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Nigel Walker: Welsh Rugby Union does not want to cut regions, says performance director

Nigel Walker was appointed as the WRU performance director in 2021

Performance director Nigel Walker says the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) does not want to cut a professional region in Wales.

The proposal was suggested in an independent report commissioned for the Professional Rugby Board (PRB).

Ospreys and Dragons have both stated they are determined to continue among four regions.

“Nobody in Welsh rugby wants to go from four to three,” Walker told BBC Scrum V.

“The regions don’t want it, the WRU don’t want it.

“It’s the PRB’s desire to look carefully at how we maintain four regions and what their role should be and I support that.

“If we cut the regions to three, it could present problems from a rugby point of view, from a player point of view.

“But we have got to find a structure which works and we have got to be able to fund it at the appropriate level going forward.”

The PRB runs the professional game in Wales and has representatives from the WRU and Cardiff, Ospreys, Dragons and Scarlets.

The Oakwell Report was commissioned for the PRB to look at the financial health of Welsh rugby. Among the findings leaked was the idea of reducing the number of regions by one.

“It was an independent report commissioned by the PRB. I know some people might say it’s semantics. It’s not a WRU report,” added Walker.

“It came up with a whole raft of options, of which one has been selected.

“It was commissioned early in the new year and delivered in February.

“The regions and the WRU have been talking about it for a few months, we just haven’t come to a conclusion.

“[It was] unfortunate it was leaked but now it is in the public domain, people know we are considering these things very carefully.

“The important thing is the PRB statement after the recent meeting said they wanted sustainability and success on and off the pitch, and that’s what everybody is concentrating on.

“We have to have agreement in weeks rather than months, that would be my view.”

Walker said he has faith in the PRB after being asked whether the WRU’s governance structure was fit for purpose in the 21st century.

“That’s why the PRB was established and given responsibility for the professional game,” added Walker.

“I am confident in the PRB, we have a new chair in Malcolm Wall.

“Amanda Blanc did a fantastic job before Malcolm. He has come in and made an impression and been clear about the way we need to work together.

“The PRB meets regularly, it has regional and WRU representation. The talks at the moment are what’s the direction of travel for the professional game.

“I have got my views, the regions have their views, we need to come to an agreement.

“Otherwise we are going to be having these conversations next month, the month after and this time next year.”

The WRU has been criticised over how it funds the regions, with the accusation it is instead putting money into other ventures like a new hotel in Cardiff city centre.

“That’s a perception out there and it’s incorrect,” said Walker.

“The hotel pre-dates me, but not one penny of WRU money went into the venture.

“It’s land and a building owned by the WRU. That’s the WRU stake. It’s the other partners that are putting the financial risk.

“Revenue streams are important, which the WRU needs to look at.

“The Oakwell report says most leading nations are flatlining when it comes increasing revenue.

“In terms of funding for the regions, again, if you look at what people say, we were about 1% within the best funded country, which I think is Ireland in terms of their turnover. So we are not too far behind.

“The discussion we are having is what does success look like for regional rugby, because we need the regions to be successful.

“The WRU recognises that needs to happen otherwise the national team won’t be successful.”

Wales won one game in the Six Nations and lost at home to Italy, while the four regions all finished in the bottom half of the United Rugby Championship (URC) with no victories in European competition this season.

When asked whether Welsh rugby was in crisis, Walker added: “That’s one way of putting it, I wouldn’t characterise it in quite that way.

“Yes, we have some challenges to overcome but they are not peculiar to Welsh rugby.

“France have had to go through a difficult period, England are going through a difficult period at the moment.

“There needs to be a correction.

“We need to work together and the PRB, which is charged with setting the strategy and charting the direction of travel for the professional game in Wales, is talking about those things.”

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