By Steve Evans
The regions have won the battle to get Under 23 teams elevated over the Premiership clubs with the WRU board backing their plan to create a new competition from next season.
The Premiership will go from being a development path to a sideshow.
With the British & Irish Cup disappearing, largely a casualty of major apathy and poor performances by the regions, and the Anglo-Welsh Cup reduced to second rank status, the Under 23 competition is due to be the latest stepping-stone project.
The quid pro quo for the Premiership clubs is their tournament will be turned into a proper home and away competition the season after next, although not aligned to the regions. It will become a straight shoot-out next term for survival in the top dozen places to go through to season 2019-20.
There will be promotion and relegation, with the winner of the Championship having to qualify for the Premiership via a play-off with the bottom club in the top tier. Worst of all, funding is set to be drastically reduced.
Within two years the Premiership clubs will receive £50,000pa rather than the £80-100,000 they currently get. No longer is Premiership rugby seen as part of the pathway to the professional game in Wales.
It means the cut off point in the WRU has been raised to 306 of the estimated 310 clubs – four in the pro game and the rest virtually cut adrift to do their own thing.
Already the mad scramble for players at the regions has begun with one former Wales Under 20 player currently playing at a top Premiership club being offered a contract for 25 weeks of the season. Could that put him back on track for a full time contract? Not at a paltry £100 per week!
With funding so drastically cut for the season after next – it currently costs around £350,000 to run a Premiership outfit – then the decent thing for the WRU to do would be to offer the clubs the TV and commercial rights to their tournaments. That should include the Cup competition.
If they were to do that then at least they would have a fighting chance of survival. There hasn’t been a sponsor for the WRU National Cup for a number of seasons since Swalec opted out and Principality are due to sever their connections with the Premiership at the end of this season.
But perhaps the last thing the regions and WRU want is for the 12 clubs to become commercially viable. If they do, then no player in his right mind is going to want to opt to play for a pittance in an Under 23 competition that will have nobody watching it and will basically be a series of meaningless trial matches – just like the Anglo Welsh and B&I Cup tournaments before it.
Will it provide a higher grade of rugby for players? Probably. But couldn’t that have been achieved by incorporating a reduced number of Premiership clubs, even less than 12 perhaps, to give the rugby public something tangible and meaningful to get their teeth into?
They say that professional sport distils everything down to the very best.
The problem here in Wales is that we will be left with nothing else other than one national team and four regions very shortly. And just how good are they, really?
The post WRU Wins Fight For U23 Teams And Tells Premiership Clubs: You’re On Your Own (With Half The Money) appeared first on Dai Sport.