Axe hovers over one of the Welsh regions?
December 24, 2012
WRU boss Roger Lewis has hinted at drastic measures to sure up the financial future of the Welsh game © Getty Images
One of Wales' four regional sides could be downgraded to a development operation as part of drastic measures aimed at securing the future of Welsh rugby.
Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis has hinted at the move as part of his plan to shore up the professional game with his words set to cause concern at the Blues, Ospreys, Dragons and Scarlets who rely heavily on the financial support currently offered by the governing body.
In addition, European funding could be restricted to just two teams a season while the regions could come under increasing control of the WRU with coaching appointments and recruitment controlled by the union.
Lewis is reportedly prepared to give the regions a year to sort themselves out and while he hopes to retain all four professional sides, he has not ruled out wielding the axe. "The minimum to me must be three teams. Two is far too few and four is preferable," he told The Sunday Times.
Lewis has revealed his disappointment at the state of regional rugby with all four sides struggling to make an impression on the European stage this season and their leading players regularly opting to take up lucrative offers to ply their trade overseas.
"We must ensure a far better Welsh performance in the Heineken Cup and one of the things we should be looking at is funding one or two Welsh regions to a greater extent. Instead of an equality of funding, we could move towards a situation where not everyone is equal," Lewis said.
"In 2009 we gave the four regions a financial landscape that was more than sufficient to survive and prosper and to be successful in their competitions. We committed to give them £6m a year for player release and £9m per year for participation in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect PRO12. That is £75m in total over the five-year period. We funded their academies."
Despite the regional woe, Lewis is expected to announce another lucrative commercial deal in the near future and is adamant that the national side can bounce back from a dreadful autumn, that saw Wales lose all four games including a shock defeat to Samoa, and defend their Six Nations crown.
"The fans have stuck by us, some of the major broadcast deals we now have are going through to 2018 and there will shortly be further great news on the commercial side," he said."It is no coincidence because of the systems we put in place that the Lions coaching staff is dominated by the Welsh group. I think that the brutal lessons we learnt in the autumn will help us.
"We are the Six Nations champions and it is a crown I am convinced that we can defend. It cannot be forgotten that in the autumn we were struck by the worst succession of injuries that any professional rugby team could ever have suffered."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton