Phillips urges players to stick with WRU

7 months ago 16
Steve Phillips took over from Martyn Phillips as the Welsh Rugby Union chief executiveSteve Phillips took over from Martyn Phillips as the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive

Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chief executive Steve Phillips has urged the country's professional players to stick with the governing body as they continue to negotiate a long-term financial deal.

Discussions continue between the WRU and regions over a fresh agreement.

Players who are out of contract at the end of the season have been left in limbo.

"Stick with us, the process is ongoing and we have to find a resolution, whatever it looks like," said Phillips.

Negotiations have been going on for months at the Professional Rugby Board (PRB).

This is the organisation which runs the professional game in Wales and is made up of members of the WRU and Scarlets, Cardiff, Ospreys and Dragons.

There has been a freeze on player recruitment with new deals for individuals at the Welsh sides on hold and teams not knowing budgets.

"We've got to find a sustainable model and we've got to take our time in doing that as we've got to set ourselves up for success," said Phillips.

"The dialogue is good and positive and it's about getting the right answer. We haven't set a timeline as we're more concerned about doing the best thing.

"We need to get into a consultation, which we are, with the players and Welsh Rugby Players' Association (WRPA) about what the process is and what we think the future might look like.

"We're quite advanced. We just need to agree on the last few things, which is a mix of rugby and financials."

Phillips insists a long-term deal is not only about money.

"It's always more than that," he added.

"The agenda is a rugby agenda and there's always a financial agenda.

"You have to balance them both at the same time. Sometimes you can fix the financials but you have a rugby strategy problem. Sometimes you get the rugby strategy right but finances are challenging."

Financial issues

Phillips insists he is still looking at maintaining four regions but is wary of what has happened in England, with Worcester and Wasps going into administration.

"We're absolutely wanting four regions but we'd be naïve not to recognise what is going on in England because those are private clubs and three of ours are private clubs," he added.

"There's an analogy there, but we'll do everything we can to stop that happening."

United Rugby Championship chief executive Martin Anayi says the Welsh teams do not have the same issues as their English counterparts when it comes to going into administration because the WRU can support the regions.

"Martin is right and not right," added Phillips.

"He's right in so far as we have the obligation to provide four teams into the league. That's what we've signed up for.

"Hypothetically, if we went to less than that, we would have to have a conversation as we're not adhering to our contract.

"That's not to be interpreted as any of the current teams have to stay there, it's just the best four teams in Wales.

"The analogy I'd give you is the previous guise of the Dragons. That was the same story. That was in difficulty (in 2017) and we came along and gave it continuity."

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When asked if he envisaged the WRU having to prop up any Welsh side financially mid-season, Phillips responded: "It just adds to the challenge. You never say never, but I would be disappointed if it happened."

Following the struggles of Worcester and Wasps, Phillips has dismissed any suggestions Wales will try to align themselves with England in an Anglo-Welsh league.

"I think people have to remember we are contractually committed to URC long-term," added Phillips.

"We did a private equity deal where we had some money on diluting our interest and there's a longevity expectation in that.

"So while I get the emotion of dropping everything, pretending we're not in the URC and going to an Anglo-Welsh, I don't think we're in a position to do that.

"I think an even better [point] would be I'm not sure why Premiership Rugby (PRL) would want that either."

Autumn ticket concerns

The WRU admitted tickets sales for the autumn series were challenging as Wales prepare to face New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and Australia in November.

"We're down on expectations, but I think we can manage it," added Phillips.

"We've still got a month to go, but current course and speed means we're probably down on expectations.

"Once I know what the problem I'm trying to fix is, maybe we can fix it. Maybe we'll have to look at some alternatives.

"Do we need to mitigate costs? Can we increase revenues? Can we land another third-party event? That's on our agenda at the minute.

"I don't think it's ticket prices. This is always the argument, but New Zealand is the most expensive ticket and that's pretty much a sell-out.

"The second most expensive ticket is Australia and that's come in line with expectations as we always tend to sell the same amount.

"Georgia is always a slow burn with walk-ups. It's targeted at a family audience so we're seeing some dwell-time with that.

"The one where we're seeing the biggest difference is Argentina and that's a modest ticket price compared to the other two."

Wayne's World

Wayne Pivac was head coach at Scarlets before taking over from Warren Gatland at WalesWayne Pivac was head coach at Scarlets before taking over from Warren Gatland at Wales

The four-match series will continue the build-up to the 2023 World Cup, after which head coach Wayne Pivac's contract is due to end.

Pivac was appointed 12 months before the last tournament in Japan when Warren Gatland was in charge.

Phillips says no negotiations have been held over a new contract for Pivac.

"We haven't come to that as there's no need to do that yet," he added.

"I'm not going to get drawn into dealing with personal employment matters until we're ready to say something.

"It's not a like for like (to 2019) as Warren stated last time he was finishing so we were always looking for an alternative.

"England will be in a similar place this time around with Eddie Jones saying he is finishing.

"We haven't sat down in detail, but I would be expecting Wayne to want to continue. We just need to have those conversations."

When asked whether Pivac's long-term future depends on World Cup performances, Phillips added: "It's going to be an influence, but I'm not going to get drawn into individual contract negotiations."

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