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'Have the WRU issued an explanation?' - Former Wales lock Andrew Coombs slams union over £20m loan to regions

By Ian Cameron
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Former Wales second row Andrew Coombs has questioned the nature of a £20 million loan taken out in 2020 by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) to underwrite the survival of professional rugby in Wales.


The £20m loan was taken out by the WRU on behalf of the regions by way of the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), with £5.5m going to the Scarlets, £5m to Ospreys and Cardiff Blues, and £4.5m to the Dragons.

The loan was in part to cover the shortfall in the normal payments that the regions enjoy for the provision and ongoing production of players to the union. In a normal year the payment is around £25m, and is significantly more than the revenue generated by television broadcast right, ticket sales and general commercial revenue.

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Big Dev and Big Jim, a chat among locks:
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Coombs – who won 10 caps for Wales between 2013 and 2014 – says that the WRU are now rebranding their annual payment to the Welsh regions for services rendered as a loan that the sides must now pay.

Coombs wrote: “1. The WRU are a customer to the regions. 2. In normal times they pay the regions £26m for their services. 3. The effect of Covid reduced their payment from £26m to £3m. 4. WRU borrow £20m to distribute to regions but expect them to pay this back with interest. 5. Why?! How?!”

“The regions have not changed or reduced the service they provide to the WRU! It’s not the fault of the regions that the WRU have to borrow to pay their customer! I’m struggling to understand how this debt is being passed on. The regions provided a Championship winning squad!” continued Coombs.


“It’s the equivalent of walking into a Mercedes garage, buying a new car with finance and telling Mercedes they have to make the repayments for me.”

The former Dragons forward has now demanded an explanation from the union on the matter: “Have the WRU issued an explanation and their reasons for passing on this debt to the regions? If so where can I find them please?”

Last month the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Phillips said he is in the process of renegotiating the loan.


“In consultation with Welsh Government, we acted quickly and found a solution –- with a £20m CLBILS loan from NatWest providing the Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets security in the immediate term,” said Phillips in February. “This was at a time when government had other priorities, a direct focus on containment and saving lives around the country. Of course, subsequent to that, the £13.5m grant for the professional game has been both welcome and timely.”

“A final piece in the jigsaw for our professional game will now be to re-address the terms contained within the CLBILS loan. More favourable terms will allow our Regions the opportunity to not only consolidate but remain competitive when the current pandemic leaves us and create the necessary resources to ensure – our stated aim – that Welsh rugby at all levels, survives intact, is competitive and sustainable.”

The row comes as the performance of the Welsh regions is once again in the spotlight after a dire weekend in Europe in which all four Welsh sides lost. The losses come just over a week after Wales were officially crowned Guinness Six Nations champions, once again drawing attention to the gulf in performance between players on national duty compared to the less glamourous regional circuit.


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