Pickering: Welsh rugby not a joke
August 15, 2014
David Pickering is at the heart of an WRU under fire from the Welsh regions © Getty Images
Under-fire WRU chairman David Pickering has hit back at his critics as war continues to rage over the future of Welsh rugby.
Last week, former Wales fly-half and Newport Gwent Dragons chief executive Gareth Davies branded Welsh rugby a "joke", saying that people outside the country "just can't believe what is going on" with the stalemate between the WRU and the regions.
At the heart of the matter are negotiations over a new participation agreement between the WRU and the four professional regions. The WRU wants to place more key players on central contracts similar to the deal signed by Wales captain Sam Warburton, while the regions want more money in return for access to their players outside official Test windows.
Pickering has called for unity as the row spills into another season and has spoken of his pride in securing a slice of next year's World Cup scheduling for Wales as he seeks a new three-year term as WRU chairman.
"We have been hugely successful and that has come about through strategies we have adopted and the hard work that has been put in," Pickering told WalesOnline. "It has resulted in a small nation out-punching its weight around the world and bringing home great success. In 2011, the IRB said there were two nations in the world that were punching above their weight and that was New Zealand and Wales.
"Since then, we have had another two Six Nations championships to add to the golden era status. We have also shown we have got the respect of the world in being the only nation outside of England to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup. That shows great trust, not only by Rugby World Cup and the IRB, but also by the RFU.
"Nobody else has been offered that opportunity. They could have gone to Scotland, France or Ireland. No. Only one other country got that opportunity."
The impasse over a new participation agreement has threatened, among other things, to leave Warburton without a club to play for this coming season. His central contract with the WRU means Cardiff Blues are not obliged to play him, with the regions instead calling for dual-registration of key players.
Pickering however, attempted to put the current disagreement into perspective by highlighting the long history of arguments between the WRU and domestic sides.
"Regional disputes are nothing new," he said. "Some 15 years ago, we had the issue with Cardiff and Swansea leaving the Union.
"We had High Court action in 2009. Yes, we have got another dispute now. We are doing absolutely everything we can to come up with a solution.
"But we can't bankrupt the Union and we have got to ensure that Warren Gatland has got the best opportunity to have a successful Welsh team.
"We will do everything we can within those parameters to make sure our partners and friends at the regions - who have put a lot of their own money into it, and I respect that - get a platform to be as successful as they possibly can.
"Has the regional dispute harmed reputations? Yes, of course it has and it's been a very public issue as we all know.
"Would we have liked it to end sooner? Of course we would. But we are doing our absolute utmost. We have brought in the services of Sir Wyn Williams, a High Court judge, so we are using a very leading brain in order to help us solve the situation.
Pickering, 53, has been WRU chairman for the past decade, yet despite the furore currently surrounding the Welsh game, he vowed not to walk away.
"Sitting back and reflecting on the past 10 years, we've had huge success, with three Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final," he said. "But what drives me on is I honestly believe we have assembled the finest group of young players we have perhaps ever had.
"The management team is the envy of the world and I think we have a unique opportunity to usurp our achievements in 2011 and I want to deliver that for Wales.
"To do that, we need stability, we need strength and we need experience. Now is not the time for change. Now is the time not to let Wales down."
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