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Supporters call for Steve Phillips to leave as Welsh professional sides face player exodus

WRU is yet to agree a funding deal with the big four teams in Wales

THE four professional rugby teams in Wales face a player exodus as they wait to find out their budgets for next season.

As it stands, the sides are unable to offer new deals to players who go out of contract at the end of the season or bolster their squad through new signings.

Supporters have called for WRU chief executive Steve Phillips, already involved a controversy over alleged misogyny at the organisation, to stand down.

Usually at this time of year, contract renewals and signings are being announced in preparation for next season, but the WRU is yet to agree funding with the sides.

Professional clubs throughout Europe have begun announcing signings and contract renewals, leaving Welsh teams behind, and leading to fears of a mass player exodus.

Ospreys’ Nicky Smith and Cardiff’s Max Llewellyn have been heavily linked with moves to clubs in England’s Gallagher Premiership while Dragons skipper, Will Rowlands, has reportedly agreed a deal with French giants Racing 92.

The regions are powerless to stop players from leaving. It is feared up to 15 Wales internationals may leave for pastures new in the summer.

“The most damaging thing the WRU does to the four professional teams – and this has been going on for a very long time – is create a situation of complete instability and uncertainty,” said Steve Coombs, a member of the CF10 board – a supporters trust for Cardiff Rugby.

“We’re seeing the natural extension of that where not only can teams not plan long or medium term, they can’t even plan for a few months’ time.

“It’s disgraceful. It’s an abhorrent way to treat people. We salute the players and all employees for continuing to work under this uncertainty.”

The inability to sign players or renew contracts could also have a catastrophic effect on the national team. The current rule means players are unable to play for Wales if they play outside of Wales and don’t already have 60 Wales caps to their name.

Will Rowlands, who has been an influential figure in the Wales team, winning player of the year for 2021-22, only has 23 caps. This means he would likely be ineligible for September’s Rugby World Cup if his move to Racing 92 goes ahead.

Supporters of all four teams protested at the festive derby fixtures and urged the WRU to agree a deal with the professional sides that ensures long-term sustainability instead of short-term survival.

On January 24, Steve Phillips said he hoped a new financial agreement would be agreed within the next month following the signing of a non-binding head of terms agreement. However, as it stands nothing official has been signed and players are still unable to make deals.

“Steve Phillips has to go. He should have gone ages ago,” said Steve Coombs.

 “Usually, I’d treat the subject of someone losing their job with sensitivity but that would be to extend Steve Phillips a courtesy he hasn’t shown to any employee of the four teams.

“He’s created this situation and led Welsh rugby into a very dark place.

“He should have gone already and it is baffling that he still can’t see that the longer he hangs around Welsh rugby like a bad smell, the more damage he does.”