Anglo-Welsh league a possibility after six Premiership clubs wish to split from PRL

Gallagher Premiership

An Anglo-Welsh league could well be a possibility in the not-so distant future as reports suggest that six Premiership clubs wish to split from PRL, the body which oversees Premiership Rugby. Robert Rees explains how and if this could work.

How is this possible?

Well, let’s start off by looking at the reports of six clubs wanting separation from PRL.

The clubs have contacted former RFU Chairman Martyn Thomas for his guidance on the administrative side of things in a move labelled similar to that of football’s back in 1992, when the Premier League came to fruition.

Thomas said in an interview with The Rugby Paper; “I know that half a dozen of the English Premiership clubs are planning a similar move to the breakaway which formed the Premier League in 1992. They want to go it alone, and part of the issue is that the PRL infrastructure is costing too much.”

The idea is that the six clubs can create a “super league” in which they’ll have an asset to attract investors and broadcasters, from which a large chunk of income can be created.

Anglo-Welsh league
Cardiff Arms Park is home to the Blues, who’s predecessor Cardiff RFC took part in the rebel season. Credit (Photo by Simon King – CameraSport via Getty Images).

It’s expected that to do this however, they’d need the backing of the remaining seven Premiership Rugby entities. Make of that how you will, but if the remaining seven teams see it in their interests to stay put as a group, the plans could be devastated before they’ve even begun.

However, Thomas has said they may be willing to listen due to staff costs at PRL amounting to over £2m.

Multi-millionaire owners like Bruce Craig (Bath) and Simon Orange (Sale Sharks) will be targeting the control over TV rights, which have proved fruitful in recent years.

The latest Premiership Rugby TV deal being around £270m in total. This equates to around £3.4m a club, per year and is set to be re-negotiated in 2021.

Wales could step in

Back in 1998-99, two Welsh clubs had a rebel season against the WRU structure. Those clubs were Cardiff and Swansea RFC.

Now, Glanmor Griffiths had stopped the move for Welsh clubs to join the English setup, former WRU CEO David Moffett telling Robert Rees, “Had I been there I would have over ruled Glanmor Griffiths and Welsh clubs would be part of the English system.”

Back in 2013 PRL and BT Sport reportedly offered each region £4m to join an Anglo-Welsh league the season after. At the time it was the fee earned by the sides for participating in the Pro12 (as it was then), Heineken Cup and LV Cup.

The regions’ participation agreement deal with the WRU was also set to expire on December 31 2013.

Anglo-Welsh league
The Dragons are the most cash-strapped team of the four Welsh entities and could be privately owned soon. (Photo by Kevin Barnes – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Wales have 4 regions to offer to the six clubs and could provide historic rivalries, close derby games and travelling support. All of which would help boost investment from private companies/individuals and broadcasters, who would see the top talent play from across multiple nations.

If S4C held Welsh rights commentary on free to air TV then that would also boost viewing figures and drive up the support for the setup, which would ultimately be ringfenced unless the 10 invested parties decided to draw on other nations.

With the possibility that a Club World Cup could take away the Heineken Champions Cup then this would be the only top tier, multi-nation league along with the Pro14, which would be decimated by the loss of the regions.

10 teams fits nicely into a packed rugby calendar, offering 18 games, plus an opportunity for a cup competition every season.

The only complications to the matter, apart from who would vote for the league, if the contracts in place that determine where the 10 sides currently play. The Premiership clubs have RFU and PRL funding and would this remain fully in place should they take the jump.

The WRU has contracts state they must provide four teams to the Guinness Pro14, so only when this expires can they proceed. Martyn Phillips stating in a prior interview in the South Wales Argus that “the reality was; if we didn’t do it [provide four teams] our income drops by a quarter. Our broadcasting income, our competition incomes drop straightaway because it’s three entities not four, and we lose the derbies.”

In short, an Anglo-Welsh league may not be here for a few seasons yet, but with clubs on the eastern side of the Severn Bridge looking to split the opportunity to take the chance that was declined by Griffiths may be about to appear once again.


“Main photo credit”

Anglo-Welsh league
Six Premiership Rugby sides are wanting to break away from PRL. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images for Premiership Rugby)