Gareth Davies Believes Premiership Switch is Possible

Gareth Davies has admitted the Welsh regions could join the Aviva Premiership
©Press Association

Newport Gwent Dragons Chief executive Gareth Davies has admitted that should the Welsh regions fail to reach an agreement with the Welsh Rugby Union about next year, the four sides could join the Aviva Premiership.

Former Wales fly-half Davies was the first figure in the regional game to confirm such rumours over the future of the Ospreys, Scarlets, Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons after much deliberation.

Regional Rugby Wales, the umbrella organisation representing the regions, is at loggerheads with the WRU over competition structures and revenues from next season, as well as how to keep top Welsh talent within the principality.

The regions are keen to join the Rugby Champions Cup, an alternative to the Heineken Cup suggested by the English clubs, which they claim will earn them an additional £1million each a season.

The WRU is committed to fielding sides in the existing European competition, currently run by European Rugby Cup (ERC), and the RaboDirect Pro12.

Davies, speaking on a BBC Wales Scrum V debate over the state of the regional game, when asked if joining the English top-flight was an option, said: "It is an option."

He added: "Our understanding with the English clubs, it is quite solid whilst not underestimating the enormous hurdles that are in the way of that happening.

"What are our options? The European Cup will be an extended Pro 12 in effect and I cannot see the tills ringing to see us play Zebre for the fourth time in a season.

"The Pro 12 does not have a sponsor and the Italians claimed this week they are pulling out. What options do we have?

"We need to look at this new European competition and commit ourselves to the domestic league."

However, an Anglo-Welsh tournament would require the support of the WRU, the Rugby Football Union and the International Rugby Board, which is unlikely to be forthcoming.

The two sides failed to agree an extension to the Participation Agreement by the end of December, with the regions putting forward a new deadline of January 31, and the WRU suggested it could form new sides to represent Wales in their chosen competitions.

But chief executive Roger Lewis denied that was the case.

"I have not had any private conversations about setting up new regions," he said. "I am committed to making the four regions work.

"Let's treat this with the seriousness it deserves. This is Welsh rugby and we will continue to work until we get the right solution for all of Welsh rugby.

"We are not going to play media games on deadlines. We did not set the December 31 deadline and we will not set one of January 31.

"I don't want to get stuck into a corner. The real question is, where will the regions walk to?

"The RFU have told us they will not let the Welsh regions join the Aviva Premiership. They have told us."

Lewis also broached the subject of central contracts to stop top Welsh players leaving to join English and French clubs.

Mike Phillips, George North, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts are among those to have left Wales, with Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans following suit at the end of this season.

The union are prepared to provide contracts to six players. Wales captain Sam Warburton is reported to be close to accepting such an offer.

"We need to bring back to Wales the top talent that's left. We can identify extra money if we can reach agreement," he said.

"At the heart of that agreement is rewarding the regions who develop and retain the talent and working with the regions who cannot do that at the moment and helping them to sustain.

"There will be additional money if we reach an agreement. The extra money comes from our key partners who have generated a 32 per cent increase in revenue for the game.

"The numbers within the game are very impressive."

The regions have an agreement in place not to field any players who are centrally contracted.

In response Davies, said: "The agreement between the regions was they all had to agree (on central contracts), but we have not discussed it, it is not on the table as such.

"The issue of central contracts is important, it's important we retain our best players by whichever means, but the fundamental principles of the agreement between RRW and the WRU have to be established.

"If we don't have meaningful competitions we will be throwing money away. We must have proper competitions that can give the regions and Welsh rugby some sort of sustainability. We have to have our structures right."

Lewis also stated new talks over the future of European competition will be held on Tuesday, while the union and the regions have been talking over a new offer of a Participation Agreement since January 6.