Ospreys and Scarlets set to merge in Welsh rugby overhaul

Scarlets prop Rob Evans (left) gets to grips with international team-mate and Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar during a feisty PRO12 clash. The teams could merge in time for the 2019/20 season. Picture: Getty Images
Scarlets prop Rob Evans (left) gets to grips with international team-mate and Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar during a feisty PRO12 clash. The teams could merge in time for the 2019/20 season. Picture: Getty Images
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Two of the most prominent rugby teams in Wales could be merged to form a brand new regional side in the country - with the bombshell news coming just days before Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam-chasing side face Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations.

Ospreys and local rivals Scarlets could be amalgamated in time for the start of the 2019/20 season, forming a new professional regional side based in north Wales, if the proposal gets the green light at a crucial meeting today.

The recently-formed Professional Rugby Board (PRB) will discuss the proposals as part of wider-ranging plans for a radical shake-up of Welsh rugby, but the merger could be officially announced before the end of the weekend.

The PRB will bring together representatives from the five professional organisations in Welsh rugby - the WRU and regional sides Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and the WRU-owned Dragons - to assess the plans, dubbed “Project Reset”.

It is understood that the WRU are keen to retain four regional teams comprising Cardiff Blues, Dragons, the Ospreys/Scarlets merger and north Wales. Earlier drafts of the proposals had mooted a merger between Cardiff and Ospreys.

If the proposal gets the go-ahead, it would reduce the number of regions in south Wales to three, with four regions covering the north, east, south and west of the country.

Ospreys and Scarlets have been two of Wales’ most successful sides since the introduction of regional rugby in 2003. The Swansea-based side have won four league titles while Scarlets, who play in Llanelli, won the final Guinness PRO12 title in 2017, before the two South African teams joined the roster, and were runners-up in 2018.

Decisions over home stadium, team name and colours would be thrashed out if the proposal is accepted, which would see Wales internationals Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and George North lining up in the same regional squad.

Thirteen of Wales’ match-day squad to face Scotland play for Ospreys or Scarlets.

Speaking last week, Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said the uncertainty surrounding the “Project Reset” plans was “disappointing”.

“There is a lot of frustration, not only for the best players in Wales, but for their mates in the regions,” he said.

“There is an uncertainty about Project Reset, and they would like to know where they are going to be playing next year or in two years’ time.”

Former Ospreys lock Ian Gough branded the proposed merger “a huge mess”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales he added: “Wales are going for a Grand Slam, [they have] a tough trip to Scotland at the weekend, and [the WRU] drops this on everyone. I’m dumbfounded by it.

“In 2003, there was a huge divide in fans and it’s taken a long time to get over the decision that was made back then.

“Now all of a sudden you’re going to completely alienate a huge amount of fans in this south Wales corridor again.

“I just don’t think it’s been thought out very well. [The WRU] is blindly running up this avenue up north, which I don’t think will be viable in a year or two.”

The WRU hasn’t commented on the plans, and hasn’t made any public statement since January 10, when they insisted they weren’t scared to make tough decisions.

Former Ospreys lock Ian Gough branded the proposed merger “a huge mess”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales he added: “Wales are going for a Grand Slam, [they have] a tough trip to Scotland at the weekend, and [the WRU] drops this on everyone. I’m dumbfounded by it.

“In 2003, there was a huge divide in fans and it’s taken a long time to get over the decision that was made back then.

“Now all of a sudden you’re going to completely alienate a huge amount of fans in this south Wales corridor again.

“I just don’t think it’s been thought out very well. [The WRU] is blindly running up this avenue up north, which I don’t think will be viable in a year or two.”