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.


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.


One thought on “A step backwards

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  1. You know as well as anyone else the WRU, will finance the Scarlets come HELL or HIGH WATER, we have non existant REGIONS, and the wru, is letting Rugby die in Wales, but it does not matter as long as the OLD BOY NETWORK PREVAILS SO WHAT? when it dead they will still be picking up fat pensions. I do not comprehend ALL of the Clubs backing the current system! GRAVY TRAIN SPRINGS TO MIND.

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