Lewis hits back at regions in row over central contracts
Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis has claimed the country's four regions rejected a chance for Wales' entire international squad to be centrally contracted.
Lewis says the Welsh Rugby Union offer to Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys and Scarlets was turned down in mid-August.
A host of star names – players like Luke Charteris, Aled Brew, Mike Phillips, James Hook Gethin Jenkins and Lee Byrne – quit regional rugby to ply their trade in France.
Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate has been linked with a move abroad along with Blues pair Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert.
Lewis said in an open letter to Welsh rugby that £6.2million already given to the regions for international player release would have funded central contracts.
Understandably the regions turned down the offer given that it meant they would have the same money with less control of their players.
None the less, Lewis felt it was a fair offer.
“It would have meant that the WRU would have managed players’ salaries and careers, and directly we would negotiate with any player seeking to leave Wales,” he said.
“The £6.2m player release money would be retained by the WRU to fund this, and the surplus – and yes, there is a surplus – would be spent on nurturing new talent.
“That offer was not accepted by the regions. This may come as a surprise to many.
“But that is the contractual right of the four regions and I respect it. I have moved on.”
The regions’ financial struggles have been well documented and there are some in the Welsh game who believe the WRU should be doing more to assist them.
Former Newport owner Tony Brown accused the Union of allowing the regions to “bleed to death” and he was backed up by former Ospreys chief Mike Cuddy.
“There have been half-baked comments in the press about dual contracts and top-up payments from people who I would think should know better,” said Lewis.
The regions issued a statement declaring that Lewis’ comments were not helpful ahead of a weekend of European action.
“We have consistently stated that until we have found workable solutions for the challenges facing the whole of Welsh professional rugby,” said Regional Rugby Wales chief executive Stuart Gallacher.
“It is our firm belief that it’s not helpful to a complex process to get drawn into individual debates in public.
What is important is that we consider and implement the right solutions for the whole of Welsh rugby; taking into account every level of the game in Wales and how that works together.
“It is also critical at this time that our regions and all our rugby supporters are able to concentrate on an important and exciting weekend of European rugby - both from performance and commercial perspectives.
“It is our primary duty to support our players and back the energy and effort going into Welsh rugby performances on the field in Europe’s top club competition; and it would be helpful, therefore, not to have any further distraction or disruption at this time from that task."