Players voice concerns over proposed Welsh rugby shake-up

Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Wales hooker Ken Owens has expressed his concerns about a potential merger between the Ospreys and Scarlets as part of radical proposals for the future of the Welsh game.

The merger is a focal point of talks to be held by the Professional Game Board on Tuesday, coming just four days before Warren Gatland's national team attempt to take another step towards claiming a Six Nations Grand Slam in Scotland.

It is a group that comprises representatives from the Welsh Rugby Union, Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff Blues.

Establishing a new professional team in north Wales is also high on the agenda in what would be Welsh rugby's biggest domestic shake-up since regional teams were established 16 years ago.

It is understood that the favoured plan under "Project Reset" is to retain four regional teams, but they would comprise north Wales, an Ospreys-Scarlets merger, Blues and Dragons.

Scarlets player Owens, speaking in his role as chairman of the Welsh Rugby Players Association, said: "I am deeply concerned about the situation that the players across the four regions face.

"I recognise that this is the most challenging situation that I or arguably any player has faced during our rugby careers.

"I appeal to all stakeholders to have the concerns and welfare needs of all those that stand to be affected by the proposed changes at the forefront of their minds.

"It's also clear players need to be represented on the PRB because they can and must be part of the solution. Without them there is no Welsh rugby."

The Scarlets currently play in Llanelli while the Ospreys use Swansea City's Liberty Stadium for their home games.

Any merger would need to establish a home ground, in addition to issues such as the new team's name and kit.

Around half of Wales's match-day 23 for the Scotland clash is likely to feature Ospreys and Scarlets players.

And if a merger goes ahead, players such as Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, George North, Owens and Leigh Halfpenny would be part of the same regional squad.

The WRU has not commented on Tuesday's planned discussions.

Senior Wales players did meet with the governing body last week, though, to discuss a number of issues on the future of regional rugby.

Speaking last week, Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said: "It's uncertain times, which is disappointing.

"There is a lot of frustration, not only for the best players in Wales, but for their mates in the regions.

"There is an uncertainty about Project Reset, and they would like to know where they are going to be playing next year or in two years' time."