The Welsh Rugby Union announced today (Wednesday 7th September) the 10 teams that will form the Principality Premiership Division of the game in Wales from the start of the 2012/13 season.
The reformed 10 team division for the start of the 2012/13 season will be: Aberavon, Bedwas, Cardiff, Cross Keys, Llandovery, Llanelli, Neath, Newport, Pontypridd and Swansea.
The reforms are a result of an on-going, detailed and extensive review of the Welsh domestic leagues that underpin the regional structure. These changes, which also include the introduction of the newly formed 14 team National Championship League, to commence next season, have had input with representatives from the regions, Division One and the Premiership. Proposals were then ratified by the full Board of the WRU.
The review was based on the need to develop player resources. The selection process was based on agreed criteria, meritocracy over a six year period since the inception of the off field criteria system and signatory to a participation between the clubs and the WRU, therefore covering all aspects of the business.
The new Premiership clubs have all signed a Participation Agreement and Rugby Charter which will safeguard rugby, player welfare and the commercial strategies of all the teams involved.
The Premiership will continue to be supported by Principality and will underpin the regions, whilst the National Championship will sit at the peak of the community game and will therefore be supported by SWALEC under the current agreement.
Former Premiership Clubs Bridgend, Tonmawr, Pontypool and Carmarthen Quins move into the newly established National Championship along with 10 teams promoted from Division 1 East and West. The National Championship teams are Bargoed, Blackwood, Bonymaen, Bridgend, Carmarthen, Ebbw Vale, Glamorgan Wanderers, Llanharan, Narbeth, Newbridge, Pontypool, Tata Steel, Tonmawr & UWIC. Below the new National Championship League, the existing SWALEC Division One East and Division One West will continue in their present format.
As part of the Player Pathway initiative the flow of players through Championship to Premiership Clubs and onwards to the four professional Regions has been addressed and as a result the player permit system currently in place will be relaxed to allow players to progress through the pathway, being tested at varying levels of competition throughout their development and to ensure players are allowed more game time at all levels.
There will be promotion and relegation in the National Championship and SWALEC Division 1 from 2012/13, although the four displaced Premiership clubs will be safeguarded from relegation for the first two seasons.
Those Clubs that have ambitions to play in the Principality Premiership in future seasons will have the ability to apply and be considered, however this will again be governed by a strict criteria assessing both the on and off field business of the individual clubs.
Criteria can be amended by the WRU year on year to ensure standards remain high and Welsh rugby continues to progress.
The reform of the Premier Division has been put in place to ensure the sustainability of the league going forward and the quality of play in the semi-professional game in Wales.
WRU head of Rugby, Joe Lydon said, "The new compact 10 team Premier Division is set to fulfil its crucial role of underpinning the regional professional game but the format will, I believe, enhance both the on and off field standards that all involved have worked so hard to set and maintain.
"The key driver will continue to be player development through quality of coaching and intensity of competition, while the stability provided through enhanced WRU funding and the security of a fix term period of two years, will allow the Welsh Principality Premier clubs the chance to plan and build their respective business models in order to fulfil our collective ambition of becoming world leaders in all aspects of rugby.
"To further these ambitions the announced reforms also focus on the introduction of the National Championship. These reforms focus on club and community development with the newly created 12 team competition becoming the pinnacle of domestic community rugby from next season.
"Whilst the pride and passion of on field competition associated with Welsh Rugby will remain, these values will also be recognised and rewarded in the continued enhancement of facilities and other agreed criteria that place the club at the heart of the community game- sustainable development that rewards our collective ambitions."
WRU Chairman David Pickering hailed the changes as an important series of reforms which will help the game achieve a sustainable future in Wales.
He said, "These reforms will create a Premier Division which is fit for purpose and in good shape to deliver quality players into the Regional structure in Wales. This has been a difficult but necessary process and I applaud the good grace with which the clubs and the WRU Board have delivered these bold changes.
"The process has been fully transparent and all parties will now work extremely hard to ensure this process is implemented effectively."
The Chairman of the Premier Division clubs, Chris Clarke, of Cross Keys said, "Of course there are clubs which will be bitterly disappointed at losing their Premiership status but we have to be realistic and make tough decisions in the interests of Welsh rugby."
Rob Lewis sat on the Criteria Review Panel as the representative of the Clubs in Division 1 West, "The creation of a new National Championship Division underpinning the Premier Division should create another level of quality rugby involving grass root clubs throughout Wales, which will give a further opportunity for up and coming youngsters to play rugby regularly at a highly competitive level. This can only be good for the long term development of rugby in Wales.
"I am hopeful that the reduced Premier Division and the new Championship Division will be a great success", said Lewis.
Rob Butcher, who sat on the Criteria Review Panel as the representative of Clubs in Division 1 East said, "The make-up of the revised Premier Division and newly formed National Champions League has been eagerly awaited and hotly debated over recent weeks, and must surely represent the perfect opportunity for all concerned with Welsh Rugby to play their part in ensuring that the most talented players in Wales are able to reach their full potential within this revamped structure.
"The streamlined Premiership should now be able to provide the Regions with the very best players on offer from what should be a highly competitive division, whilst the National Championship will ensure that the overwhelming majority of players at the all- important grassroots level will be given a clear pathway towards the very top of the game in Wales.
"All in all, it's a good day for Welsh rugby with the opening of the World Cup just days away."
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