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