Cardiff Blues have taken a swipe at the Dragons as the row over the Gwent region’s recruitment of Jamie Roberts and Nick Tompkins intensifies.
Alun Jones, chairman at the Arms Park region, is the first to go on the record and confirm that an agreement was in place that was supposed to put a freeze on all recruitment at the four regions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Roberts spoke to the Blues, the region where he made his name, when he became available but was told there was no opportunity for the move to come off.
He was then confirmed as the Dragons’ latest signing last week.
“PRB collectively issued a stay on recruitment due to the current financial situation and therefore we have not engaged in any further recruitment and fully support that position,” Jones said in a message to Blues’ supporters.
“All employees across professional rugby in Wales, over a certain threshold, have been affected by salary reductions and these appear set to continue for the next 12 months.
“At a time of so much uncertainty, salary reductions and other cost-reducing measures, Richard [Holland, Blues chief executive], the board and I are in complete agreement that it would be unfair to spend money on incoming talent while employees of the company, and their families, are being impacted financially.”
Dragons director of rugby Dean Ryan took a pop at the Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets after unveiling Roberts, questioning the ‘motives’ of the region’s critics and insisting they had been ‘smarter’ in the market.
The region, who are owned by the WRU, have also snapped up Wales centre Nick Tompkins on a loan deal and fellow Welsh international Jonah Holmes on a permanent deal.
The Blues, however, maintain that their signings of Wales lock Cory Hill, prop Rhys Carre and Wales under-20s playmaker Luke Scully were done before the pandemic hit.
Jones added: “Of course we would like to further strengthen our squad and have wider resources but now is not the time to do that and there is no debate to be had.
“We are still in the mindset of a hugely challenging period and a significant amount of work is going on behind the scenes to ensure our immediate survival and long-term future.
“We are continuing to explore a number of cost-saving measures both as a Cardiff Blues board and with our colleagues in Welsh rugby.
“I am doing everything in my power to ensure the best way forward for Cardiff Blues.
“The entire board, Richard and the executive team are working tirelessly to that end and remain as determined and passionate as ever about the long-term sustainability and success of this club.
“Prior to Covid-19 we were continuing to make good progress as a company and were forecasting a break even position.
DEAN RYAN DISCUSSES THE SIGNING OF JAMIE ROBERTS
“Our distribution monies from PRB were set to increase for 2020-21 due to our growing representation in the national 38 [Wales squad], changes we implemented in regards to governance, commercial work undertaken and the success of our academy.
“However, both PRB and our own finances have been complicated by the pandemic and we are all now in a different and much more challenging situation.
“Clearly, there are still hurdles to overcome but I am pleased the strategy of investing in our academy and development programmes is working.
“This will continue and the Cardiff Blues academy will now play a much greater role.
“Having greater alignment between the two teams will enhance the pathway which will be vital for the future of the company.
“Next season our academy will be the biggest it has ever been and we have also established links with English colleges to ensure future talent is not lost from our system.
“There is still a lot of work to do but our ambitions on the pitch remain constant – sustainable success – and while our strategy has been delayed by the impact of Covid-19, we are comfortable with our current squad and are determined to get back on track.”
Jones revealed Cardiff Athletic Club, who own the Arms Park, have allowed the Blues to defer rental payments on using the ground.
He said it was a “priorty” for the Blues to secure a new lease from CAC or an extension to continue with it as the region’s home but negotiations are on hold because of Covid-19.
“We all want the very best for Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC, who are part of the same company, and that means professional rugby at the Arms Park with a vibrant semi-professional outfit,” Jones went on.
“I believe this vision is shared by members of CAC, and the rugby section.
“With so much upheaval at present, I fervently hope we grasp the opportunity to collectively shape the future of both professional and semi-professional rugby in Cardiff and at the Arms Park.”
Jones said it would take six weeks to decommission the Dragon’s Heart Hospital, which encompasses the Principality Stadium and the Arms Park, with it currently due to be in place until the end of October.
But he added: “We are also acutely aware [length of deal] this might change in line with the course of the pandemic and a potential second wave.”