Union are hold­ing up £1m ground work – Pooler chief

South Wales Echo - - SPORT -

A WELSH rugby club chief ex­ec­u­tive has ac­cused the Welsh Rugby Union of hold­ing up a £1m re­de­vel­op­ment of their ground over un­cer­tainty whether the gov­ern­ing body will drop ring-fenc­ing of the Prin­ci­pal­ity Pre­mier­ship at the end of the 2018-19 sea­son.

Ben Jef­freys and his multi-mil­lion­aire fa­ther Peter are poised to plough up­wards of seven fig­ures into Pon­ty­pool RFC with plans in the pipe­line in­clud­ing a new club­house, chang­ing rooms and a 3G pitch at the fa­mous old ground.

The bene­fac­tors could even take the fallen gi­ants of the Welsh club game away from their Pon­ty­pool Park home to a new ground if their pro­pos­als fail to get the green light.

But the chief ex­ec­u­tive claims the WRU have thrown a po­ten­tial span­ner into the works by say­ing the pro­posed ring-fenc­ing on the Pre­mier­ship, due to end in the sum­mer of 2019, might not now go ahead.

Ear­lier this month, WRU per­for­mance man­ager Geraint John told the BBC: “The ring-fenc­ing is in for this sea­son and in for next sea­son. We have started dis­cus­sions on where we go and will put a re­view process in place.

“We’ve put in in­de­pen­dent peo­ple to look at this. There’ll not only be dis­cus­sions with the Pre­mier­ship clubs but clubs be­low that in the Cham­pi­onship as well to see what is re­quired.

“We need to de­cide what right struc­ture go­ing for­ward.”

Ring-fenc­ing was brought into the Pre­mier­ship at the start of last sea­son when the di­vi­sion in­creased from 12 to 16 clubs giv­ing new boys Swansea, RGC 1404, Merthyr and Bar­goed the chance to es­tab­lish them­selves with­out the threat of rel­e­ga­tion.

Pon­ty­pool nar­rowly missed out on pro­mo­tion and went through the Cham­pi­onship last sea­son los­ing just one game to be run­away cham­pi­ons.

With the WRU set to can­vas Pre­mier­ship and Cham­pi­onship clubs over ring-fenc­ing Jef­freys ad­mits only giv­ing lower league clubs the chance to rub shoul­ders with the likes of Cardiff, Llanelli, New­port and Pon­typridd is the in the semi-pro­fes­sional setup, can save the ‘in­tegrity’ of the Welsh game.

“They have to drop ring-fenc­ing for the in­tegrity of the game,” said the Pooler chief, in a video put out on so­cial me­dia.

“This isn’t a Pon­ty­pool rugby club is­sue but an in­tegrity is­sue.

“The minute you take away the jeop­ardy for clubs to per­form sea­son af­ter sea­son, the level of com­pe­ti­tion drops and the level in en­gage­ment from sup­port­ers drops.

“We’ve seen that here. When we were on that run to get to the Pre­mier­ship we had 1,500-2,000 sup­port­ers here. The minute that went away, so did the sup­port­ers.

“It’s not a dif­fi­cult thing to rem­edy. Drop ring-fenc­ing.

“We’re quite con­cerned be­cause we are ready to spend at least £1m re­de­vel­op­ing Pon­ty­pool Park but we’re not go­ing to do that as long as the WRU does not con­firm ring-fenc­ing is go­ing to go.

“We’re look­ing to spend up­wards of £1m ei­ther re­de­vel­op­ing here or a new site away from Pon­ty­pool Park.

“There’s a lot of is­sues we have to over­come here but we think we’re get­ting some­where close to where we can make a de­ci­sion on whether we want to in­vest that money.

“But un­til the Welsh Rugby Union does the right thing then we’re not go­ing to spend a penny.

“There’s no chance we’re go­ing to spend that money if we’re go­ing to be blocked from go­ing up to the Pre­mier­ship. If that doesn’t hap­pen then Pon­ty­pool will be the loser and Welsh rugby will be the loser as well.”

And when asked how he viewed the cur­rent land­scape of the Welsh game, he said: “Not with great op­ti­mism if I’m hon­est.

“I feel quite de­jected by our re­cent at­tempts for Cham­pi­onship Rugby Wales to get some much-needed im­prove­ments to the Cham­pi­onship and every op­por­tu­nity has been very dif­fi­cult to get go­ing.

“With the ex­cep­tion of Mar­tyn Phillips (chief ex­ec­u­tive) and Gareth Davies (chair­man) the WRU were very cold on us branch­ing off and cre­at­ing a new group and cre­at­ing a new com­pe­ti­tion to ac­tively try and rem­edy the fact 22 fix­tures a sea­son is sim­ply not enough.

“And the fact is all our ef­forts came to noth­ing in the end.

“We’ve got big prob­lems and the sug­ges­tion that we merely have a per­cep­tion is­sue in Wales is ab­so­lute non­sense.

“Un­til the Welsh Rugby Union opens its eyes to the prob­lems in the game, we’re go­ing to strug­gle for many years to come.”

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