Wales’ four professional rugby teams can begin re-signing players after agreeing new standard form contracts with the Professional Rugby Board (PRB).
Cardiff, Dragons, Scarlets and Ospreys had been able to make only verbal contract offers for several weeks.
The Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) has threatened strike action and Wales’ Six Nations game against England only went ahead after talks.
Players are though braced for pay cuts.
Leading figures in Welsh rugby later welcomed confirmation of the development.
PRB chair Malcolm Wall said: “This is significant step forward in the process we are following which will secure a sustainable future for the professional game in Wales.”
He added: “We are delighted to say our four professional sides are now in a position to offer legally binding contracts as necessary.
“We remain hugely grateful to the players themselves for their patience and understanding and look forward now to the point where the full agreement can be signed which underpins the PRB’s strategy for the future of the game – a moment which this latest development proves is now closer than ever.”
“A huge amount of credit should also go to the directors at each of our professional teams for ensuring that we reach this critical and pivotal stage for the game in Wales.”
WRPA chief executive Gareth Lewis said: “The last few weeks have highlighted the benefits of engaging with the players and the WRPA and how important the consultation process is.
“I am pleased to conclude this process and now our focus is on supporting our members – those that continue within the game and also those transitioning to new career paths – as well as continuing to grow and develop the Association.”
WRU interim chief executive Nigel Walker described the development as “an impressive show of unity for our game”, adding: “significant progress has been made and we are now very close to the end of this process, news that will provide a significant boost to everyone involved in the game in Wales.”
A new long-term funding framework with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) is yet to be formally agreed and the four regions are facing reduced budgets for next season.
Cardiff have said they are trying to “unlock” funds to ease financial pressures to ensure they have enough players for 2023-24. There are reports players on salaries of up to £250,000 have been offered new deals worth as low as £30,000 a year.
Wales and British and Irish Lions full-back Liam Williams is considering leaving Cardiff for Japan or France and other players have been linked with moves away from the four regions.
WRPA chair Ashton Hewitt has said he expects players to leave Wales if they are offered significant pay cuts and says players are “taking the brunt” of ongoing financial difficulties in Welsh rugby.
There had previously been a total freeze on new recruitment at the regions because of the uncertainty, with up to 70 players out of contract at the end of the current season left with the prospect of being without a club this summer.
In February Wall apologised to players over delays to offering new contracts.
Following the threat by Wales squad members to boycott the game against England, agreement was reached over a number of player demands.
The PRB agreed a place at their meetings for WRPA chief executive Lewis and the reduction of the 60-cap selection rule to 25. That rule restricts players from playing domestic rugby outside Wales and also featuring at international level unless they have that number of Test caps.
It also removed the imposition of contracts which would include 80% of the salaries being guaranteed with the other 20% based on a range of factors, including win bonuses.
Following that agreement in February Walker said he would hold the four regions’ “feet to the fire” if they did not offer players contracts imminently, comments he later admitted might have been better phrased.
Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel has said he hopes to retain about half of the 20 players who are out of contract at the end of 2022-23 and expects to have a squad of about 38 to 40 players in 2023-24.
Dragons believe they will be the least affected by the cuts given the relatively small size of their squad following 17 departures last summer.
“I don’t think our squad size will change dramatically because we’ve got one of the smallest squads anyway this year,” said head coach Dai Flanagan.
Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said: “We’ll end up with a squad number of about 36. We can have up to 44 but I can’t see us being able to afford any more than 36 to 38 maximum.
“All regions are around that [number] as I can’t see how the numbers fit [the budget] otherwise.”
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