Among the main components of the agreement are a pledge of increased financial support from the IRFU, as well as a commitment from the other three provinces to enable more movement of players towards Connacht.
A major bone of contention in recent years was the decision of the Union to only grant players and management one-year deals, but Elwood insists that stipulation is now gone.
“In fact, I have just been offered a two-year extension on my contract and the one-year deal is now defunct unless that is what we want to offer a certain player,” he said.
The chairman of the new board is Jimmy Staunton, a noted Connacht businessman and founding partner of Elverys Sports. He will be joined by a blend of experience from the commercial and sporting worlds in former Ireland and Connacht scrum-half Conor McGuinness, an accountant; marketing consultant and former O2 chairman Damian Devany; Connacht Branch President, Steve Cunningham, who is also a business consultant; Pat O’Connor, a solicitor and former President of the Law Society; accountant Liam Rhatigan and businessman Simon Heaslip, a member of a prominent Galway rugby family.
The PGB will be independent of the Connacht Branch and accountable to the IRFU management committee. It will be expected to generate additional commercial revenues and will have responsibility for the preparation of the annual budget, which will then be agreed and approved by the Union. Travel difficulties caused the postponement of yesterday’s official announcement in Galway, but the Union’s statement on the new development was extremely positive.
“In association with the Connacht Branch, the Union is delighted to formally unveil a new structure for professional rugby in Connacht,” Philip Browne, IRFU chief executive, said.
“It is one we believe will operate for the betterment of the professional game in Connacht into the future. The Union and Connacht Branch are in agreement that the new structure will provide stability and a greater impetus for the Connacht team.
“At the same time, it will provide more value to the national team with accelerated development opportunities through guaranteed game time for players who currently can not receive such opportunity in their home province.”
Browne also lauded the other three provinces for what he described as their “commitment in the movement of players to Connacht, (which) is a central element of the initiative.”
The successful implementation of this aspect of the plan will be watched closely. While Leinster, especially, and Munster have already been reasonably supportive in this regard - the latter’s Sean Cronin is the current Connacht and Ireland hooker - coaches will be slow to allow their most promising youngsters to depart even for a year or two unless they perceive long-term benefits for their own team.
“We take people at their word and that’s the undertaking we have from the IRFU,” Elwood added. “Obviously, too, it also depends on the individual. He has to make the commitment and he won’t move if he doesn’t want to, but our view of our undertaking is that the Union will be encouraging young players to come to us.”
The extent of the increased financial from the Union to Connacht hasn’t been disclosed but Elwood regards the building of a new stand at the Galway Sportsground as of paramount importance to the future of the game in the province.