A £60 million Rugby Services Agreement (RSA) which provides a new and positive contractual relationship between the WRU and its four Regions for the next six years has been agreed.
I want to thank all four Regions and their representative body, Regional Rugby Wales, for all the hard work involved across recent months. In particular I also want to thank all our supporters, sponsors, staff and especially our players, coaches and rugby staff for their patience.
It marks a new era for the professional game in Wales with National Dual Contracts for key players on offer for the first time.
The WRU and the Regions will utilise the contracts to focus on ensuring a core of leading Welsh international players remain in Wales with the four Regions and a vital facility to help retain key individuals who make it to the top of the player development structure now in place in Wales.
The new RSA is formulated around rugby protocols which define a collaborative approach between Wales and Regional coaching and backroom teams to ensure the best Welsh qualified players are identified, nurtured and retained.
The RSA delivers £8.7m a year to the Regions guaranteed to be spent on Welsh qualified players with a complex matrix of funding also guaranteeing a further £3.6m in loan facilities from the WRU repayable during the term of the RSA. Each Region also receives a one-off £500,000 payment on signature of the new RSA.
Within the £8.7m an annual sum of £2m from the WRU has been allocated to be spent by the governing body directly on the National Dual Contracts with an additional £1.3m from the Regions added to the annual spend or £3.3m in total.
Players to be offered a new National Dual Contract will be chosen by the national Head Coach and will become WRU employees.
A new Senior Player Selection Policy has also been confirmed which declares 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. This policy will become active once a minimum of six senior players prioritised by the Wales Head Coach have been signed to National Dual Contracts.
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 for emerging talent in Wales from the WRU to the four Regions with £600,000 of support each year from the WRU in line with a proposal included in the 2009 Participation Agreement.
Within the RSA 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.
Relevant provisions of the RSA will be monitored and managed through the Professional Regional Game Board which will be chaired by the High Court Judge, Sir Wyn Williams. The chairman of the PRGB holds a casting vote on mutually agreed issues of interest with the exception of certain reserved WRU matters.
The Group Chief Executive of the WRU, 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.
"The new contracts 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.
"I want to thank all four Regions and their representative body, Regional Rugby Wales, for all the hard work involved across recent months. In particular I also want to thank all our supporters, sponsors, staff and especially our players, coaches and rugby staff for their patience.
"The new RSA creates a new rugby environment within which together we can nurture and develop the professional game in Wales.
"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 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."
The Chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, David Pickering, said:"This is a landmark agreement which will prove fundamental to the successful development of the professional game in Wales.
"A successful level of Regional rugby is essential if we are going to continue to punch above our weight in the world game.
"The new National Dual Contracts will help us all achieve our agreed aim of keeping as many talented Welsh players here as we can playing Regional rugby.
"It has been a challenging negotiation over many months but that just reflects the importance of the outcome we have all achieved.
"I want to thank all our colleagues from the Regions and their benefactors for working so incredibly hard to help us all achieve the solution which is represented in this new Rugby Services Agreement."
Chairman of Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) 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.
"The Regions would like to express their sincere thanks and gratitude to all their stakeholders and colleagues in the Regions; our players, coaches, staff, supporters groups, sponsors and partners all of whom have remained supportive whilst living with increased degrees of uncertainty.
"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.
"Clear mutual goals now form the basis of a new agreement that will create a stronger and more productive environment, where our interests are more closely aligned and a thriving domestic game that feeds into the long-term success of the Welsh international rugby."
RRW and the Regions thanked Sir Wyn Williams for his time, effort and guidance and expressed their recognition of the considerable time and effort undertaken by all those individuals on the Rugby and Commercial of the WRU in reaching an agreement that provides a constructive platform for the future.
Sir Wyn Williams, the High Court Judge who chaired the negotiations and is the Chair of the Professional Regional Game Board said:
"I congratulate WRU, RRW and the four Regions upon reaching an agreement which seeks to provide constructive solutions to the problems which have existed in the professional game in Wales in recent years.
"I am conscious that there has been a good deal of criticism over the length of time which has gone by since the process of making an agreement began. I would like to re-assure Welsh rugby fans that the time has been well spent. In the discussions to which I have been a party all the participants were determined that an agreement should be reached but, inevitably, genuine and legitimate differences of opinion existed which had to be considered and evaluated before consensus could emerge.
"I consider the process which has been undertaken has produced an agreement which will serve the professional game in Wales well over the next six years and has also helped the WRU, RRW and the Regions individually to a much better understanding of each other's positions on important rugby and commercial matters."
Additional elements of the new agreement include the return of the Wales A team with a possible fixture each year on the weekend prior to the Six Nations kick off.
The Regional support for the importance of the sevens game is also recognised with the terms of the RSA guaranteeing that up to three players from each Region will be available for Wales sevens selection.
The agreement contains a range of protocols which focus on Welsh qualified players who are based in Wales at any of the four Regions.
In the new deal all the Regional squad players will take part in training camps at the WRU National Centre of Excellence each year as part of the collaborative partnership represented in the RSA.
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.
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.