WELSH rugby’s civil war has finally ended after the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions signed a £60 million Rugby Services Agreement (RSA) in Cardiff.
The arrangement will last until 2020 and marks the start of a new era for the professional game in Wales, with national dual contracts on offer to leading players for the first time.
The union and the regions hope the fresh deals will help keep a core of key international players in Wales with the four professional teams.
The agreement guarantees £8.7 million a year from central funds to be spent on Welsh-qualified players. Within that amount, a sum of £2 million from the WRU has been allocated to help fund dual contracts, with the regions contributing an additional £1.3 million for a total yearly spend of £3.3 million.
There will also be a one-off £500,000 payment from the union to each region for signing the RSA.
The governing body are also making available to the Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and Dragons a further £3.6 million in loan facilities during the duration of the new package.
Wales’s head coach will select players for the dual contracts and they will become WRU employees.
Those are the headline items in a deal that finally brings to a close a dispute that seemed to have no end, dragging on for more than a year and splitting the professional game this side of the Severn Bridge to the point where the regions at one point feared for their very existence.
There has been unprecedented acrimony, but at the Millennium Stadium on Thursday afternoon regional representatives and leading figures from the union finally concluded a package that is meant to cover all aspects of the professional game in Wales.
The RSA revives the spirit of Gatland’s Law, the policy aimed at giving priority in Wales selection to home-based players.
It has been rebranded as the senior player selection policy, but the drift of it is the same, declaring that players based outside Wales in future will not be eligible for selection subject to a number of exceptions which the national head coach has the right to make.
The policy will become active once a minimum of six senior players prioritised by the Wales head coach have been signed on dual deals.
There’s much, much more. The limit on foreign players in regional squads has been capped at a maximum of six while each region will be allowed two so-called time serving players who will be available for Welsh selection after three years residency.
The RSA transfers management of and responsibility for the four regional academies from the WRU to the four regions with £600,000 of support each year from the WRU.
Within the agreement, the WRU retains the right to play up to 13 senior international games each year with a 13-day release facility for squad training before the Six Nations and autumn series games.
The RSA also enshrines the return of the Wales A team with a possible fixture each year on the weekend prior to the Six Nations.
Regional support for the importance of sevens is recognised with the terms of the RSA guaranteeing that up to three players from each region will be available for Wales sevens selection.
Another aspect of the deal will see all regional squad players take part in training camps at the WRU National Centre of Excellence each year.
And a national database of relevant player information will be managed by the WRU with specific protocols to ensure individual regions only have access to their own player information.
The Professional Regional Game Board will manage relevant provisions of the agreement with Sir Wyn Williams acting as chairman. He will have a casting vote on mutually agreed issues, though there will be certain reserved WRU matters.
Union chief executive Roger Lewis said: “This new agreement creates a new and positive relationship within Welsh rugby and is firmly based on the rugby priorities for Wales.
"The national dual contracts represent a radical step forward in our mutual aim of retaining Welsh talent here in Wales. They will help us keep more of our best players in Wales and will help stem the flow abroad of the talent we develop here through our academies and regions.
"It has taken us a long time to reach the conclusion of our negotiations, but that is because of the complicated structure and radical nature of the deal which matches financial distributions with deliverable rugby priorities.
“The new RSA creates a new rugby environment within which together we can nurture and develop the professional game in Wales.
“The regions are a vitally important component of the structure of Welsh rugby and they have to be able to thrive and develop for the game in Wales to remain successful.
”We now have an agreement which will ensure the pyramid structure which leads from the grassroots right through to the international team is strong and truly fit for purpose.”
WRU chairman David Pickering said: “This is a landmark agreement which will prove fundamental to the successful development of the professional game in Wales.”
Regional Rugby Wales chairman Nigel Short said: “Following long and detailed negotiations, RRW is satisfied that the new agreement with the WRU creates a fair, progressive and credible foundation to protect and support the best interests of Welsh rugby into the future; with the core objective of delivering a sustainable and competitive professional game in Wales.
"The new agreement is a positive step forward for the long-term benefit of Welsh rugby with plenty of hard work still to be done to ensure that the game in Wales prospers, works in partnership and develops at all levels.
"With greater clarity and the security of a new agreement, the Regions can forward plan with more focus, working hard to ensure their independent businesses remain competitive. Things will not change overnight – but securing our new agreement in partnership is a positive forward step.”