Wales' Treaty of Versailles
August 29, 2014
Roger Lewis has to win back the trust of the regions, according to John Taylor © Getty Images
The signing of a new Rugby Services Agreement between the Welsh Regions and the Welsh Rugby Union sounds like the sort of mundane, run-of-the-mill announcement that happens periodically and almost automatically in sport but after the turmoil over the past year this is more akin to the Treaty of Versailles.
Sense has prevailed - it had to eventually - and the two sides have come to a workable agreement but it has been a long, bitter and difficult process and there are still open wounds, let alone scars. Like the Treaty of Versailles, despite all the promises it is almost certainly not the final solution. One regional board member described it as "a not unreasonable framework" adding that, "you'd have to go nuclear if not agreeing this and only one region wanted to do that."
Basically, the regions have secured a much better deal. With all things included they are looking at £10.8 million a year instead of £6.7 million which gives them a semblance of financial security and the chance to build their businesses with a six year 'guarantee' of the structure. Up to 10 dual-contracts can now be signed and implemented (Sam Warburton will actually be able to play - hoorah!) with 60% of the players' wages being paid for by the WRU.
The official announcement notes the length of time it has taken to put the agreement together and puts it down to the, "complicated structure and radical nature of the deal." In reality it was because of the total lack of trust between the two sides. The amount of detail is extraordinary because every possible scenario had to be addressed and the document runs to something like 200 pages with appendices on top of that.
It was also thought necessary to make Sir Wyn Williams, a High Court Judge, chairman of the Professional Regional Game Board which will be the vehicle for "monitoring and managing" the agreement. He has also been hugely instrumental in shaping the legal commitments needed to put it together.
Perhaps the most important quote in the announcement is from WRU CEO, Roger Lewis, when he says: "The regions are a vitally important component of the structure of Welsh rugby and they have to be able to thrive and develop for the game in Wales to remain successful." Most people involved in running those regions still need convincing he really means that and who can blame them? It is not very long ago, when he was trying to wield the big stick, that he was threatening to disband the present regions and form new ones. He still has a massive task on his hands to win back trust and confidence - some believe it is impossible.
Much has also been made of reinstating 'Gatland's Law' which states that only those playing in Wales will be considered for selection for the national team. The extra money available for central contracts will undoubtedly make this more feasible and everybody accepts that it is vital to have the top players plying their trade on home soil to provide role models for youngsters taking up the game but it does not entirely solve the problem.
The French clubs have so much money they will still be able to offer much more, (double the £350,000 Sam Warburton should now be earning, for example) and it is interesting that Australia and New Zealand are both modifying their rules relating to selection criteria to make sure their top players are available. The concept of a player making a mid-career move to secure his future, preferably for just a couple of years between World Cups seems to be gaining and the priority must always be fielding the strongest XV possible because international success is the biggest boost to numbers taking up the game.
Limiting the number of overseas players to six is also a positive step. Why should the WRU contribute towards players who will be of no value to them? The RFU do the same with their clubs by imposing a quota of 15 England qualified players in every match-day squad.
In all the statements there is, sadly, no mention of changing the structure of the WRU itself. All the pledges at the fractious EGM were geared to listening to the member clubs who actually own the Union but if the regions really are a "vitally important component" they should surely be entitled to direct representation at board level.
Gerald Davies announced he would not be standing for re-election as one of the two 'Nationally Appointed' members of the Executive Board in the wake of that EGM. Barring a totally unforeseeable political revolt, David Pickering, the current chairman will continue as one of them and Gareth Davies, currently CEO of Newport Gwent Dragons, is one of several candidates for the vacant slot.
If he were to be elected it would provide a much needed voice for the regions but that appears unlikely precisely because of that association even though, in terms of experience and age he would be an excellent choice. It would only be a temporary solution but it would buy some time.
The future of the regions is secure, for now © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist
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