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'This must stop now' - Ospreys deny they're on verge of Scarlets merger in scathing statement

The Professional Rugby Board in Wales has since responded to the Ospreys’ takedown of their approach to ‘Project Reset’.

The Pro14 club have lambasted the Professional Rugby Board in Wales for its handling of the proposals to restructure regional rugby in Wales.
The Pro14 club have lambasted the Professional Rugby Board in Wales for its handling of the proposals to restructure regional rugby in Wales.
Image: Alex Davidson/INPHO

THE OSPREYS HAVE emphatically denied that they are on the verge of merging with rivals the Scarlets and have blasted Wales’ Professional Rugby Board (PRB) for the ‘reckless’ and ‘incompetent’ manner in which it has gone about its plan to overhaul the sport in Wales.

The PRB, a gathering of representatives from the five professional entities in Welsh rugby — the WRU and the four regional outfits — has since responded but without the sign-off of an Ospreys official.

It claims that “the statements issued today by the Ospreys do not reconcile with the minuted meetings, actions and documented agreements that have taken place to date” with regards to an Ospreys-Scarlets merger and the restructure of regional rugby in Wales.

But it was the Ospreys who struck first at around five o’clock on Tuesday.

A view of the Ospreys changing room A view of the Ospreys dressing room. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

A mere three hours after chairman Mike James resigned from his role with the Ospreys in a meeting with the PRB citing their “catastrophic mismanagement” of the situation, and after Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) chairman Ken Owens of the Scarlets demanded that the PRB consult with the nation’s professional players, the Swansea-based club issued the following statement:

“Until now, the Ospreys have remained largely silent out of respect to the WRU, despite growing speculation over the future of regional rugby in Wales. This can no longer remain the case.

The instability created by PRB’s chaotic approach to its own imposed restructuring criteria has been the height of recklessness at its worst and incompetent management at its best – an approach which has resulted in wild conjecture, hostility and uncertainty in the regional game.

“Welsh rugby and the supporters of Welsh rugby deserve better. And the players, families, suppliers, commercial partners and those whose livelihoods depend on the regional game, certainly deserve better.

“We stand fully behind the comments of Ospreys outgoing chairman Mike James and add the Ospreys’ voice to his in calling for fundamental re-examination of a truly disasterous process. We also stand behind the comments and concerns of the WRPA concerning the woeful lack of consultation to date.

The Ospreys are NOT on the verge of merging with the Scarlets.

“Like the other M4 regions, the Ospreys were informed by the WRU that their decision was to create a new region in the North and this would necessitate one going in the South.

Beyond this, the regions have been encouraged to enter unilateral discussions to try and self-broker an outcome. Rather than every option being on the table, only one has transpired – which region should go. Far from being a methodical, consultative process, involving all the game’s stakeholders, looking at the greater good and the long-term benefit to all, the South Wales regions have been forced into a leaderless race for survival, with self-interest as its guiding star.

“The Ospreys are not afraid to think the unthinkable. Our region was born out of the previously unimaginable merger of Swansea and Neath and, later, the seamless integration of Bridgend.

“We remain the only region to have truly embraced, lived and breathed the concept of regional rugby. Our reward and Wales’s reward, has been an unparalleled level of success for our region and an unrivalled contribution to the national team.

“We fully recognise the WRU’s argument that the regional game requires further restructuring in order to remain viable and we support this principle.

“But, the way this has been approached has led to a fundamental breakdown in the fabric of the game.

This must stop now. A new process must be expedited, with respected and competent leadership – professionally outlined and responsibly led – with transparency and genuine consultation as its foundation.

Johnny McNicholl is tackled by George North Johnny McNicholl of the Scarlets is tackled by George North of the Ospreys. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

Some 25 minutes after the Ospreys’ statement was released, the PRB responded with one of its own.

Noteworthy was the fact that it was signed by representatives of the other three Welsh regions (David Buttress of the Dragons, Nigel Short of the Scarlets and Alun Jones of the Cardiff Blues), as well as independent chair David Lovett, WRU CEO Martyn Phillips, and WRU finance director Steve Phillips, but not by anybody from the Ospreys organisation.

The PRB statement confirmed that central to its plan for the sustainability and success of professional rugby in Wales remains a merger between the two west Wales rivals, one which it states both clubs had tentatively agreed to last Friday.

It also claimed that the Ospreys’ furious public stance is at odds with the talks and agreements that have taken place behind closed doors.

Gareth Davies Gareth Davies of the Scarlets in action against regional rivals the Ospreys. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

“The members of the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) – the chairmen of the regions, and the WRU – have been meeting for 15 months and formally since the new Professional Rugby Agreement (PRA), signed by all parties, came into effect on the 31st January 2019,” began the riposte.

“The new PRA has brought in the rigour, transparency and accountability required to make the decisions necessary to take the game in Wales forward.

These meetings have been co-operative, collaborative and clear in their intent – specifically formulating a plan for the future sustainability and success of professional rugby in Wales.

“The PRB met today, expecting to finalise a comprehensive proposal for the consideration of the WRU board.

A central component of the proposal was a merger between the Scarlets and Ospreys. The PRB were advised Heads of Terms for the merger had been reached between the two regions on Friday 1st March.

“At today’s PRB meeting Mike James, chairman of the Ospreys, informed the PRB of his resignation from his role with the Ospreys.

The PRB would like to make clear that the statements issued today by the Ospreys do not reconcile with the minuted meetings, actions and documented agreements that have taken place to date.

“The PRB support the principle of the proposed merger, not least because it is in keeping with the overall strategic direction agreed in planning sessions attended and agreed by the entire PRB in January.

The PRB wishes to put on record its disappointment at the timing and the uncertainty that this has caused players, staff, coaches and the Welsh rugby public.

“The PRB is united in its pursuit of what is best for professional rugby in Wales.

“Today’s events will not deflect the PRB from this course. It is vital that the rigour and accountability that has characterised discussions to date remains in place in the coming days and weeks.”

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Ospreys chairman resigns over WRU’s ‘catastrophic mismanagement’ as Owens voices deep concern

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