A CAMPAIGN has been launched to give the South Wales valleys its own rugby franchise to compete with superclubs across Europe.
Hundreds of die-hard rugby fans have signed the online petition calling on the WRU to include a valleys side within the highest tier of the professional game.
But some Swalec League sides have questioned whether there is enough money in Welsh Rugby Union to start up a fifth outfit.
The WRU, under Australian Chief Executive David Moffet, transformed regional rugby in 2003 when five franchises were introduced to compete in the Heineken Cup and Celtic League.
The Celtic Warriors, which was one of the five original regions of the Welsh regional rugby era, was initially set up in 2003 for fans in Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend.
Welsh internationals Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Thomas, Richard Parks and Neil Jenkins all played their part in the side’s inaugural season in the Celtic League.
But the outfit folded a year later when Pontypridd RFC sold their half of the Warriors to Bridgend amidst financial uncertainty.
Ever since, Pontypridd RFC has run as a semi-professional side, with the Rhondda Cynon Taff side struggling to compete with its professional neighbours.
But now, with the Sardis Road side attracting stronger crowds - including a 5,000-plus attendance against Cardiff on Boxing Day - Pontypridd MP Owen Smith feels the time is right to kick-start another campaign to put the valleys back on the rugby map.
He has set up a financial review to look into the economic impact of a regional rugby side.
The report will be published on March 31 – the same day as a “regional rugby reform” rally is being scheduled at Sardis Road as Pontypridd entertain rivals Neath.
He said: “I urge local rugby fans to sign my online petition and help us gather a strong momentum to bring professional rugby back to the South Wales Valleys.
“The WRU needs to reform its current structure and help us get our great teams back to professional status. The current structure has led to an unfair concentration of power in the hands of the WRU and the regional superclubs, and some local clubs were completely done in by the changes.
“The bottom line is the WRU didn’t understand that rugby is based on traditional local identities and a sense of belonging. Our heritage in the game is so rich.
“This has to be a team for people who consider themselves from the valleys and the support has been overwhelming.
“We’ve got to make our voice heard and to force the WRU and their colleagues in the regional superclubs to concede that, whatever their protestations about finite resources or long-term contractual agreements, it is not acceptable for an elite of bureaucrats and bankrollers to declare that top-flight rugby will only be played south of the M4. That is neither fair nor democratic and it must not continue to go unchallenged.”
The petition urges the Welsh Rugby Union to reform its current organisational structure of regional rugby clubs to include professional valleys teams like Pontypridd RFC. It says the current organisation “does not accurately reflect traditional cultures and communities of rugby inWales”, leaving many Welsh rugby fans without any professional rugby teams to support.
The name Valley Commandos has already been mooted by Mr Smith and his supporters.
But his rallying cry has come under fire from opposition parties, who believe Mr Smith should focus on his own constituents.
Coun Mike Powell said: “He fails to remember that ‘the valleys’ have no team because it failed to find enough money when they had one.
“Furthermore, he fails to recognise the vast power small village clubs have over deciding what happens within the WRU.
“They have so far failed to ever vote themselves away from the professional game and probably never do under the outdated constitution – one club, one vote.”
As we went to press, more than 1,000 people had signed up to the site since January 3.
Greg Williams said: “This petition is a long time coming and would make sense.
“I'm from the Rhondda and we live and breathe rugby up there, but that was taken from us. Reverting back to the traditional way will not only increase gates but allow youngsters the chance to be seen within their borough.”
Paul Cleary said: “Reform a professional rugby team in the most passionate and fertile rugby territory inWales– the South Wales Valleys.”
Derek Goode said: “I predict that unless you change the system to include the valleys, in 20 years time Welsh Rugby will be like the Welsh football, with amateur leagues, few supporters and no chance against England. I have not been to any rugby game for eight years as I have no team to support but still feel very angry at the mess created.
“In fact a whole generation now play or watch football and the WRU have completely messed everything up.”
The WRU, as well as 300 rugby fans, are being invited to attend the launch of the economic report at a fundraising ‘Fightback’ dinner to be held at Sardis Road on March 31.
A WRU spokesman said: “The WRU is always willing to consider constructive and informed opinions and ideas related to the future of rugby in Wales at all levels.
“Some months ago Mr Smith met senior WRU officials and informed us he would be supplying the union with a considered proposal for change which we will study when it is delivered.”
The petition is available online: