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.

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