The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) today formally announced its intention to assume operational control of the Newport Gwent Dragons (NGD) region, both on and off the field – with a targeted completion date of 1st July – after reaching ‘heads of terms’ agreement.
The WRU has been working closely with the NGD board for some time, to help find external investment and to explore how the WRU can support the region as it moves into a new ambitious phase of development.
The proposed transaction includes the purchase of the nine-acre Rodney Parade site in its entirety – for a price which has been mutually agreed, deemed to be a fair offer and has been ratified by the Boards of the WRU, Newport RFC and NGD – but must still be ratified by the shareholders of Newport RFC.
On completion of the proposed transaction all current NGD employees will be taken on by the WRU and a new company will be formed which will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the WRU and will be free of any historic debt.
The WRU also plans to make required investments in the Rodney Parade pitch and stadium and provide WRU expertise and resources, ensuring that the infrastructure in the region is in keeping with the requirements of professional rugby and the Guinness Pro12 competition in which it participates.
WRU Group chief executive Martyn Phillips points out that the investment is, first and foremost, about safeguarding the future of rugby in Gwent, safeguarding the future of Newport RFC at Rodney Parade and enabling a sustainable professional entity which is attractive to further future investment (NGD).
“It is important for us to go immediately on record to sincerely thank both Tony Brown and Martyn Hazell for all they have done for NGD and for their professionalism and support throughout this recent process in particular,” said Phillips.
“All parties recognise that from an NGD perspective significant improvement is required on and off the pitch and that it is now time to take a different approach.
“This investment is equally designed to safeguard Newport RFC and its rich history at Rodney Parade and provides a long term programme where we focus on putting in solid foundations to ensure a sustainable and successful team in the region.
“Without this action the future of both the NGD and Newport RFC is at best uncertain, along with the existence of Rodney Parade.
“There is still a lot of hard work to be completed before the proposed transaction proceeds, but it is important to recognise that there will be no magic wand.
“We have put together the very best package we can for rugby in Gwent, but there is clearly still work to be done and there is an ongoing process of due diligence to be followed in order to achieve the best outcome for Welsh Rugby.
“Initially we will focus on consolidating a high performance environment for the players and on ensuring high quality coaching.
“We know that we can only deliver on our ambitions if the communities of the region are engaged and get behind the team, but we believe that the solid foundations and sustainable future we will provide will be central to that happening.
“We will also focus on ensuring that the required pitch and facility improvements are addressed. Above all we want to safeguard the future of regional rugby in the area and, in turn, support the 73 clubs in the region and their stakeholders.
“A WRU working party will be engaged as soon possible, to consider all of the issues raised and to provide a clear way forward in the long term.”
The financial challenges faced by NGD have been well publicised and the WRU’s stated position – contained in its published ‘Strategy for Welsh Rugby’ – is to ensure it facilitates four sustainable and successful regions in Wales.
“Our vision for the future of rugby in Gwent is to deepen relationships with clubs throughout the region and to provide a clear plan for on-field success,” continued Phillips.
“We have an immediate opportunity to utilise WRU resources and expertise to firmly establish a successful professional regional side here.
“We are not where we want to be with NGD, but it is inconceivable to us that professional rugby in that area could be lost and so we have committed to doing everything possible to ensure its future success.”
Detailed plans for the future of the region are being prepared and supporters, together with anyone with an interest in the sustainable future of rugby in the region, will have the opportunity to be involved as these plans progress.
“NGD supporters have been through a lot since the arrival of regional rugby, but today should be seen as a hugely positive step forward,” added WRU chairman Gareth Davies.
“We have committed to safeguard the future of the game in the region and we will be doing everything in our control to not only provide continued stability for players,supporters, employees and everyone with an interest in the game in the region, but we will also be looking for rugby to thrive at Rodney Parade.
“We want Gwent to have a regional team to be proud of, a team which becomes synonymous with success both on and off the pitch for the good of the whole game in Wales and we will be utilising all of the resources and the expertise we have available to make sure that happens.
“This is a hugely positive move not just for the region, the clubs and supporters in the catchment area, but also for the regional game in general and for the whole of Welsh Rugby.
“Today we have announced plans for a new beginning for rugby in Gwent and we do so with a huge amount of excitement, optimism and ambition.”
NGD chief executive Stuart Davies said: “This is a significant step forwards for us, and having explored all options the WRU proposal is an extremely welcome and exciting one for regional rugby in Gwent.
“We began work just under two years ago to establish the Newport Gwent Dragons as an independent entity capable of attracting fresh investment. Separation from Newport RFC was an important step in achieving that, but the proposal also seeks to protect their interests and the continued playing of rugby at Rodney Parade.
“There is further hard work ahead, but this could be a historic moment for Newport Gwent Dragons supporters.”
Professional Rugby Wales chief executive Mark Davies added: “We all believe the continuity of professional rugby in Gwent is critical for Welsh Rugby in the long-term and fully understand the urgency of the current situation at the Dragons.
“We therefore welcome a practical solution that will provide and support that continuity with immediate effect in an increasingly competitive and fast-paced professional game.