This week sees one of the most important meetings in the recent history of Welsh rugby.
The Professional Rugby Board (PRB) will convene on Wednesday to discuss the future of the game in Wales, amid a proposal to reduce the number of regions from four to three from the start of the 2023-24 season. You can read more on that here. But just what is the PRB, who sits on it and what power does it hold? Simon Thomas explains all.
What is the Professional Rugby Board?
It’s a joint body made up of representatives from the WRU and the four regions. It was established in 2018, as part of Project Reset, the last attempt to address the issues in Welsh rugby. In theory, it runs the professional game in Wales. Just last week, the PRB outlined how it saw its role in a press release, saying its purpose was “to create an environment where professional rugby in Wales is successful on the field and sustainable off it”.
So who actually sits on the PRB?
Each of the four regions has a representative on the board. These are Cardiff Rugby chairman Alun Jones, Ospreys chief executive Nick Garcia, Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack and Dragons chairman David Buttress. The WRU are represented by chief executive Steve Phillips and finance director Tim Moss. There are also two independent members, chairman Malcolm Wall and Norwegian businesswoman Marianne Økland.
Wall is the third chairman of the body, following in the footsteps of David Lovett and Amanda Blanc. He was appointed in March in the wake of the abrupt and still unexplained departure of Aviva chief executive Blanc, who stepped down last November after just under two years at the helm. As part of his role, media industry executive Wall also sits on the WRU Board.
The word is he has made a pretty big impression in the short period he has been involved in the corridors of power. The PRB meetings are also attended by the WRU’s performance director Nigel Walker and the chair of the Rugby Management Board, Jon Daniels.
Why is Wednesday’s meeting of the PRB so important?
It’s crucial because they will be discussing the findings of a bombshell report into the state of Welsh rugby. The report by consultants Oakwell Sports Advisory was commissioned by the PRB to seek an outside opinion on the issues facing the game in Wales in the wake of the huge economic impact of Covid and disappointing results on the field. Entitled an “Independent review into the financial health of Welsh rugby”, the document suggests four options, or recommendations.
The one which has inevitably grabbed the headlines is axing one of the four regions. Other suggestions include an alternative player funding model. There are also separate plans to introduce a new Welsh Professional Game agreement and create a centralised commercial body and strategy, while there is a view that governance procedures need reviewing and realigning.
All the proposals will now be discussed by the PRB. The overall thrust of the report is that Welsh rugby must develop a sustainable commercial funding model for the next 10 years and needs to do it quickly.
What are they likely to decide?
That’s the 64,000 dollar question. According to last week’s press release from the PRB, it’s for the members to “formulate a strategy based on all available information”, with the Oakwell report having been “an informative part of that process”.
Now, of course, the recommendations could simply be dismissed by the PRB. But the issue that just won’t go away is whether there is enough money and resource in the game to sustain four competitive regions. If the answer is no, then what to do? If the majority on the PRB are minded to cut to three, that raises huge questions.
Would it have to be a unanimous decision and which region would go? It’s hard to see a team voting for its own demise.
There are other less seismic options. It’s understood the report rejected the idea of a 2+2 funding model, with two regions receiving preferential cash support. But might a 3+1 compromise be put forward, with one side taking on more of a development role? Could there be some other way of tweaking the finances?
Who knows. Oh to be a fly on the wall.
Will the PRB have the final say in the matter?
Now that’s a question which goes to the heart of arguably the biggest problem in Welsh rugby. Referring once more to last week’s press release, it says: “The PRB will present its strategy to the WRU Board in due course”.
But that strategy would still need to be ratified by the WRU Board who might take a different view on the best way forward. So, in effect, it’s the WRU Board that holds the ultimate power and that’s a body where community club representatives are in the majority.
It means the professional game is still effectively controlled by the amateur clubs, with the tail waging the dog. Until that situation is addressed through a change in governance and the pro game is put fully in the hands of people who live and breathe it and understand how it works, you just feel everything else is tinkering around the edges.