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Dramatic bid to thwart Euro rebels

Thu, 24 Oct 2013 07:16
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Players must understand the level of support the WRU is prepared to offer
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The Welsh Rugby Union made a dramatic intervention in the row over the future of the European Cup competition by offering to centrally contract the country's top players until the crisis is resolved.

They would then "re-assign" the contracts back to the regions once there was certainty over what form a European tournament would take in the 2014/15 season.

On Tuesday, Wales's four professional regional clubs - Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Ospreys and the Scarlets - said they backed plans for an Anglo-French led breakaway from the European Cup to be launched next season.

This was despite, according to the WRU, having already been told of the central contract plan.

English and French clubs have long been unhappy with a system where teams in their leagues must battle it out to get European Cup spots whereas three of the four Welsh regions are assured of places.

But the incentive for Welsh clubs to throw their lot in with the breakaway Rugby Champions Cup is the threat of financial disaster if they are no longer receiving income from European ties against top English and French sides.

Last month the deputy chairman of England's Premiership estimated some Celtic League sides receive up to £3 million (US$5million, €3.56 million), for competing in the European Cup.

However, in a statement made public in the early hours of Thursday, the WRU said it would draw on the £33 million (US$53 million, €39 million) it planned to give the regions over the next five years in a bid to combat fears among the four clubs they couldn't offer new contracts amid all the current uncertainty.

Wales may be the reigning Six Nations champions but there are concerns the steady trickle of top players leaving the country - the likes of Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro) and Mike Phillips (Bayonne) are already on lucrative deals with French clubs while 21-year-old wing sensation George North is at England's Northampton - could become a flood the longer the European standoff continues especially as several star names, including Wales captain Sam Warburton, are out of contract at the end of this season.

"Due to the length of the ongoing European negotiations the Welsh regions have expressed concerns about their ability to conclude their own negotiations with leading players who are approaching the end of their existing contracts," the WRU statement said.

"To help and support the four Welsh regions the WRU has offered to immediately assist to enable the regions to retain their leading Welsh qualified players in Wales.

"The WRU has offered to contract all of the regions' leading Welsh qualified players who are out of contract at the end of this season, on appropriate terms to be agreed.

"Once the negotiations regarding the European tournament are successfully concluded the WRU would permit the regions to revert to the current position with the agreed contracts being reassigned back to them."

WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: "It is important that any player considering his future right now fully understands the level of support the WRU is prepared to offer.

"Our squad is about to embark on a demanding year-end series of international games and it is vitally important that all of their minds are completely focused on the task in hand.

"I shared this proposal with the regional chairmen on Monday of this week and look forward to what I expect would be a positive response."

Wales begin their four-match end-of-year campaign against South Africa at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on November 9.

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