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Proposals put forward by report to cut one Welsh professional region

Players from four Welsh regions at the launch of the United Rugby Championship at the Principality Stadium

A report into Welsh rugby has proposed cutting one Welsh professional region from the start of the 2023-24 season.

Ospreys, Cardiff, Scarlets and Dragons are the four professional sides in Wales.

The report was commissioned by the Professional Rugby Board (PRB), the organization that runs the game in Wales with members from the four regions and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

The PRB will study the proposals with the next meeting scheduled for 11 May.

Consultants Oakwell Sports Advisory wrote the report with the document suggesting four options or recommendations, of which reducing a region is one.

Other suggestions included an alternative player funding model. Under the current arrangement, the WRU contributes 80% of the wages to the top 38 domestic players and the region tops up the other 20%.

There are also plans to introduce a new Welsh Professional Game agreement (WRPA) and create a centralized commercial body and strategy.

These recommendations could simply be dismissed by the PRB.

The report produces six key findings including stating the WRU commercial performance is in line with its peers, investment into the pro game, regions and community is in line with other unions, and Welsh rugby governance procedures and responsibilities need reviewing and realigning.

It also says “Welsh rugby must immediately develop a sustainable commercial funding model for the next 10 years.”

Which region would be cut?

The Dragons is currently owned by the Welsh Rugby Union, while Ospreys does not have its own ground as it uses the Swansea.com Stadium, the home of Swansea City football club.

Financial reasons have been cited for this proposal with the struggling sides to come out of Covid-19.

In 2020, the allocation given to the four regions dropped from £26m to £3m with a £20m loan for the sides that was negotiated by the WRU but will have to be paid back by the regions themselves.

The report states if one Welsh region was to close down there would be an immediate saving on average of £7.8m. The lower estimate is £6m while it could be as high as £8.9m.

The region that is cut could drop into a revamped Indigo Premiership league but that is at semi-professional level.

The plan to cut a professional region would result in Wales’ player base reducing to 135 players with 45 in each squad.

The existing contract obligations for players would be fulfilled by the other three regions.

Changes are needed

There is a feeling something needs to be done following another poor season for the Welsh regions.

The four teams failed to win a game in European competition and all teams will finish in the bottom half of the United Rugby Championship with no side qualifying for the league play-offs.

The regions’ failure is compounded by Wayne Pivac’s Wales side finishing fifth in the 2022 Six Nations with only one victory and losing to Italy.

Regional rugby was introduced in 2003 at the expense of clubs, with five sides initially created before the Celtic Warriors was disbanded a year later.

This is not the first time a merger has been suggested with Ospreys and Scarlets due to join together in 2019 before the plan was shelved.

A WRU spokesperson said: “Oakwell were commissioned by the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) to produce a report exploring the strategic options available to the professional game in Wales.

“It contains a number of recommendations which form a part of the current discussions taking place at the PRB.

“There are other reports informing these discussions and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this juncture.”

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