Regional squads are set to be significantly reduced in size for next season amid a restructuring of the fixture list.
With South Africa’s four leading teams coming on board to form an expanded PRO16, there will be a new format to the league campaign.
Although there will be more teams, there will actually be fewer matches.
The exact structure is yet to confirmed in terms of whether the conference system will be retained or you will have just one pool of 16.
But what we do know is the number of regular season fixtures will be cut from 21 to 18, amid the introduction of the Sharks, Bulls, Stormers and Lions.
The simplest way of achieving that will be for teams to play the other 15 sides home or away, plus three return derbies.
The streamlining will enable all matches to be played outside of international windows.
This will address one of the main issues with the league, by reducing the number of games that are played out between second string sides while big names are away on Test duty.
The international stars will now be available for a far greater percentage of league matches, hopefully enhancing the status and profile of the new-look cross-border competition.
It will also mean Wales’ four pro clubs won’t need to carry such big squads.
As things stand, they require the numbers to see them through those periods when they lose a host of players to international duty.
For example, the Scarlets will have a dozen star names away during the Six Nations, through supplying 11 members of the Wales squad, plus Scotland back rower Blade Thomson.
Cardiff Blues have eight players in Wayne Pivac’s Championship party, the Ospreys seven and the Dragons four.
So it does take a toll on the regions and they have to put the depth in place to cover these periods.
But from next season, it will be a different story with no PRO16 matches taking place on international weekends.
So it means the regions can operate with leaner squads and you are likely to see them all reduce their rosters.
Clearly, the more players they currently supply to Wales, the more they will be able to trim.
The Scarlets briefed the Crys 16 Supporters Trust on plans for next season last night and the message was the squad will be reduced in size by some six players.
That comes with the caveat that it was kept larger than normal this year due to additional Test fixtures being put into the calendar, with Wales playing six autumn matches.
I understand Cardiff Blues will have something like five or six fewer players on board, with all the regions streamlining in recognition of the new league structure.
This will largely be done through the natural process of players moving on at the end of the season as contracts expire and they head for pastures new.
The difference is they will now not be replaced in some cases, with more players leaving than coming in.
Reducing squad numbers will also cut wage costs and help in facing up to the massive financial challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The four regions are each to receive £2.7m in Welsh Government support, but that will be eaten up with covering trading losses accumulated through having to play matches behind closed doors since last March.
Moreover, from next season they will have to start paying back the £20m NatWest bank loan taken out by the WRU to keep the pro game afloat.
Each region has £5.5m to pay back, including interest, and they will have to do so at a rate of more than £1m a year, starting from July.
Costs have spiralled for the regions amid the safety procedures that have had to be put in place because of the pandemic.
Testing is costing each of them around £6,500 per week, with the total cost of Covid being around £450,000 when taking factors such as charter flights and separate rooms into account.
There is also the uncertainty over whether the money-spinning Rainbow Cup will be able to go ahead as planned from April.
That is due to see the four South African Super sides linking up with the PRO12 teams as a precursor to next season’s PRO16.
The idea is it will unlock a significant chunk of the £6m South African rugby has been paying annually to compete in the PRO14.
So it’s vital money given the financial pressures on the regions.
But there are doubts over whether the Rainbow Cup will be able to take place given the issues with Covid in South Africa and the potential risks associated with travelling to the country.
One option may be to play all the games in the UK and Ireland.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk