Former Wales coach slams WRUs unfair and unacceptable treatment of Welsh Premiership clubs

Nigel Davies has hit out at the ‘unacceptable’ position in which Welsh Premiership clubs find themselves as some semi-professionals players face up to the prospect of a virtual 11-month season.

Those in Welsh rugby’s second tier are still waiting to learn the structure of their campaign after the carnage of 2018-19 when a quarter of the clubs involved at the start of the season were relegated.

Davies, Merthyr’s chief executive and one of four official representatives of the Premiership clubs, was part of the review into the semi-pro tier that recommended sweeping changes in 2018.

He believes the exercise was a wasted opportunity.

“The root cause of a lot of these problems is there wasn’t a proper job done when the competition was reviewed,”  he said.

“What happened failed, because it did not properly consider the consequences of what was being proposed and did not consider the opportunities. It was carried out by the competitions committee, of which I was a part, but I didn’t agree with the outcome.

 

“The Premiership have ended up with the Welsh Rugby Union asking them do one thing, yet in the next breath telling them to do another.

“The union have told the clubs that they are not considered part of the pathway to the professional game, yet those same clubs are expected to provide players to support the A league and a new tournament against Scottish teams at the end of the season.

“It is contradictory and not fair on those involved. 

“Nor is there a fixture list yet in place. That is unacceptable.

“These clubs are businesses and every business needs to plan to function properly. But how can the clubs plan when they don’t know what’s in front of them? It is an impossible situation and there has to be a better way of doing things.”



Nigel Davies

Davies believes the union are potentially expecting too much of semi-professional players who hold down jobs outside rugby.

“The idea is that the A league will start in August and that some top-end Premiership players could be involved. That will mean they have to start training in July.

“Those guys will take part in the Premiership from October to March, after which the top six clubs are supposed to be playing a tournament against clubs from Scotland’s Super 6 who I’d expect to be pretty much professional in all but name.

“The competition is expected to finish in late May, meaning some Welsh players will be effectively involved in rugby for 11 months of the year.

 

“Those players are semi-professional and have jobs away from the game, yet they are expected to give that level of commitment and also travel to Scotland to play.

“It isn’t on and people should realise as much.”

There is uncertainty over what the six Premiership sides who finish in the bottom half of the table will do post-March. Will they play against each other?

Some in the semi-pro tier fear the season might end there and then for them.



Liam Williams figured in the Welsh Premiership with Llanelli

What to make of it all?

The Premiership in Wales has been the subject of countless changes over years as the WRU have tried to sort out its role without success. It’s been akin to pumping a patient full of pills and when they don’t work cracking open the next bottle.  

But a number of clubs faced major financial challenges last season and it’s hard to imagine the situation improving.

“It’s a great shame,” said Davies.

“Premiership clubs are little beacons in the community game.

“They do a lot for Welsh rugby and don’t get the credit they deserve. The competition has its faults, but then so do other competitons. Many enjoyed the live matches on television last season and thought the standard was better than they had expected.

“People have to remember pretty much all the Wales-based players in the set-up have come through the system. On average, they play 30 games in the Premiership.

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“We have to be careful we don’t burn the bridge that those players have crossed.

“All of them have benefited from being involved, including late developers such as Liam Williams, while talented youngsters, such as Jac Morgan at Aberavon, have and are using it as a stepping stone.

“The bottom line is the union have to be clear on what the Premiership is. The way things stand, they appear to want the section to be everything.

“If clubs are going to be part of the pathway, then support them.

“If the Premiership is going to be amateur, then fine: we’ll just play each other, starting in September when a lot of people come out to watch rugby and we’ll sit out the Six Nations when attendances dip.

“We just need to know what’s going on. Right now, the picture is confused. “



Welsh Premiership clubs at the launch last year

Davies continued: “We suggested the best way forward for the Premiership to be relevant and play a role in the pathway. We talked of player banding and salary caps, similar to the system being introduced in Scotland.

“But our suggestions fell on deaf ears.

“The union have to realise they are there for all clubs, not just the professional arm of the game.

“Yes, that is important. But it is critical we keep the grass roots watered and the semi-professional tier vibrant, too.

 

“A lot of players are dropping out of elite pathways and being lost to the game.

“There has to be a healthy section below to offer a safety net and also encourage players to simply play the sport on a non-professional basis.

“Balance is key. The least we deserve is clarity.”

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