How will supporters and players be affected by the WRU regional shake-up

Ospreys & Scarlets shirts. Image Nathan Parker

by Nathan Parker

THE game of rugby in Wales is set for a huge overhaul this summer, with a potential merger between the Ospreys and Scarlets on the cards.

If it happens, the players who would not be involved with the proposed merger could well be without a club, with the Principality Premiership or clubs abroad being the most obvious destinations for some of the unwanted players.

Current Wales and British and  Irish Lions Hooker Ken Owens has already voiced his opinion today telling BBC Sport: “This is the most challenging situation that I or arguably any player has faced during our careers.”

With over a hundred players involved with the Ospreys and Scarlets, it will be extremely difficult for the WRU to find a club for each and every one them, as the Celtic Warriors found out in 2004.

At the end of their penultimate season the Warriors proudly sat fourth in the Celtic League table after a successful first season in existence. It included an away victory over London Wasps, who went on to lift the European cup that year.

Just weeks after the end of the season the WRU pulled the plug on the Warriors with supporters and players left in the wilderness.

The man amongst it all when the valleys region collapsed in 2004 was Matthew Nuthall who was one of a just few players who failed to carve a professional career out of rugby.

“I’ve never agreed with regional rugby from the start,” said Nuthall.

Also on the proposed move for a region in north Wales, the current Caerphilly coach said: “Nothing big is ever going to be successful up north. It’s a rugby league and football country up there and to get players up north they will have to drag them up from the south.

“For me it’s got to go back to club rugby and although it’s not going to work overnight, it must be given time to build with the brands and Welsh rugby will be thriving again.”

The effect that the proposed coalition may have on supporters is uncertain.  The scale of the issue to the wider game in Wales could well take its toll, with a growing number of fans turning away from the game.

A lifelong Neath supporter and season ticket holder Phil Lawrence said: “I know a lot of supporters from both Neath and Llanelli who have said this is the last straw because if they lose identity they will walk away from Pro Club Rugby.

“The effect on the initial feeder teams such as Swansea and Llanelli could be dramatic. The fringe players that have played for both may either disappear up north to kick off that development or be lost to the other side of the bridge.

“I feel it is a knee jerk reaction, that one of the best performing regions (Ospreys) historically has been seemingly sacrificed to accommodate a ‘pipe dream’ in the north, with no proven support base, given Rygbi Gogledd Cymru’s lack of what I would say are comparable crowds to what is already in place.”

The news of a proposed merger has also hit fans from west Wales with a poll made by the Scarlets Supporters club saying 186 out of 220 people would not renew their season ticket for the next season with growing uncertainty around the club.

The WRU could once again be at the heart of a regional meltdown, after the resignation of Ospreys chairman Mike James and around 75 players looking for a new club in the summer.

With the success of Wales’ current Six Nations campaign in full flow, the news coming out today will leave many scratching their heads.