A step backwards

 

Martyn Phillips has given Wales Online a pretty in depth article regarding the plans for rugby in Wales up until the 2019 Rugby World Cup and, unfortunately, it contains the same serious flaws and errors that his predecessors have made. There are three major mistakes made: 1) the contract extensions to Howley and McBryde, 2) the addition of £500,000 to the pot of National Dual Contract money and 3) the push for A team fixtures.

Welsh Coaching:

Phillips notes that a review took place and it was decided that what Gatland had been doing for 8 years was no longer going to work. Well, there’s a surprise. Many of us had worked that out in 2013. When faced with similar problems, other Unions have taken the wise decision to change the coaching staff in order to deliver a new style but it looks as though that option wasn’t open to Phillips. Instead, we have three more years of the same voices who are now telling the players ‘forget what we spent 8 years telling you, now we need to tell you to do something else’.

Of course, the likelihood here is that Gatland has the contractual right to choose his own staff and there is no way he is going to employ a potential rival. This may all be down to the ridiculous 6 year contract Roger Lewis awarded him in 2013, just at the time when Roger Lewis needed some positive publicity….

But, worse than this coaching decision, hidden in the interview was the power that Gatland has been afforded in the Welsh game. He is to sit in on season reviews for the supposedly four independent companies that run the professional game in Wales – the toothless and easily bought off Pro Rugby Wales. Make no mistake, Gatland’s paw prints are all over the Welsh game and at all levels, as was proven by the dreadful rugby the U20s served up in Manchester this summer. They played Cementball and failed.

I see no benefit to one man holding so much power within the game in Wales. As has been proven, what he spent 8 years doing had failed the Welsh game and it took a review with his boss (Phillips) to force a change of direction. The job of a coach is to take his players and make the most of them, not to design an entire rugby system in his image and then realise that the whole system is flawed.

Pro Rugby Wales should have the ability / confidence / balls to plough their own furrow. Their job is to provide the players for Gatland to mould into a team. Gatland’s job is not to mould multiple teams in his image. Why? Because the time to change that entire system is lengthy when that image is proven to be wrong.

The A Team

Why? Just why? We don’t have the strength in depth of playing numbers in Wales to sustain yet another level of rugby, or the finances in the game to put further stress on the playing resources of PRW.

If it is to be one game played, with just a few days preparation, during the 6N period then nothing will be learned. The performance will be scratch, the standard low and it will make the Friday night AI game look like a Lions test.

Any more A team fixtures will obviously impact on the PRW fixture list, meaning PRW could be expected to play their own games, earn their own income and supply players to THREE WRU teams – the u20s, the A team and Gatland’s Crossfit XV.

Maybe the A team will tour in the summer? If so, that means at least 90 players not getting a proper summer of rest each year with three WRU teams playing each ‘off season’. We simply cannot keep flogging these players as there is no benefit.

An A team game in the summer will be full of tired players. An A team game in the 6N will be full of poorly prepared players who will lack the preparation time and will play in a game that won’t be of EPRC 1 standard, or even high EPRC 2 standard.

This A team announcement is a face saver for the woeful coaching of Team Wales. When WRU employees blame the PrO’12 for poor preparation of players, they simply had to announce the A team as the gap between the two. Of course, Ireland’s performance against South Africa disproves the drivel about the PrO’12. It just shows that the best way to provide prepared players for the international game is to properly invest in your supply chain. Which brings us nicely to:

National Dual Contracts

What the hell are these things if not another Gatland vanity project? He’s the man that chooses who receives such a contract and, so far, he’s made some cracking decisions. Let’s look at Tyler Morgan, Hallam Amos, Rhodri Jones, Gareth Anscombe, James King, Dan Baker and Rory Thornton. None of those would fall into the category of ‘first team player’ for Wales or ‘unlikely to be kept in Wales because French / English clubs would offer higher salaries’.

If Pro Rugby Wales can’t afford to keep those players in Wales then something is seriously wrong. Instead, NDCs skew the market in Wales badly. PRW are supposed to be operating to a salary cap and a salary floor, yet there is a clear imbalance between the four teams as to which players get NDCs. Of course, losing 60% of the salary of a player to an NDC allows that money to be spent elsewhere – thus giving that PRW team an unfair advantage over its PRW rivals.

We do not need NDCs. They were introduced by Roger Lewis to further skew the power given to Gatland and because he couldn’t commit a set financial payment to PRW each year. Why? because he chose to pay Barclays so much that he couldn’t guarantee how much would be left over to properly pay his suppliers. Hence, we have this fluctuating pot of cash that has now grown by another £500,000.

Instead of blowing that money on individual players, the WRU should follow the French model of paying a set sum for each day the WRU uses an employee of PRW. The French pay €1300 per day for player access. This payment rewards the supply of players to the Team Wales environment, instead of what we presently have which is (for example) the Ospreys saving 60% of Baker’s salary whilst he doesn’t tour with Wales.

Summary

The top down organisation of rugby in Wales will never work because it simply cannot hold up against outside competition from France and England for player salaries and the whole structure is too slow to move when it is built in one man’s image. It will take a long time to coach out of player the dreadful rugby of Cementball, it would take considerably less time if the players coming out of PRW weren’t already conditioned to it.

Top down, central control is slow moving, cumbersome and fickle. If Gatland walks tomorrow, what then happens? Let’s say he’s replaced by Jake White who wants a completely different set up – what happens to NDCs and the trickle down coaching? The whole system collapses.

Gatland is supposed to sit at the top of the pyramid. Roger Lewis ensured that he is holding up the entire pyramid and we all know how that will play out.

The cost of Professional Rugby

This week saw the publication of the Annual Accounts of ‘Scarlets Regional Ltd’, the company that owns and runs the Scarlets. The clue is in the title. The headline figures for the business was that its turnover (i.e. income) was £8,976,506 but it still spent £987,615 more than it earned.

That’s right, the cost of running the Scarlets was £9,961,121.

Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that is the total cost for the entire operation from running the Academy to running the Stadium. The business employs 237 staff and has a wage bill of £6.4m per year. Or, more accurately, £6,420,957.

For a simple comparison purpose here, Exeter’s turnover was £13,222,843 and their wage bill was £6,868,046 whilst employing 184 people.

There are some in Wales who believe that we should have relegation from the PrO’12, with the top Welsh Premiership team being promoted in turn. Those figures above should kill that idea stone dead as no business could move from part time rugby players in May, to running a wage bill of £6.4m by September.

Furthermore, included in the income of £8.9m for the Scarlets was what its stadium generates throughout the year, with the necessary events, exhibitions and dinners etc. There are also 15 Executive boxes that are used for both rugby and non rugby events. To continue the notion that promotion / relegation is impossible, no facility in Wales outside of Pro Rugby Wales’ four teams could generate that kind of non-matchday income (excluding the Principality Stadium, of course).

There are others in Wales who believe that the WRU pay for ‘the Regions’. So, to look into that idea, we must see what the WRU spends on the four Pro Teams. The 2014 RSA sees a payment of £1.7m (in round figures) to each of the four teams plus £150,000 towards the costs of running the respective Academies.

Therefore, from the £8.976m of income for the Scarlets, £1.7m of that came from the WRU. Another major source of income comes from the competitions in which the Scarlets play – the PrO’12 and the EPRC. Some believe this competition money also belongs to the WRU as they can choose who receives it (as they choose the competition entrants). This belief, however, is a fallacy as Pro Rugby Wales are equal shareholders in EPRC. They OWN part of that competition. As for the money generated by the PrO’12, this is also owed to its entrants. As Roger Lewis found last year, it is not possible to appease those who pay (the broadcasters) unless the best teams from each country are entered. The broadcasters pay to broadcast PRW teams.

This competition income equates to, judging by the last WRU Annual Report, £8.1m. Therefore, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Scarlets saw £2m of that.

So we can see that the money earned from the competitions, the money paid by the WRU for services rendered under the aptly named Rugby Services Agreement, totals £3.7m of income. This means that we are still £5.206m shy of the income figure in the Scarlets accounts.

This is, therefore, money they have generated themselves through ticket sales (their Accounts show there are 4,000 Season Ticket holders for the team), sponsorships and non match day income.

Could any team outside of PRW in Wales generate this kind of turnover? Some believe that a team should be based in Colwyn Bay so let’s say that it replaced the Scarlets. It would need to generate £6m of its own income in order to match the expenses of the Scarlets (the major expense being the wage bill, of course). Could it do that? Parc Eirias doesn’t seem large enough to generate much non-matchday income. It’s capacity is 6,080 which is 500 BELOW the average achieved by the Scarlets, so it couldn’t generate the same match day income either.

We must also consider that the Scarlets spent more than they earned, which means that somebody has to cover those losses, somebody has to underwrite the risk that income won’t meet the guaranteed expenditure of wages etc. At the Scarlets, they have six benefactors underwriting the team and two associated companies also injecting cash. For a team in Colwyn Bay, we are yet to see if one individual (let alone six) is interested in carrying the can.

Some will argue that the WRU should underwrite professional rugby but it couldn’t handle even half of the combined losses of the four teams over any kind of period. The Barclays covenants are the likely reason why the income from the competitions passes through the WRU accounts, even though it is owed to the participants. Furthermore, the WRU could not underwrite one pro team but not the others as that would skew the market and be an abuse of market position, leading to large solicitors bills no doubt. It simply isn’t possible for the WRU to act in the way that some wish.

Of course, some say that a team should be in Pontypridd rather than Colwyn Bay, but the same figures and income generation applies at both venues. Neither has the corporate facilities for match day and non match day income, neither has the required capacity for spectators, neither is suitable.

Whilst Pontypridd claimed a crowd of 4500 when they played Merthyr, which was a fantastic effort by all in that weather – regardless of how close to 4500 were actually there – the cost was £10 to stand up and kids were free. The terrace tickets for the Scarlets v Cardiff Blues game were £18. The stand tickets ranged from £25 to £33 and upwards for that game, significantly more than the £15 to sit at Sardis Road. Plus, of course, there are significantly more bums n £25 seats at Parc Y Scarlets than there were on £15 seats at Sardis Road.

So, in a simple nutshell, there you have it. Nowhere else in Wales is there a capacity to host professional rugby. Nowhere else in Wales is there the ability to offer the necessary underwriting for a professional team. We have the four teams that we can have until the day that somebody steps forward with an enormous pile of cash to move rugby away from the four venues we have. And that pile of cash would have to look something like £27m for a stadium similar to Parc Y Scarlets and at least £1m a year for 5 years to run the venture.

In other words, its cloud cuckoo land stuff. We have the only four teams that we can have, owned in the best way for each of the four, branded in the best way for each of the four. And if none of the four are for you, so be it. Find your rugby elsewhere as there is lots of it about.

The Mentality of the Voluntarily Disenfranchised

Mr Geraint Powell, a man famed for holding ‘interesting’ views on the set up of Welsh rugby and for using multiple logins and aliases to publish them, wrote this regarding the set up of a Cardiff Blues Supporters Trust:

https://thevietgwent.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/more-east-glamorgan-hybrid-nonsense-a-supporters-trust-for-a-club-that-is-a-region/comment-page-1/#comment-30

Here is my reply (that he is unlikely to publish):

“Geraint, when will you realise that the structure of Welsh rugby has moved on since 2003? In 2003, it was a qualification that ONLY rugby CLUBS could own and run the new regional branded teams. That ruling has since changed, of course, just proving that things have further (and enormously) evolved since 2003. You, however, have fabricated the events of 2003 to produce a yardstick against which you measure the teams of 2016. Your entire writing is directed at criticising the present PRW set up for not meeting requirements that were not even part of the 2003 agreement.

In 2016, we have four Pro Teams running regional development pathways. They are NOT representative teams and they were never set up to be as such – how could they as they were ONLY allowed to be owned by clubs in 2003?

What we have is four clubs with regional academies, a la the English set up. The four Welsh clubs put their younger players out at farm clubs in lower divisions, a la the English set up.

There is not requirement, and never has been outside of the terrible Welsh media, for a supporter pathway. There has never been the expectation that supporters of Club A would switch (or share) allegiance with Pro Team A. This is another of your straw men arguments that you falsify to criticise the PRW set up of 2016.

In short, you’re an angry man shouting at shadows that you’ve fabricated in order to just allow you to shout. You cannot change the present set up (the presentation you gave to Phillips was financially naive to the point where it broke the Barclays covenants) and you have excluded yourself from Pro Rugby in Wales, as is your right. However, criticising the present set up for not meeting requirements that it was never meant to is bizarre.

And, of course, you are yet to put forward an alternative financial model that is even remotely possible. Until you can do that, all you are doing is shouting at shadows that you’ve created.”

Just to clarify, the Company structure of Cardiff Blues is very likely to alter as a result of new Lease negotiations with Cardiff Athletic Club. The latter is the owner of Cardiff Arms Park and the major shareholder in Cardiff Blues, but a stipulation of the new lease is likely to be Cardiff Blues buying back CAC’s shareholding. The Trust, therefore, is linked to the company that is Cardiff Blues Ltd and will be involved with all rugby that Cardiff Blues is involved with – from the age grade teams, the school teams, the community clubs and the professional end of the spectrum.

Supporter involvement in any sports club is vital and should be applauded. Any mentality that criticises that, as Geraint has done, is to be pitied and dismissed. Whoever is your rugby team / club / region / province / whatever, get involved and be involved. It’s your club and it won’t last without you.

The Fag Packet Reorganisation of Welsh Rugby

As Martyn Phillips continues his tour of Wales, seeking views and opinions of those who love and care for the game at all levels, I though that I’d throw together a reorganisation of the game along basic lines of what I’d like to see. It’s been a challenge to keep this below 2,000 words, so don’t expect each element nailed down to the nth degree, but hopefully there is a flavour within that can be taken forward. Not too long ago, David Moffett presented his Moffesto that, regardless of what you think of the man, was pretty sensible from a structural point of view. Here’s my limited attempt:

Background:

As the WRU enters into a new era under the guidance of Martyn Phillips and Gareth Davies, it is clear that the organisation is at odds with itself. The Governance review that Roger Lewis paid lip service to was only a slight hop in the right direction when it is clear that giant strides are needed.

The organisation, control and set up of the Union still belongs in the Amateur era where the ‘best’ local Blazer was promoted, well beyond his ability set, to sit on the WRU Board. His route was through his local club and through his local District (an amalgamation of clubs in geographical areas) until his Blazer Badge grew to sit at the top table.

And, once there, his job was to guide the Executives who were in charge of day to day running of a multi million pound turnover business. That’s right – from overlooking fixtures, to overlooking lunches, to overlooking the millions of pounds flowing through the Welsh game.

What is clear, and has been for many years, is that the calibre of candidate for that role is insufficient to fulfill the role required. The way Roger Lewis ran amok with no control over him was testimony to how the Executive of the Union controlled the Board, when it should have been the other way around.

Professional rugby has accelerated this problem because, sadly, the Board was made up of the same old faces in this decade as had been there for many, many years. Simply put, the game had overtaken them and overtaken the system that put them in place.

Now, all of the above sounds very rude, disparaging and ungrateful. It’s written to emphasise that this honest, good, rugby men who put so much effort and time into their roles were simply out of their depth. It’s harsh, but it’s designed to be. These guys gave their all but, ultimately, were just not good enough.

For the game to grow at a professional level, it’s clear that the days of the District Representative as WRU Board Members has to go. The game in Wales must keep up to pace with the money the game is generating elsewhere. It’s clear that the Turkeys must vote for Christmas.

It’s time for some brutal honesty and changes in the Welsh game. So here’s mine

The Amateur & The Professional

Notionally, the clubs without ‘A’ licences in Welsh rugby should not pay their players, but we all know that most do. Who cares? Really, who cares? The game from the Welsh Premiership downwards should be notionally amateur and it should return to being the focal point of the local community. There are many examples of such good clubs in Wales where the rugby clubhouse is the community hub, home of the Bridge Club, home of the Ladies Who Lunch Club, home of the Youth Club and a crèche for Young Parents. This is what all Welsh amateur rugby clubs should seek to be. If they want to pay the star outside half £60 in notes from the local sponsor’s pocket – who cares, as they’ll be only using their own money.

The WRU, on average, gives each of its member clubs c.£5,000 a year. This payment must stop. What should replace it is a grant system where clubs tender for grant payments for club improvements such as facilities investment, floodlights, pitch improvements. Gone must go the days of ‘money for nothing’.

The WRU must facilitate this change in focus. It must employ sufficient staff to guide the clubs on how to become community hubs, how to take best practice from other clubs in Wales and how to focus on growing its infrastructure, rather than paying for a goal kicking full back from 40 miles away.

Key to this community focus is the removal of professional influence over the club game. We must be honest and remove at least Cardiff, Llanelli and Newport from the club game as these clubs host professional rugby. There’s an argument for removing Swansea, too, based on the principle that the ‘City’ clubs are, by definition, not Community clubs.

The link between the Pro Teams and the community clubs must also be broken. The loaning of professional players down the tiers must stop and the Pro Teams must push for at least an inclusion in the Aviva Premiership A league. That is the environment to blood the youngsters, plus looking for Under 23 games against other professional outfits.

By removing the link with the professional game, it will hopefully allow the Community game to be ‘more amateur’ and that will deliver a more level playing field to that level of rugby. The onerous conditions of the A licence should be loosened but the importance of facilities maintained through the payment of grants for improvement instead of just handing out cash.

The WRU should employ a ‘Head of Community Rugby’ who will have total control over a budget separate from that of the Professional Game. This employee should also sit on the Executive Board and report to the Chief Executive. The budget for this role should be set three years in advance so that long term investment can be planned and delivered.

There is an argument that this role should also oversee the Schools Development plan that is in place, as this is the ‘feed’ for the Community Game. The more kids we get playing the game at age grade levels, the easier it is for the community club to become the Community Hub it should be.

This role is vital to feeding the grass roots of the game. It requires a specific skill set that is far removed from that required for the professional game and is vital to separate the administration of the pro game from the amateur.

Death To The Districts

The old set up of splitting Wales into multiple Districts is far out of date for Welsh rugby. What is needed is to split the community game into 5 regions, four overseen by the Pro Teams that we have now and the fifth, in the North, overseen by the WRU.

Key to the set up of the WRU is the player pathway for age grade rugby that is run by each Pro Team within their region. This must be the focus for pushing the elite young talent into the Academy set up and seeing that through into the Pro Teams. What we have is an age grade Academy set up by geography, which makes obvious sense.

The removal of the District set up will allow a clearer pathway for players (and clubs). Each club will know the pathway its youngsters are on and which Pro Team controls that pathway.

At a Community Level (as per the above), the WRU should employ a Club Liaison Officer in each region, reporting to the Head of the Community Game. These Officers should work alongside the Schools officers to ensure the feed of youngsters into the club game from 6 year olds upwards.

What really must be encouraged is the role of the Pro Team in getting involved in this process as early as possible. Player visits and coaching sessions should be a feature of a Pro Player’s rugby life in Wales – from taking tag sessions in Primary Schools to assisting Community Clubs with position focused training sessions.

This Pathway route under each region banner clears any confusion for the ‘border clubs’ and gives the age grade players a clear route.

The Governance at this level should see each Region have a far smaller working committee that works with its Liaison officer to oversee the issues that affect the Community Game. A far smaller ‘Board’ is needed, therefore, of maybe four or five representatives, one of whom should also sit on a ‘National Board’ of the Community Game to oversee the Head of Community Rugby.

Pro Teams

These should have many ambassadorial local community roles with the aim of developing their own support base and talent stream, but their primary focus must be on their Academy intakes from aged 14 upwards.

The elite from the Community Clubs within the Pathway must feed into the Academy structure at that age and be ‘controlled’ solely by the Pro Team from then on. The Academy structure is working well but it must be the sole responsibility of the Pro Team.

A key community role the Pro Teams should play is within the local Schools League within their Regional Pathway, in order that talent outside of the Academy at 14 upwards is not lost to the game. By encouraging those post 14 year olds who aren’t in the Academies, it will push on those within the Academies and ensure that those who don’t make it at 14 do not lose interest in the game.

Community Initiatives

This stuff is basic marketing for the game, in that the Pro Teams should be involved with as many community projects as possible. The influence of the Pro Team in furthering the cause of the community club as the Community Hub is obvious so doesn’t need to be expanded on here.

Supporters

It’s a simple message to all: support who you want, regardless of where you live. South Wales is an extremely small geographical area and the idea that support lines should follow the Post Code of where you live is utterly ridiculous and non-sensical. If the Pro Teams are smart then they will pick up support from those associated the community clubs within their Regional Pathway, but most folk on the terraces will have only one team and that is the Professional Team.

Quick Summary

What this reorganisation will lead to is a much more streamlined WRU where different departments can focus of the very different needs of the game in Wales. We cannot expect one man to negotiate contracts then extend beyond £1m in salaries, only to then move to sorting out a new scrummaging machine for a community club in Conwy.

The ‘Board’ of the WRU (i.e. Not the Executive) will be much smaller. Five or so will oversee the work of the Community game, PRW will oversee the work of the Professional Game, with the Community clubs retaining an interest in both through the appointment of the Chairman.

The pathway for talent will much clearer, what the Pro Teams are allowed to control but encouraged to influence will be much clearer, the finances available to the Community Game will be much clearer and long term planning for both parts of the game will be much easier.

It’s a squad game

Much that Danny Wilson does and says is very impressive, so the recent news that there will be fewer contracted players in the seasons to come is well received. Wilson is on the same path that Alec Evans took when he arrived at the time, in that he also recognised there were far too many players at training sessions thus diluting the quality of the work to be done.

Also, in the modern professional age, too many players means too much cost so cutting the ‘never will be’ players from the wage bill is nothing but sensible. It’s worth noting that 41 players need to be registered for the European Competitions, so that is the benchmark for squad sizes.

When Rudy Joubert arrived at the club, he wanted to set up his squad by age groups as much as quality, so that meant that there was a natural progression of talent. There is much sense in this approach as we all saw what happened to the Amlin Squad of 2010. Only Andrews, Jenkins, Filise and Warburton remain from those who played in that game – that is NOT good squad planning.

To assess the job Wilson faces in remoulding this squad after years of awful recruitment, below is a list of players by quality. The first group (1-15) shows those who should be first team picks in a team challenging to win the PrO’12. As many of those should be internationals, the next group (16-30) should be your good club players who can step up to perform. The final group (31-45) should be the up and coming Academy graduates. The list shows how poor is this Cardiff squad:

1-15 (10)

Cory Allen, Gareth Anscombe, Alex Cuthbert, Tom James, Gethin Jenkins, Ellis Jenkins, Rey Lee Lo, Rhys Patchell, Sam Warburton, Lloyd Williams

16-30 (6)

Kristian Dacey, Jarrad Hoeata, Craig Mitchell, Josh Navidi, Blaine Scully, Josh Turnball

31-45 (13)

Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Cam Dolan, Jarrod Evans (Y), Dan Fish, Sam Hobbs, Tavis Knoyle, Dillon Lewis (Y), Ethan Lewis (Y), Garyn Smith (Y), Aled Summerhill (Y), Tomos Williams (Y), James Down

45+ (12)

Liam Belcher (Y), Gareth Davies, Tom Davies,  Gavin Evans, Tau Filise, Tom Isaacs, Lewis Jones, Lou Reed, Matthew Rees, Richard Smith, Adam Thomas, Manoa Vosawai

As you can see, the squad is dreadfully imbalanced. The players marked (Y) are the Academy graduates who could be pushing through so it’s good to see 6 of those in the correct category. What stands out, of course, is 11 players who should be culled from the squad completely. The list also shows that only three of the six non-Welsh qualified players are in the correct category.

I believe that a turnover of those 12 players is needed and that is assuming that Patchell stays and more Academy graduates feature in the 31-45 group. The first team needs 5 of those players and 7 more need to be added to the ’15-30′ list.

So where will those players come from, who are they and what would they cost?

1-15: Hooker (nWq), Tight Head (nWq), Second Row (nWq), Second Row (Bradley Davies), Number 8 (Ross Moriarty)

16-30: Loose Head (Rhys Gill), Second Row (Time Server), Second Row (Time Server), Back Row, Scrum Half, Centre, Centre

As you can see from the list above, I don’t think that it is possible to recruit to becoming a PrO’12 contender by next season as the Welsh qualified players of suitable quality just aren’t available without raiding another Welsh team. Therefore, there is an onus on Wilson to coach players up that squad ranking. The big challenge is for players like James Down, Lou Reed, Macauley Cook, Tavis Knoyle and Garyn Smith to move up that list.

Losing Patchell to gain Halfpenny seems to be a strong rumour, but that wouldn’t really move the squad along. The key work needs to be done in Wilson’s specialist area of the front five.

Is the budget there to do this? I’d say releasing the players rated 45+ should free up at least £800,000 a year which should go most of the way to playing for the 5 first team players needed.

I doubt that there is anything left in the budget for the 7 squad players needed, so Wilson’s coaching team are going to have to work really hard to push Cardiff up that PrO’12 table.

 

Welsh Qualified Players Playing in England:

Bath: Sid Blackmore (BR), Dominic Day (SR), Jonathan Evans (SH), Rhys Priestland (OH)

Exeter: Phil Dolman (FB), Tomos Francis (THP), Adam Hughes (C), Damien Welch (L)

Gloucester: Richard Hibbard (H), James Hook (OH), Ross Moriarty (BR), Mat Protheroe (OH), Nicky Thomas (THP), Dan Thomas (BR), Gareth Evans (BR), Lewis Ludlow (BR)

Harlequins: Owen Evans (LHP), Adam Jones (THP), Jamie Roberts (C)

Leicester: Owen Williams (OH)

London Irish; Andrew Fenby (Wing), Darren Allinson (SH)

Northampton: George North (Wing)

Sale: Eifion Lewis-Roberts (P), Nick Macleod (OH), Jonathan Mills (SR)

Saracens: Rhys Gill (LHP)

Wasps: Bradley Davies (SR), Edd Shervington (H), Thomas Young (BR)

Worcester: Jean-Baptiste Bruzier (SH), Sam Lewis (BR), Joe Rees (THP)

 

 

What’s in a Name? Who is Cardiff Blues?

An identity crisis can be caused by many things, not least by forgetting who you are, how you got to where you are and what your name is. Your position can be worsened by giving yourself multiple names, multiple identities and by trying to appease to all of the people all of the time. That approach, as we know, never works. The best way to progress is to be true to yourself and stand or fall on those terms.

We have such a crisis in the Eastern half of professional rugby in Wales. It’s not the same in the Western half as the pair down there have it spot on: the Scarlets have carried forward their own club’s nickname that has been in used for decades and are proud of the heritage that has allowed them to grow into today’s outfit, whereas the Ospreys are a team named after the bird on the Swansea RFC club badge, owned 75%+ by the chaps who owned Swansea RFC in 2003, playing in Swansea but confident in their new ‘Ospreylian’ identity. And, let’s be fair, it works for both of them very well. Each have attracted new investment and each is (most importantly) secure in its identity, even though the average crowd of the Ospreys since 2003 is pretty much identical to that of Cardiff’s.

Or is that Blues, the Blues or Cardiff Blues? Well, to fully understand what it is then you have to look at how it has arrived at what it is today, where it’s come from and where it lives. And then remind yourself of what supportive chant rings around the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on the rare occasions that the home team does something positive.

Those presently marketing Cardiff Blues will tell you the Blues were 10 years old in 2013, having been formed in 2003. In one regard, they’d be right to note that but it does rather ignore the birthing process. Therefore, to 2003 we go.

We had 9 ‘professional’ clubs in Wales, in the sense that they paid players to play rugby, but the professional game was leaving these clubs behind simply because of money. After the Rebel Season of the late 90s, it was obvious to all that change was needed in the Welsh game so a Kenyan / Englishman / Australian / Kiwi called Moffett was hired by the then technically bankrupt WRU to force change. The WRU wanted 4 teams, the then 8 clubs (as Caerphilly had left negotiations) wanted to go into 5 teams – three mergers and two ‘standalones’, who would each forgo over £1m in payments to maintain their status. Who were those 2? Llanelli (i.e. the Scarlets, see above for their branding) and Cardiff.

Cardiff were the first of the 5 to launch their new brand (key word, brand) in July 2003. Our club, the standalone, was to have a new brand to run a ‘rugby region’: Cardiff Blues

The responsibility of the club towards this ‘region’ wasn’t immediately apparent as the Moffett inspired events of 2003 were very rushed but, over time, things became a little more clear. The club was to have the local responsibility of the development of the game through the clubs most local to it and the split of the clubs between the now 5 teams meant that Cardiff was to look after all of the junior clubs in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

This cosy plan took a little derail when, in just September 2003 so one month into the new season, Pontypridd RFC went into administration. It couldn’t keep up its financial commitment to the team it then owned 50% of – Celtic Warriors. In fact, it was Celtic Warriors who loaned Pontypridd RFC money that summer to pay wages so it should have been obvious to all that Pontypridd RFC should have acted as Caerphilly had done by stepping away from the professional game. It couldn’t meet its commitments.

That loss of the Pontypridd 50% share in the Celtic Warriors meant that the WRU went into bed with Bridgend RFC (through Leighton Samuel). This was never going to work, however, and the WRU bought out Samuel at the end of that season and shut down the Celtic Warriors. This meant that the local clubs under that development plan were to be shared equally between Cardiff Blues and the then Neath-Swansea Ospreys.

The crucial part to note here is that nothing actually changed at Cardiff Blues because of the loss of the Celtic Warriors, other than the fact that the club paid £312,500 to the WRU for the WRU to be able to afford Samuel’s charge for his 50%. That season, such was the fact that a standalone club was what Cardiff Blues were, the jerseys of the first team were the change jerseys from the previous season with the new branded badge simply sewn over the old Cardiff RFC badge.

So that’s the birth of Cardiff Blues. It’s just a brand of Cardiff RFC, owned by 100% by Cardiff RFC as it is a standalone club, designated to developing rugby locally. Both brands – Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues – are managed by the same company (now named Cardiff Blues Ltd, but previously Cardiff RFC ltd, to appease the terms of the latest Rugby Services Agreement with the WRU). Nothing changed, nothing has changed – other than a new Director has taken a seat on the board (Martyn Ryan) by buying £500,000 worth of shares.

If we fast forward to 2015, through two Roger Lewis contracts and another Moffett resurrection, has anything actually changed from June 2003 before the launch of the new brand? No. Nothing at all. The structure of the club is exactly the same internally as it was then. The external change is that the club is now also a ‘Regional Organisation’ member of the WRU – so it now has double the votes at EGMs / AGMs. Plus, let’s not forget, the club barely survived the easily predicted disastrous ‘rental’ of the Cardiff City soccer stadium.

To answer the question, therefore, Cardiff Blues is the professional brand of Cardiff RFC. A new brand, definitely, but one yet to hit the heights of the ‘old brand’. Those ticket buying supporters of the team will go to Cardiff Arms Park, either through the Gwyn Nicholls gates or past the clubhouse which houses countless pictures of Cardiff RFC legends, to watch their team play at what is undeniably the home of Cardiff Rugby. The team is called Cardiff, plays in Cardiff, in original (Cambridge-ish Blue and Oxford-ish Blue, for the second ever version of the club’s playing kit from the 1890s was based on the University colours) Cardiff colours, owned by Cardiff and with a crowd that chants Cardiff.

Which obviously leads us to question why there is ever the need for ‘the Blues’ or ‘Blues’ at all. Few, if any, in Welsh rugby will be unaware of what the organisation of Cardiff Blues actually is. Few who understand their Welsh rugby history will be unaware of the flow of players to Cardiff over the years from all over Wales and further. Fewer still will be fooled into thinking that this is anything other than the modern version of Cardiff RFC. Those who are new to the game, or who previously supported a rival to Cardiff RFC, will arrive at Cardiff Arms Park to be surrounded by images of Cardiff Rugby past and present, interlinked seamlessly, all showing the message of ‘this is Cardiff Rugby’.

So, for us, now is the time for honesty. Now is the time to recognise that this is truly Cardiff Rugby and to drop any marketing suggestion of otherwise. The reach of support for Cardiff has always been well outside of the city so the notion that this move will alienate support in any kind of relevant numbers is naive and misplaced. Nobody is alienated by Cardiff Rugby, unless they are a supporter of a rival team and, if we are honest, the number who qualify for that group is dwarfed by the untapped potential of the brand Cardiff. This, of course, applies more so to Corporate Sponsors than it does to the retail punter who will mostly get his fix through the free to air TV coverage.

Now is the time for the club to market itself outside of the Arms Park as it does inside it – as a continuation of Cardiff RFC. The history of Cardiff RFC needs to be recognised on the website, the marketing of the club needs to include Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Neil Jenkins and so many others to show that this is a club with history, roots and a past worth celebrating.

Cardiff need to follow the example of the Scarlets (the nickname of Llanelli RFC for decades). They are a continuation of the ‘old’ brand and the new brand of Cardiff Blues is Cardiff RFC writ large. The global recognition of Cardiff Rugby, with its association with the National Stadium and with famous past players, should be a Marketeer’s dream, it should be a Golden Ticket to a PR company.

Everybody in Wales knows what is ‘Cardiff Blues / Blues / the Blues’ so now should be the time for the club to drive itself forward with all of the tools it has to its disposal. After all, even our friends still living at the Cardiff City stadium have recognised ‘our City is Blue’.

What’s Happening To The East?

A supporter follows his/her team for many reasons, most of which are intangible but fewer again are sensible, but the tie for many is unbreakable. It is lifelong, through thick and thin but with a huge caveat – as long as the Club followed stays true to the values that first attracted that support. Even if the Club strays from those values, such as getting into bed with a Soccer team on a crazy rental deal that seemingly had nothing to do rugby, the supporter kids himself/believes that the original club is still there and can return. Many Cardiff fans are the embodiment of this. 

Over in Newport, there are many hanging on to the hope that their club sees the same kind of sense that Cardiff did in 2012 when they returned home. For us the catalyst was financial as the support stayed away in larger and larger numbers once the true terms of the deal leaked out. It didn’t happen by accident and Newport followers must decide if they wish to regain their club by taking the only action that Professional Rugby Teams listen to – by hitting them in the pocket.

If those Newport followers need any further incentive other than a decade of dross on their pitch, they should read below for a written Q&A between a lifelong Newport RFC supporter and Stuart Davies, Chief Executive of Rodney Parade ltd. For irony, I’ve produced his replies in Amber.

1. Please would you clarify why the company has never taken up the offer from the WRU of receiving / purchasing their share?

In the short time that I have been here this has not been discussed and I would wish to consider the pros and cons of doing so before exploring further whether this is a possibility that should be pursued. The current arrangement is not causing any concern.

Comment – It’s interesting that the Chief Executive seems unsure as to whether the 50% held by the WRU can be obtained, let alone if it has been offered. I would have thought that this basic knowledge would have been researched before even the first interview. What is equally as startling is how the final sentence will be viewed by the thousands of lapsed Newport supporters who have walked from rugby altogether. Let’s not forget that the support base afforded (supposedly) to the NGD attracted 8482 to watch Uruguay in 2001. For many no longer attending Rodney Parade, ‘the current arrangement’ is causing huge concern, Stuart.

2. Please would you clarify why the team branding and marketing of Newport Gwent Dragons has taken the form it has. By this, it is clear that the direction is to move away from the Black and Amber colours and identity of Newport and more towards a Gwent branding (including even a Blue & Black kit) and what will be the strategy for the 2015/2016 season?

As far as I’m aware there has been no policy to move in such a direction, just a natural progression. At the same time however, I feel that if we wish to be a true regional entity, then further establishing a Dragons brand and identity is important. Newport RFC still exists and plays in black and amber, whereas the Dragons have the freedom to play in different colours – the Monmouthshire blue for example being used in the away kit to which you refer last season.

Comment – so this is basic written confirmation that the ‘Dragons’ brand is moving further and further away from its Newport RFC ‘origin’. So those ‘stay away’ Newport followers will be getting less and less incentive to return.

3. Please would you clarify, or explain with more clarity, the comments of Will Godfrey at the aforementioned FoNR AGM when he stated he wished to distance Newport RFC from ‘The Dragons”.

I cannot comment on behalf of Will Godrey, albeit I have passed on a copy of your letter. Personally though, since my arrival I have noticed a recurring theme of ‘identity’ around which there somewhat bafflingly seems to be confusion. I should say this is also evident in your letter, and I would go back to my comments in point 2 above. Newport RFC exists and plays in the premiership. They are not the regional entity; they did not become a regional ‘super-club’. However, their role in the transition from club to region in these parts is reflected in the Dragons’ name. Notwithstanding this acknowledgement, and indeed the manner in which this whole matter was dealt with some 13 years ago, it is important to both sides that there is clarity around identity, and if some ‘distance’ helps that, then it would be no bad thing in my opinion. 

Comment – Again, to confirm Point 2, the Dragons relied on Newport at the start but now are happy to move away from that base. It’s important here to remember that reliance on the Newport base and the reason why the Newport name was added. It is because the first attempt at ‘regional rugby’ in Gwent went bust. The administrators were called in to sort out the mess that required Newport RFC’s supporters and financial backer to step in. Now it seems that those events of nigh on 12 years ago are forgotten, or abused. The new Chief Executive of Rodney Parade Ltd is agreed with Will Godfrey, Chairman of Newport RFC, that greater distance between Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC is needed.

4. Player Allocation – Why are players paid by Newport RFC allocated to rival teams? Especially when missing important games for their employers. Is this allocation of resource acting in the best interests of the company?

I have assumed here that you are referring to the lending of players to Cross Keys when participating in the B and I Cup. The distribution and development of players via the academy/placement system, joint registrations etc and keeping all parties happy is not straightforward, but as is evident from the current discussions around this competition, it is seen as an important part of the development/competition pathway. I respect the passion and protective feeling that all supporters have for their sides, but on occasion there is a bigger picture that impacts on discussions that may adversely affect teams. It would always be my hope that this was minimalised. 

Comment – I’ve read that reply numerous times but cannot see a relevance to the question other than a weak notion that ‘all parties’ must be kept ‘happy’. What is baffling is that those ‘other parties’ have no stake in the company of which Davies is Chief Executive. He is basically noting, in writing, that he is acting in the interests of other companies and not his own. This is bizarre.

5. Please could you explain to supporters of Newport RFC, whose asset is used as security for loans made to financially support Newport Gwent Dragons (according to the Land Registry records), why our support should extend to Newport Gwent Dragons.

I have no wish to explain to any Newport RFC supporter as to why they should support Newport Gwent Dragons. This is a matter of individual choice and should be a ‘calling’ rather than an obligation. 

Comment – The bizarre theme continued with this answer. A Chief Executive of a Company refusing to take the opportunity to gain a customer, other than by noting that buying his product should be a ‘calling’. A ‘calling’? This isn’t some religious sect where common sense is ignored, where some unrealistic and holistic approach of mass appeal is followed by ignoring reality. Oh, hang on….

6. Does the board of Newport RFC have any plans, or has ever made consideration, to sell off its shareholding in Newport RFC to its own Directors or to any other party.

I would refer you to the Articles of Association of the Company regarding what is or isn’t possible in respect of the transfer of shares, and I am not prepared to comment for individual shareholders.

Comment – There’s a typo here from the Questioner as it should read ‘in Newport Gwent Dragons’.

7. If we are not to become a standalone Professional Team by taking over the WRU’s share, what is the commercial benefit to Newport RFC by maintaining 50% ownership of a loss making team that requires our asset as security for loans?

Newport RFC’s part ownership of the Dragons is not punitive. Indeed, the maintenance and upkeep of the asset to which you refer is in many ways reliant on the arrangement that is in place.

Comment – And here is the killer blow for Newport RFC followers, delivered by Stuart Davies. Here we have the age old myth that Rodney Parade would fall to pieces if it wasn’t for the NGD playing there. I would ask for the basis of this comment, I would ask to see the research for this opinion. Why? Simply because it is a nonsense. There is no other venue in ‘Gwent’ that could host the NGD rugby team’s home games as no other rugby ground has the necessary corporate or spectator facilities. Therefore, it is Rodney Parade upkeeping the NGD and NOT the other way around. How do we know that Rodney Parade couldn’t be maintained at its present status solely by the NGD paying a market rental rate for its use? You know, just as Newport County FC do.

8. If we are not to become a standalone Professional Team, why should any Newport RFC supporter pay for Newport Gwent Dragons tickets?

See 5 above. 

On September 29th, 2014, William Angus Godfrey entered into a mortgage agreement with Newport Rugby Football Club regarding Rodney Parade. It is a Legal Mortgage, registered with the Land Registry. Newport Rugby Football Club (company number 03559359) borrowed £175.000 secured against Rodney Parade. Can Newport RFC followers be assured that this sum was used to support Newport RFC, or Newport Gwent Dragons? According to Companies House, there are five other such charges secured against that company, the company that runs both Newport RFC and Newport Gwent Dragons.

So there we have it laid out bare for Newport RFC fans. We’re told that the NGD will be further distanced from Newport RFC, despite relying on the asset of Newport RFC in order to continue trading. And that asset is only maintained because of the presence of the NGD, if you believe Stuart Davies.

Of course, I don’t believe him. I think that his comment is the worst kind of smoke and mirrors possible. I believe that Newport RFC followers should campaign to force the hand of their Chairman – Will Godfrey – to take one of two courses of action – 1) to buy out the WRU’s share in the NGD in order to make the club a standalone, or 2) Newport RFC should sell its share in the NGD to whoever wishes to buy it.

What is sensible, and honest, here is for Newport RFC to sell its 50% shareholding to Godfrey and co, for the NGD to become tenants of Rodney Parade and for Newport RFC to be landlords and independent. It looks like there is little hope of Newport RFC becoming a standalone professional team whilst being Chaired by Godfrey so the only honest course of action is for the asset of Newport RFC to be used solely (and transparently) for the benefit of Newport RFC. The only way that can happen is by getting out of the NGD and becoming commercial landlords to both Newport County FC and Newport Gwent Dragons.

After all, what’s the point of owning an asset like Rodney Parade if its income stream props up a team that is ‘distancing’ from your own? A team you need to be ‘called’ to follow.

Email-gate

Is this genuine?

Mr G Davies

Chairman
The Welsh Rugby Union Limited
The Millennium Stadium
Westgate Street
Cardiff
CF10 1NS

17th May 2015

Dear Mr Davies

Welsh representation in the British & Irish Cup in the2015/16 Season

Let me clarify the position of Pontypridd RFC, its dispute is not with the Governing Body, it is with the Regions and in particular, the Cardiff Blues. However, I write as a consequence of statements attributed to you as Chairman of the WRU, which were printed in the Western Mail on Saturday 16th May 2015.
You are correct to ‘point out’ that I am currently a representative on the Competition Pathway Working Group, however, the article states that I represent Pontypridd RFC whereas in fact, I represent the Premier Division Clubs (only one of which is Pontypridd RFC).
The article continues, ‘’All this has been discussed round the table’’, that’s why it is disappointing that it is being discussed publicly now.’’ As a member of the Working Group, I was made party to the Regions’ Proposals at the second meeting of the Working Group which took place on 2nd April 2015. Despite my consternation, I was only too acutely aware of my duty of confidentiality to the Working Party, consequently, I refrained from divulging the controversial proposal.
However, when Richard Holland, the Chief Executive of Cardiff Blues sent an e-mail to me in my capacity as Hon CEO of Ponty Rugby Limited on the 18th April 2015, he placed the proposal in the domain of Pontypridd RFC and legitimised Pontypridd RFC’s right to divulge. The e-mail read as follows;
‘I wanted to drop you a note to inform you of a proposed change to The British and Irish Cup.

The four regions via the rugby management board have all agreed that regional A teams will compete in the 2015/16 B&I Cup and subsequent tournaments.

The WRU representatives on the rugby management board support the proposal, with final WRU approval expected next week.

I wanted to let you know prior to next week and am sure you will support the creation of Regional A teams.

It is important to bridge the gap between premiership and regional rugby and I would fully expect Pontypridd to have numerous players in the newly formed Cardiff Blues A team.’

Consequently, I refute the inference that I compromised my integrity. Once the Blues had contacted Ponty Rugby Limited, I was duty-bound to the shareholders of Ponty Rugby Limited and to the members of Pontypridd RFC to divulge the contents of the e-mail.
If there is one thing that the Cardiff Blues has achieved in this matter, it has managed to do in twelve days what the previous twelve years had failed to do; to alienate the moderate voices associated with Pontypridd RFC.
Furthermore, I am duty bound to my express my disappointment that you are further attributed with the statement that, ‘’the only reason that the Premiership exists is to produce players for the regions and for Wales. It’s quite that simple I think.’’
In conclusion, Pontypridd RFC will continue to oppose the British and Irish Cup proposal of the Welsh Regions. If you believed that Pontypridd RFC would simply lie down and accept its fate then, like others before you, you have misjudged the tenacity and resolve of the Club.
Yours sincerely
Steve Reardon
Hon CEO
Ponty Rugby Ltd.
Cc R Lewis, J Paterson, H Evans (WRU District C), R Wilton (WRU District C)
Aberavon RFC, Bedwas RFC, Bridgend RFC, Cardiff RFC, Carmarthen Quins RFC, Cross Keys RFC, Ebbw Vale RFC, Llandovery RFC, Llanelli RFC, Neath RFC, Newport RFC.

Where is everybody?

So the present theme / stick with which to beat Pro Rugby Wales is crowd levels. For example, the self proclaimed “National Newspaper of Wales” ran a back page story on why crowd levels were as poor as just over 5,000 for some games, but used a poll of just 3,000 votes for the basis of their story. Clearly, the irony of this was lost on the intellects running that paper into the ground, more so when you consider that was 3,000 votes and not 3,000 unique voters.

This story was run on the Friday before a weekend of European Club rugby, something that PRW fought for almost to the end of its existence last year. The four members are signatories and shareholders of the new competition and, in achieving this, won the war with Roger Lewis. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that the WM is not willing to support PRW in this competition but to produce, with such vulgar rigour, this piece on the Friday before Round 4 shows how its editor has nailed its colours to the Sinking Ship of the Jolly Roger.

That aside, absolute crowd numbers at all of the four teams are at a low ebb but are far from as relatively bad as many wish to make out. It is always pointed out that the Irish teams can attract significantly larger crowds than the Welsh teams and this is used as a stick to beat PRW. Those wielding the stick highlighted Ireland as the model to use for a Union run professional game. Those wielding the stick never mention how well that model is doing in Scotland.

At this point it is worth pausing to note who is wielding the stick. Well, in simple terms, it is those who have volunteered to be outside of the professional game in Wales yet who feel entitled to be within it. This core, basic, sense of entitlement can be simply traced back to 2003 when “regional rugby” was introduced. Despite there being no one single document in the public domain of what a Welsh Rugby Region is supposed to be (other than the WRU Articles of Association which note that PRW are Regions), there is a mass of disenfranchised individuals who seem to think that “proper regions” will somehow “represent” them.

Which takes us back to the comparison with Ireland. For starters, how can an area so small as South Wales be split geographically for “representation”? If you want to consider just how small the area of South Wales actually is then consider that Munster has a land mass (9,527 square miles) bigger than the whole of Wales (8,022 square miles). How can that be split further? To get from Newport to Cardiff is one train stop, to get from Swansea to Newport is under an hour by car. I’ve seen it suggested that Wales should be split by Compass point for “support” purposes but where would the line be drawn? For starters, there’s no private finance or infrastructure ready to support professional rugby in the North. Then we have the case of the Chap who lives in Newport, works in Cardiff but was born in Swansea. Who is he “represented” by? It’s ludicrous to think that Compass points are somehow representative.

To return to Ireland, it’s now time to turn to population base. If you consider four teams in South Wales share a catchment area of 2 million people then it must be noted that this is roughly the single catchment area for both Ulster and Leinster. In other words, there are lots more people available to pay for professional rugby in the areas which have higher attendances. All of this is before, of course, we consider that the direct competitors for PRW are Swansea City and Cardiff City who both regularly attract crowds well in excess of 18,000. The Irish provinces have no such winter professional team sport competition.

Therefore, in South Wales, we have a small population who, as we know, isn’t relatively financially well off. So when you consider the price of the ticket and that most of the home games are on free to air TV, it’s no wonder that crowds are low.

But none of that address the key issue of the product being poor, for it undoubtedly is. It should be of no surprise that it is so poor when PRW have been deliberately kept poor by the WRU for many years. Let us not forget that Lewis claimed that there was no more money that could be paid from the international game to its immediate supply chain. Again, those making the comparison with the Irish game, omit to mention the killer fact here that the IRFU spends significantly more on elite rugby than does the WRU.

In professional sport, the cause of the product being relatively poor is because of the standard of player employed and, in turn, that is caused by the finances available to pay the player. If you wish to continue the comparison with Ireland, look at the number of top Irish players playing outside of Ireland compared with the number of top Welsh players. For the sake of argument, let’s call it 1 (Sexton) versus well over a dozen. If PRW were able to condense those dozen players into the top three Welsh teams then it is obvious that they would be more successful. And then people would turn up to watch them…..

This lack of finance, however, isn’t all about the top dozen players in France and England. It’s also about the loss of quality mid-range players who are outside of Wales like Owen Williams, Ian Evans, Nicky Robinson, Dwayne Peel and many more. The experience of these players (not only their talents) would bring a huge boost of success to the Welsh teams.

So Lewis has created the perfect storm for Welsh rugby through his desire to pay off too early the stadium debt. He has drained the professional game of comparative finance from the international game and discouraged the benefactors from further investment. Let’s remember, he publicly claimed that if PRW did not sign to roll over his PA then he would see that they were no longer in business. This prevented them from being able to invest into their squads for many seasons.

We are told, by the disenfranchised, that the WRU would invest more into the pro game were they the owners of the pro game. Of course, there is no evidence for this at all whilst, to counter the argument, there is years of Roger Lewis driven evidence to note that investment into the pro game was not part of his desire.

So these are the ingredients to the argument: a small, vocal, minority of self decided disenfranchised folk with a sense of entitlement that is totally misplaced and, of course, is never driven by the desire to put their money where their mouth is. The pro game has passed them by as there is nothing that could be in place to entice them, along with more people than the present set up attracts, to become paying punters. They are collateral damage. They are irrelevant and small in number.

What the Western Mail should be focussing on, were it interested in journalistic standards over maintaining its “close” relationship with the WRU, is how the financial differences between Irish and Welsh rugby has driven the game to where it is today. The starvation of the professional game by the WRU, combined with the threat of preventing the PRW from trading, has forced the game into the quality of squads we presently have in Wales. And, frankly put, there is not one supporter of a PRW team who wouldn’t want those squads to be stronger.

Therefore, the simple answer to bringing in more paying supporters is to ensure that the teams are strong enough to be competitive, entertaining and, ultimately, to win. That will bring in more paying supporters, as history proves, but when this is combined with a competition which also attracts the floating supporter then the professional game will grow further. All of which, of course, means money. The four should be able to brand as they see fit, to chase new income streams as they see fit, to control their broadcast contracts and, ultimately, to choose their own competitions.

Only when all of that is in place – combined with the market rate for supply to Team Wales – will our four be successful. And only then will people be enticed away from their sofa and free to air TV to actually buy a ticket.

Changes Over The Bridge?

There are reports of a potential issue between the RFU and PRL with regards to compensation for not playing Aviva Premiership fixtures during next year’s Rugby World Cup in England (and Cardiff). The harmony between the RFU and its leading clubs is secured by an agreement made seven years ago and the fact that PRL have far greater commercial freedom to govern their own competitions. This allowed them to lead the way in the much needed move to (E)RCC from ERC, but this required assistance from Ian Ritchie, the Chief Executive of the RFU.  

If we cast our mind back to those negotiations over ERCC we can see that a major player in negotiations was the Heads of Terms Agreement signed between RRW and PRL. The partnership between the two organisations was mutually beneficial in that it allowed PRL to gain more commercial control of their cross border competitions, whilst it also allowed RRW to laugh in the face of the threats from Roger Lewis. PRL won the battle for the new European competition (with RRW as shareholders in it) and RRW had a massive boost in their standing for negotiations over a new Participation Agreement with the WRU. 

However, there were some major stumbling blocks involved in that RRW / PRL Agreement. The first was that the archaic IRB regulations, under which all rugby is played, state they must approve of any such cross border competitions and they won’t do that if the Unions in question are not in favour. Therefore, any such league would likely have to have had its legality tested in a Court of Law.

Secondly, that agreement signed in 2007 between PRL and the RFU had some implications for The Championship, the second tier of professional rugby in England. They weren’t happy that PRL could act in a way that potentially affected the clubs in that tier. 

PRL, however, seem to be seeking ways around this second problem. Rumours abound that PRL will make a financial offer to the RFU to take over and run the league. The fee could be between £5m and £10m and this would allow PRL to control all professional rugby in England.

How could this affect us in Wales? Well, there are not enough fully professional clubs in England to run two fully professional leagues. There is insufficient money in the second tier to match the two fully professional French leagues. So if PRL are (and they clearly are) looking to expand in order to increase income into the game, where is their natural expansion route?

It’s clear that PRL have the strategy of owning the competition and then inviting others in as shareholders, on their terms. Finally, hopefully, potentially, we could be seeing the continuation of the clubs in Europe taking control of the professional game from the Blazers. 

Our best hope of a British League, or even British and Irish (and this is what is needed to match the financial might of the French), is with PRL. It should be with progressive Union Executives but we saw their motives and actions during the negotiations of ERC v RCC. They lost that battle. Let’s hope that they lose the war, too.