(Reuters) - Welsh regional rugby was plunged into chaos on Tuesday as Ospreys denied they were on the verge of merging with Scarlets and lashed out at the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) who have proposed a drastic overhaul of the domestic game.
The Ospreys said they were not about to join forces with rivals Scarlets just as the Welsh Rugby Union’s PRB released a statement saying the merger had already been agreed between the two regions last Friday.
"The Ospreys are NOT on the verge of merging with the Scarlets," the Welsh team said in a statement on their website here
“The instability created by PRB’s chaotic approach to its own imposed restructuring criteria has been the height of recklessness at its worst and incompetent management at its best — an approach which has resulted in wild conjecture, hostility and uncertainty in the regional game.
“We stand fully behind the comments of Ospreys outgoing chairman Mike James and add the Ospreys’ voice to his in calling for fundamental re-examination of a truly disastrous process.”
The PRB, however, said a merger between the two sides was central to their restructuring plans.
“The PRB met today, expecting to finalise a comprehensive proposal for the consideration of the WRU board. A central component of the proposal was a merger between the Scarlets and Ospreys,” the PRB said.
“The PRB would like to make clear that the statements issued today by the Ospreys do not reconcile with the minuted meetings, actions and documented agreements that have taken place to date.”
The WRU’s so-called Project Reset represents the most radical change to regional rugby in Wales since its inception in 2003 with one outcome seeing the formation of a professional side in north Wales to keep the number of teams in Wales at four.
At present the regional sides in Wales are Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the WRU-owned Dragons.
Ospreys chairman James resigned earlier on Tuesday.
“None of us doubt that regional rugby requires restructuring in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the game,” James, who will also surrender his role on the PRB, said in a statement.
“The way this has been handled, however, is nothing short of chaotic, resulting in a fatal combination of uncertainty, conjecture and insecurity now hanging over regional rugby’s future.”
The Welsh Rugby Players’ Association (WRPA) issued a statement calling on the PRB to “secure players’ futures”.
“With such a seismic change seemingly now proposed for our professional game, we are deeply concerned about the impact it will have on the livelihoods of players and their families,” WRPA CEO Andries Pretorius said.
The situation has reached a head as Wales target a Six Nations Grand Slam after a memorable win over England.
Thirteen members of the Wales national team could be affected by the restructuring.
“I struggled to get to sleep last night,” former Wales and Ospreys lock Ian Gough told BBC Radio Wales.
“Wales are going for a Grand Slam, a tough trip to Scotland at the weekend, and they drop this on everyone. I’m dumfounded.”
Former Ospreys, Wales and British and Irish Lions wing Shane Williams said he would prefer the Ospreys to remain as they are but it was clear that was not going to happen.
“To be honest, if a merger was going to happen then this would make as much sense as anything,” he was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph.
Reporting by Simon Jennings and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly, Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis