Despite the Ospreys’ firm denial that they are poised to join forces with the Scarlets, the newly formed Professional Rugby Board (PRB) has insisted terms for a merger had been agreed as part of its restructuring plans for Welsh rugby.
The PRB was formed recently to discuss plans for a radical change to regional rugby in Wales, which could see the introduction of a side in the north of the country and one fewer team in the south.
Earlier on Tuesday, Ospreys chairman Mike James resigned from his post over what he described as “catastrophic” proposals, labelling talks that had been christened “Project Reset” as “Project Inept”.
His exit was followed by the Ospreys releasing a statement in which they rejected talk of a merger with Pro14 rivals the Scarlets.
However, a statement released on behalf of David Buttress (Dragons), Nigel Short (Scarlets), Alun Jones (Cardiff Blues), David Lovett (Independent Chair), Martyn Phillips (Welsh Rugby Union CEO) and Steve Phillips (WRU Finance director) said the Ospreys’ comments run contrary to what had been discussed in recent meetings.
It read: “The members of the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) – the chairmen of the regions, and the WRU – have been meeting for 15 months and formally since the new Professional Rugby Agreement (PRA), signed by all parties, came into effect on the 31st January 2019.
“The new PRA has brought in the rigour, transparency and accountability required to make the decisions necessary to take the game in Wales forward.
“These meetings have been co-operative, collaborative and clear in their intent – specifically formulating a plan for the future sustainability and success of professional rugby in Wales.
“The PRB met today [Tuesday], expecting to finalise a comprehensive proposal for the consideration of the WRU board.
“A central component of the proposal was a merger between the Scarlets and Ospreys. The PRB were advised Heads of Terms for 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 timing of the controversy surrounding the proposed merger could hardly have been worse, with a national team containing a healthy contingent of Ospreys and Scarlets players chase a Six Nations Grand Slam.
“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,” added the statement.
“The PRB 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.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.