Having seeing rugby in England receive a generous state bailout, Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Phillips says that external help is now “a requirement” as the sport in Wales continues battling for its future amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was announced last month that English rugby is set to receive a £135million UK government aid package, with an anticipated £59m of that going to England’s Gallagher Premiership clubs.

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Crowds of up to 2,000 are also set for a return at some English rugby venues this weekend, including Twickenham on Sunday for the Autumn Nations Cup final between England and France, but Wales will conclude their Nations Cup campaign against Italy behind closed doors, which has been the case for all five previous games since they started playing again in late October.

And while Phillips says he is happy with Welsh Government negotiations so far and is confident “our voice is being heard”, he has also given a stark illustration of the need to act.

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In the latest update to WRU member clubs, Phillips said: “There is no denying that when Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston announced a package of rescue funding measures over a week ago, he very much recognised the importance of rugby to society in England which left English rugby in a significantly better state than it had been moments before.

“Suffice to say that we have impressed upon our First Minister the importance of Welsh rugby to our nation and have been explicit about the potentially devastating repercussion a continued shortfall in funding for our game will create.

“As you would expect me to, I’ve highlighted that rugby in Wales plays a bigger role in Welsh society than it does in England. It is the heartbeat of our communities. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant measures to control it have hit Welsh rugby hard. We have looked to ourselves and done all that we can to ensure the survival of our member clubs and our professional game to date, but we have reached the point where external help is no longer a want, but a requirement.”

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Phillips says that all aspects of the game in Wales are “under enormous stress”. He added: “We are looking for parity, on a fair and proportionate basis, with what has been provided to English rugby. Sport is about parity, starting on a level playing field, therefore we don’t believe Welsh rugby should be disadvantaged compared to our near neighbours.

“We are happy with negotiations so far, and we are confident our voice is being heard and that our call for help, on behalf of the whole of Welsh rugby, will be heard in earnest. We understand and empathise with the challenges faced by Welsh Government, who have many hungry mouths to feed as they guide us all to safety and, hopefully, a return to some semblance of normality once a vaccine arrives.

“But we have not let this stop us from making the case for Welsh rugby to Welsh Government as we strive to ensure that we are able to count as many clubs out of this pandemic as we were able to boast at the start and that our professional game survives intact in a competitive fashion, ready to rise again once this is all over. Not to act now would be unforgivable and unthinkable for anyone Welsh.”

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