World Sport

Osprey-Scarlets merger being discussed in ‘radical’ shake-up of Welsh regional rugby

The Ospreys and Scarlets could merge in what could be the biggest shake-up in Welsh regional rugby since 2003.

The newly-formed Professional Rugby Board (PRB), made up of representatives from the Welsh Rugby Union, Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff Blues, met on Tuesday to discuss the proposals.

It understood changes are more likely to happen than not – with the possibility of it unfolding in time for next season.

Establishing a new professional team in north Wales is also high on the agenda. It would be the most radical change since regional teams were established 16 years ago.

Scarlets-Ospreys merger:

The favoured plan is to retain four regional teams, but they would be made up of north Wales, an Ospreys-Scarlets merger, Blues and Dragons.

The Scarlets currently play at Parc-y-Scarlets in Llanelli, while the Ospreys use Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium for their home games – so any merger would need to establish a home ground, in addition to issues such as the new team’s name and kit.

So-called Project Reset is being played out against a back-drop of Wales chasing a Six Nations and Grand Slam title.

Victories against Scotland on Saturday and Ireland next week would secure a first Six Nations clean sweep since 2012.

Around half of Wales’ match-day 23 for the Scotland clash is likely to feature Ospreys and Scarlets players, meaning if a merger goes ahead, players like Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, George North, Ken Owens and Leigh Halfpenny will be part of the same regional squad.

What has the Welsh Rugby Union said?

The WRU has not commented on Tuesday’s planned discussions, but senior Wales players did meet with the governing body last week to talk about a number of issues regarding the future of regional rugby.

Speaking last week, Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said he was disappointed about the turmoil and uncertainty.

It’s uncertain times, which is disappointing. There is a lot of frustration, not only for the best players in Wales, but for their mates in the regions. There is an uncertainty about Project Reset, and they would like to know where they are going to be playing next year or in two years’ time.

– ROB HOWLEY, WALES ASSISTANT COACH

Ospreys

What have the Ospreys said?

The Ospreys have remained largely quiet over the speculation but said it could no longer stay silent.

“The Ospreys are NOT on the verge of merging with the Scarlets.” say the club.

“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.”

The regional club said Welsh rugby and the supporters deserve better. The club said they stand fully behind the comments of Ospreys outgoing chairman Mike James supported a “fundamental re-examination of a truly disastrous process”.

What have the Professional Rugby Board said?

Following the Ospreys statement, the PRB announced 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…but 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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