Welsh rugby is heading towards a near £12m bonus from the IRB and Rugby World Cup over the next three years.
Having granted the WRU's application for a maximum grant of £400,000 per annum for the next three years towards elite player and community game development, the IRB also announced at their meeting in South Africa last week that the top eight nations will receive a £3m dividend for taking part in the 2007 Rugby World Cup. That bonus figure will come on top of the money the WRU earns from the host nation France through its reciprocal arrangement with them for hosting four games in the tournament and a warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium against Les Blues.
"The IRB dividend, added to the £5-7m we will make from our deal with the French, could see us earn as much as £10m from the 2007 Rugby World Cup," said WRU Chairman David Pickering. "We will also get some preparation money for the tournament and we are very close to agreeing a second warm-up fixture against England. That game would be played at Twickenham after we hosted a similar warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium before the 2003 Rugby World Cup."
The WRU would be able to claim half the proceeds from that fixture, which would be more or less guaranteed to net them another £1m+. Pickering is also in discussion with Argentina about possibly hosting a third game ahead of the 2007 tournament. The IRB Executive Board, of which Pickering is one of ten members recently elected for a three year term, is also considering a formal request from Wales to host an extra Autumn International in 2006 against Australia.
"We already have the very exciting Pacific Islands team set to come to Cardiff for the first time next year to play in November. Canada and New Zealand are also due to play at the Millennium Stadium," explained Pickering. "What I've also asked is to fit in a further fixture, just like we have done with New Zealand this year, against the Wallabies. The deal is more or less done with them and we simply need the IRB to give us the green light to conclude another wonderful Autumn Series for next year.
"The whole issue of November and summer international matches is being addressed by the IRB at present following their announcement that they are investing £30m in developing the game across the world. This is fantastic news for the game as a whole and we want to ensure that Wales, currently ranked five in the IRB World Rankings, remains at the top of what is likely to become and even more competitive tree."
As part of their new, annual financial package from the IRB, which will be worth £750,000 more over the next three years than the previous period, Wales will also be invited to send an A team to compete in an expanded Churchill Cup in the USA or Canada or a new Rainbow Cup in South Africa. The IRB are pledging accommodation and flight support for these tournaments, which will also be open to the A teams from the other Six Nations teams.
"We need to examine these new opportunities very closely. We will be sending a Welsh team to the Commonwealth Games next spring to take part in the sevens tournament in Melbourne and we are planning to re-introduce our national sevens side into four tournaments in the IRB World Sevens Series," said Pickering. "We will be discussing with the both the national and regional coaches the best way to use these new tournaments to develop our top talent without putting too much pressure on them."
Wales is also bidding to host the 2008 IRB U19 Rugby World Championships - a tournament they last hosted in 1999. The IRB also announced last week they will be providing accommodation and flight support to countries to take their teams to these tournaments.
The Half a Game initiative is currently sweeping across Wales and proving a major success. The scheme aims to give every young player at least half a game every weekend. WRU TV recently visited a festival in Narberth where clubs have fully embraced the initiative.
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