Dragons chief executive Stuart Davies at the announcement of plans for the WRU to take over the running of Newport Gwent Dragons

Why is the Union doing this?

Newport Gwent Dragons have been struggling on the pitch and have long-standing financial problems.

WRU chairman Gareth Davies said the union has no choice other than to get involved.

"We felt as the governing body it was incumbent on us to step in," said WRU chairman Gareth Davies.

"It was drastic stage when the Dragons chairman emphasised without a rescue deal Rodney Parade would soon become a building site with the consequence of losing the Dragons in Newport and the threat of losing Newport RFC.

Rodney Parade
Rugby has been played at Rodney Parade since 1877

"We are doing his for rugby reasons. I have seen a lot of nonsense that this is a property deal, it's asset stripping, we are moving to north Wales. That's nonsense."

Phillips added: "We feel this is the right thing to do. We wanted to do the right thing for all the clubs in the catchment.

"We think Gwent has a proud history but we think there is a brighter future."

What if deal does not go through?

Newport RFC Supporters' Trust will call an extraordinary meeting which takes 21 days to organise.

Then 75% of the 1,000-plus Newport RFC shareholders who vote will have to agree to the takeover.

"I don't know if [Newport shareholders] will accept it. We are not here selling it. This is a sizeable investment that was not planned for," said Phillips.

"I hope they do but if they don't they don't, we will have done everything in our power.

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Rodney Parade: Brian Price has concerns over ground development in WRU takeover

"We want rugby to be here for years to come. But without this deal it will be weeks."

Stuart Davies, chairman of Newport Gwent Dragons, said: "This is an incredibly positive announcement and a huge moment for the Dragons but I understand now we need to work even harder to make sure that it is not a backlash."

What happens to Newport RFC?

Newport Rugby Club has played at Rodney Parade since 1877 and Phillips says the WRU wants that to continue.

"We are committed to Newport RFC and to them playing at Rodney Parade," he said.

"We know emotion is running high.

"There is no timeframe set for Newport or term for them playing at Rodney Parade. But we are not going to these lengths or making these investments other than for the long-term future of rugby in Gwent.

"We are investing millions in the facility so we are unlikely to walk away from it."

Will the name change?

Yes. The name has been a controversial matter since the formation of the region, with a major faction resisting attempts to drop the word Newport.

Newport Gwent Dragons take on Newcastle Falcons on a muddy Rodney Parade pitch
The match between Newport Gwent Dragons and Newcastle Falcons was one of several rugby and football matches abandoned or postponed because of drainage problems at Rodney Parade

"It is one of the big emotive topics at the moment and it's time to bring some clarity," said Phillips.

"Our sense is this team would be called the Dragons and that's not to punish Newport or set them up against the rest of Gwent.

"We need to get over the name thing quite quickly because there are a lot more fundamental things to be resolved."

Is this the first step to helping the other regions?

Not according to Martyn Phillips, but the WRU is not ruling anything out.

"We are working very hard with the regions to make this work," he said.

"The regions have been fantastic and have been involved in this process. It's in their interests to have four regions and we need to make four work.

"I don't think there will be another transaction like this. If there is a property deal with the Blues we would try and help them because we want them to be a vibrant region."

What about the future for Newport County?

Newport County are bottom of League Two and have played their home matches at the ground since 2012.

In 2013 the football club agreed a 10-year lease to use the stadium after gaining promotion to the Football League from the Conference (now the National League).

"I haven't spoken to Newport County. We are the union of [rugby] clubs and we have put several million [pounds] in," said Phillips.

Newport County celebrate a goal at Rodney Parade
Newport County AFC have been playing at Rodney Parade since 2012

"It is as rugby venue. We will have to talk to Newport County about where that leaves them.

"They have a licence to play there and we are aware about that. We would like to put a 4G pitch in.

"The fact we are putting a few million in means we get to call the shots."

The Football League does not allow teams to play on 4G pitches.

What happens to the Rodney Parade ground?

"To make this work we have to purchase the ground because it needs a lot of work," said Phillips.

"You couldn't make that investment if you were leasing the ground. There are lease and debts and the only way to clean it up was to buy the debt.

"Pro12 have been putting pressure on us about the pitch. They say there have been things that are not acceptable and that is correct."

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