Euro row pushes Welsh to regions crisis point
September 29, 2013
Will this season's battle for the Heineken Cup be the last? © Getty Images
The ongoing row over the future of the Heineken Cup is jeopardising the Welsh regions' chances of hanging onto their leading players.
Wales internationals Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans and Jonathan Davies are all out of contract at the end of the season but their respective regions have not been able to make any firm contract offers due to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Heineken Cup and the potentially drastic reduction in income.
The Guardian reports that the leading Welsh sides would lose a combined of £4.4m per season if this season's Heineken Cup proved to be the last and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has stated that it will not make up the shortfall if there was no Heineken Cup as of next season.
The economic void would make it extremely difficult for Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons to table contracts that would convince those highly-regarded players to put pen to paper on new deals rather than opt for a move to England or France as so many have done in recent years.
"The position is critical," one regional director told the newspaper. "We cannot sign new contracts with players until we know what our income will be next season and if the uncertainty continues into the new year, players will be able to talk to potential employers."
Another Welsh source told The Rugby Paper: "The big question for the Welsh Rugby Union is this: What are they going to do to make up the £1.5m per region that we will lose by not having a European competition?'
"That's the crux of the matter and sooner or later that question will have to be answered. The English and French can afford to stay out of Europe. We can't. We'd be facing financial ruin without it.
The English and French clubs have announced their plans to launch an alternative to the Heineken Cup next season - the Rugby Champions Cup - having given up on convincing their European partners to embrace proposed changes to the current set-up.
Organisers insist the new tournament would be open to every team from the Premiership, Top 14 and PRO12 and that it would provide them with more money than the current Heineken Cup split - but the WRU intends to block the regions from joining any breakaway with their preference a pan-European competition.
"We support the aims of the French and English clubs, but what is frustrating in all this is that we cannot shape our own destiny," a source told The Guardian. "Our fate hinges on the actions of others."
Should the WRU remain opposed to the new competition, they face not only a revolt from their regions but also the possibility of losing control of yet more of their leading players. "Without the Heineken Cup money, we will be in trouble and we would have to look at every potential course of action," said the director, "including defying the WRU."
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the £1m that the WRU has previously pledged to help the regions retain their best talent is conditional upon the regions signing an extension to the current participation agreement with the governing body. But the regions are reluctant to sign an agreement that might not include pan-European rugby and therefore risk going without that funding boost as well.
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty, who is spearheading the quest for change, said he sympathised with the regions. "The tournament we are setting up will guarantee them more money," he told The Guardian. "I totally understand the issues they have over signing players and it shows that if the Celtic unions stand in the way of the Rugby Champions Cup, they will be damaging rugby in their countries."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.
Former All Blacks and Blues lock Ali Williams is likely to extend his stay in French rugby at Toulon, having told Midi Olympique that he has almost reached an agreement with the club
Roberto Soldado scored his first goals for Tottenham since October after he scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory over Anzhi Makhachkala at White Hart Lane in the Europa League
Christian Leali'ifano will miss the opening weeks of the Super Rugby 2014 season, the Brumbies playmaker unavailable before March at the earliest after ankle surgery
Dan Carter must undergo surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle, but he does not not need an operation to repair the Achilles injury that marred his 100th Test, against England
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade signs an extended contract to lead the Pumas until Rugby World Cup 2015