Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Phillips appointed Nigel Walker as performance director in July 2021
Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Phillips appointed Nigel Walker as performance director in July 2021

Welsh Rugby Union performance director Nigel Walker admits the governing body has differences with the four Welsh professional sides but says no deadline will be put in place on a new deal.

The WRU and regions have been negotiating for months over a new long-term deal, with Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack admitting the sides were in a perilous position.

“There isn’t a deadline,” said Walker.

“I know these talks are taking time, people will be getting frustrated.”

Walker added: “But we have to come up with the right answer, not necessarily the quickest answer.”

The Professional Rugby Board (PRB) is made up of representatives from the WRU and the four Welsh professional sides – Cardiff, Dragons RFC, Ospreys and Scarlets – with talks still not resolving a new funding or playing model.

“They are continuing, we have a good relationship with the regions,” said Walker.

“Obviously there are some difference but we are working to come up with a solution that gives a consistent approach to regional rugby, so that both regional rugby and senior men’s rugby can be successful going forward.”

‘Finishing school’ aim for Welsh Premiership

One short-term battle Walker has lost is attempting to reduce the amount of teams in the Welsh Premiership, which is the highest domestic club league in Wales – below the four fully professional teams who play in cross-border competitions such as the United Rugby Championship (URC) and European cups.

Walker and the WRU wanted to reduce the Welsh Premiership from 12 to 10 teams, believing that would increase the standard of the competition.

The final decision rested with the WRU community game board which features representatives from the amateur clubs, with the body deciding to stick with the plan agreed last year to expand to 14 teams from 2023-24.

“The quickest way to raise the standard of the Premiership is to reduce the number of teams,” added Walker.

“I understand why teams currently in the Premiership wouldn’t want that. We’re working with colleagues – which includes the regions, the Premiership clubs and colleagues in the WRU – to come up with an answer.

“At some stage in the future, we will need to raise the standard of the Premiership so that it does become the finishing school for our most promising players.

“I’m going to limit it to our under-20s. For the avoidance of doubt, it doesn’t mean teams in the Premiership will have 15 under-20s.

“That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a cohort of under-20s, perhaps the 30-34 players who feature for Wales at U20s level, the majority of them having their career mapped out and where they’re going to play their rugby in the following 12 months, and those individuals being prioritised at Premiership level.

“Some of them will go straight on to play for their region, or clubs in England where that’s appropriate, but the important thing is most players are going to need a stepping stone before they get to regional rugby.

“It’s making sure that stepping stone is of the right quality.”

World Cup preparations

The men’s World Cup is in 12 months, with Wales head coach Wayne Pivac preparing to take his side to the finals in France.

Wales lost 2-1 to world champions South Africa on the summer tour and now face New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and Australia in November’s autumn internationals.

“The senior men’s team acquitted themselves incredibly well in South Africa,” said Walker.

“They could quite easily have won the series 2-1, a couple more players were discovered, the depth of the squad is deeper than it was a couple of years ago.

“I would say we are in a good position. Nobody is complacent and saying we are going to win the World Cup or anything stupid like that, but we are in a good place.

“There has been a bit of experimenting, the trialling of players. Wayne has been open about that.

“He has also said that period now is over.

“That experimenting will not take place over the autumn and Six Nations, and I would expect our results to be good results over the course of the next six or eight months in the build-up to the World Cup.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here