Ospreys and Ealing Trailfinders merger on the table amid WRU financial struggles

It was in mid-February that the prospect of Ospreys and Ealing Trailfinders merging first came to light

Already the 2022/23 season has provided plenty of twists and turns, with the potential merger between Ospreys and Ealing Trailfinders the latest to make the back pages.

It was reported in the midst of the Wales national team’s potential strike for their Guinness Six Nations clash with England that Ealing Trailfinders and one of the nation’s four regions may merge.

A radical proposal, this came as funding to the Welsh professional game looks set to be slashed and a number of players left without work. Since the notion of a merger was first brought up, conversation surrounding the prospect has only intensified and drawn more and more attention.

It was only last May that a Oakwell Sports Advisory report recommended that a region should be cut, with the Welsh Rugby Union and regions having had to issue a joint statement in order to quell fears of such a thing happening.

Several years before that, Ospreys and Scarlets were rumoured to have been under consideration for merging in 2019. It was something which ex-Wales boss Wayne Pivac spoke about in February, as the concerning financial issues raged on.

"It can be fixed, and it has to be fixed for the good of Welsh rugby,” Pivac said as part of Viaplay’s URC coverage of Scarlets vs Edinburgh. 

“I've been here nine years and there have been issues right throughout that period. Ultimately you have a certain pool of money that can only go so far. It is spread thinly over four [teams].

"I had a view around the merger between Scarlets and Ospreys. I thought that was going to be a great thing for Welsh rugby and then bring north Wales in. That was a personal view but it wasn't to be.

"These things are out there. It's challenging for the players; it's challenging for the staff. Something has to be done very, very quickly."

After Trailfinders’ most recent application to join the Gallagher Premiership was rebuffed by the Rugby Football Union, the Londoners have been prompted to take matters into their own hands.

Ratification of a merger with Ospreys, which would see the side play their United Rugby Championship [URC] fixtures in the English capital, would fall at the hands of the domestic competition, as well as the Rugby Football Union and World Rugby.

Being so cash-strapped the WRU may well have no other alternative than to turn to Sir Michael Gooley, who has helped take Ealing from the fourth division of English rugby to the second as a fully professional outfit.

In recent seasons, Trailfinders had been knocking on the door of the Premiership and in spite of numerous applications were not granted permission to join the competition. In all three of their recent applications, the RFU were unable to gain admittance to the top-flight as a result of their Vallis Way home not reaching the minimum capacity.

Talk of a merger has only intensified over the weekend as statistician Russ Petty posted a screenshot of a Companies House listing for a limited company named London Trailfinders Rugby Limited, which changed its name to London Trailfinders Limited on Monday.

Incorporated at the end of January under the name of “Conflict Limited”, both Sir Michael Gooley and Lady Fiona Gooley are the company’s two directors and pours plenty of fuel onto the fire surrounding the team’s future.

Over the years Gooley has invested heavily into Ealing Trailfinders, including the construction of a £3.8m training centre at the Trailfinders Sports Club and entirely funds the Brunel University London rugby programmes, which serves as the academy for the men’s and women’s teams.

In a BBC Wales Scrum V podcast, Ospreys flanker Sam Cross discussed the potential for the region and the English club aligning, after stating that is was the Championship club that approached a number of clubs including the Welsh region.

"There's obviously a lot of people's livelihoods at stake, not just players," Cross said. "People we work with on a daily basis - staff members, people in the stadium, people in the community teams. It's bigger than just players.

"Then for the fans. Speaking to fans, the Ospreys' supporters' club on the weekend, you could sense they are anxious, and the stress caused by the rumours. It would be devastating."

Recently, Ospreys have been the leading light in Welsh rugby. They finished highest of the four regions in the URC last season and this campaign have reached the Round of 16 in the Heineken Champions Cup after beating Montpellier and Leicester Tigers in the pool stages.