The Six Nations – only half-a-competition

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It’s that time of year again when club competitions are just beginning to take off and gather some momentum, the international game gate crashes the party and rips out the guts of squads rendering fixtures a lottery.

If your team is in a country where teams are plentiful, squads heavy with competition for places and bank accounts full and ready to spend money on southern hemisphere players looking to earn some cash, then you may feel the pain less than others. It also helps if you’re team is in a league of 14 others – populated by just the right saturation of “indigenous” participants.

However, if you’re a Celt, you’re in trouble. Squads are decimated, and even if national coaches deign to release players for club games, coaches have very little time to prepare and integrate these “here-today, gone-tomorrow” players. It takes some sort of organisational wizardry for a squad to be shorn of 20 or 30 players and still function. No wonder the Pro12 is the weakest of the three professional leagues in Europe – it’s only half a competition.

This season has seen the Pro12 start during the World Cup. Yes folks, that’s right, during the World Cup. So what we’re left with is basically a second XV competition. Of course it’s a great leveller – those who supply the bulk of the international squad suddenly find themselves facing teams like Connacht, or Newport Gwent Dragons who largely remain untouched by the ravages of the Six Nations.

So why is this rape and pillage of the club game allowed to continue? In the case of Ireland, the answer is simple – there’s only one employer, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. In the case of Wales, it’s more complex – a sort of mass kamikaze, group-think, lemmings racing towards the cliff.

Those propping up the pro-game in Wales want cash from the Welsh Rugby Union to keep funding their squads, and there’s little vision on show to indicate that they can see beyond the end of the next Six Nations-funded cheque. The Pro12 is a bit of a joke competition – derisory TV money from Ireland and an apathetic Welsh public that would much rather pay to see club competition against the English. It’s underfunded, poorly promoted, riven by gerrymandering and devalued by international call-ups. So the club owners in Wales need more money (no sign of it coming from the Pro12). So they are happy to support a never-ending stream of Team Wales fundraising games, which in turn weaken the Pro12 and the cycle continues. You get the picture.

If you’re a fan of club rugby, then this shambolic mess is crying out for some visionary leadership and someone willing to upturn the apple cart and bring some order to a fragmented northern hemisphere season that is strangling opportunities for faster growth.

Rugby players are athletes, and athletes are coached to peak at key events. If you’re planning for the Olympics, you will focus on building your fitness levels to maximum effect for that competition. What athlete could cope with “season” peaks dotted randomly around the calendar. If the international games is supposed to be the peak of the sport, why are international competitions held a few months after the season starts and then again slap, bang in the middle of the season? Shouldn’t they be at the end of the season – giving players a target to reach peak fitness and performance, building gradually throughout the season?

An overhaul of the international game is desperately needed. The half-cock Six Nations (usually decided by the nature of the draw as only half the fixtures are played) should be held at the end of the season – a focus for players to reach their pinnacle performance after domestic cup finals. And while we’re at it, what are the Italians doing in this competition? They should be dropped and a relegation play off for the bottom team introduced to break down the doors of the cosy closed shop. Play a Five Nations competition home and away and you have eight weekends to focus on. Add to that two more International Games (tours or other “fund-raisers” if you must) and the top of the pyramid has 10 international games a season. Enough. Abandon the Autumn Internationals (which only serve to fund Southern Hemisphere coffers) and suddenly the season is taking shape.

Start with domestic competitions and then move to the Europe-wide tournament. End the season with the international game. The international game is the pinnacle, with players peaking their performance for the end of the season. The club game is free to develop and gain momentum without losing key players and rendering many results a lottery.

Why is this obvious solution so difficult to implement? Well, at the root of the problem is the fatal error of placing tradition above the development of the game. With the blazers in charge, the international game still gets to do pretty much as it likes, with the club game expected to fall into line. The closed-shop at the top end of the sport largely excludes any opportunity for tier 2 teams to break the stranglehold. And now with the increasing influence of TV money, the April-May-June period already contains a congested sporting calendar, so it’ll be a difficult sell to Murdoch and co..

So any change to this mess is not going to come from the blazers. It has to come from the club game – by far the better attended and faster growing section of the game. We can only hope that when club owners in France and England finally wake up to the potential of the sport and take control, that they will do a better job of developing the game than those Unions who are so averse to change.

Putting the cart before the horse

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Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
Samuel Johnson (April 7th, 1775)

The CTRL+C+V brigade in the Welsh press have started to call on the WRU to use the threat of ostracisation as a stick to beat players who dare to aspire to play their rugby at a higher level. This sort of institutionalised bullying is usually voiced by the xenophobes who have never lived or worked overseas, suckered in cushy jobs where their careers are secure as long as they tow the party line.

But as we all know, rugby players have short careers that can be brought to an end with the next tackle. Already almost all give up thoughts of a career running parallel to that outside the game – they could be left without a job and marketable skills at any time should injury strike. And now the press wants to pressurise players to take a massive cut in their salaries on the off chance that they will have a run of games playing for Wales?

But to bully the individual – that favourite tall poppy syndrome so loved by the Welsh – is a far easier option than to look at the root cause of the problem. Instead of asking why Wasps can potentially offer Leigh Halfpenny a salary far in excess of that which he could earn in Wales, the pro-establishment view is that we should accuse him of a lack of patriotism if he opts for the cash over the chance of just one more game for Wales (for as we know, at any time it could be his last).

The bottom line is that the press in Wales are so cosy with the WRU, that they fail to even discuss the real issues in Welsh professional rugby as these run to the heart of the back-scratching , nepotistic, insular nature of the sport.

Using the Welsh jersey as a means of blackmailing players is 100% reactive and does not address the root cause of the problem.

downward spiralThe argument runs that Welsh pro-teams lack the funds to retain talent, so they must rely on the WRU to part-fund their top players’ salaries with partial central contracts. But salaries are on the rise, so these contracts will need to become larger and larger. And where does the money come from? Yep, more internationals, which means the national coach wants every more access to players. More access to players by the national coach, means less access to the players by pro-teams’ coaches. No wonder the performances of our pro-teams have suffered. With performances poor, finding new investment is …. well, challenging. So the owners of the pro-teams go cap in hand to the Union for more money. And so the spiral continues.

Because of the WRU’s failure to agree to the offer an Anglo-Welsh league made 15 years ago, Welsh pro-teams are now stuck in a league run purely to produce players for the national squad. The league is so devalued, that it ran concurrently to the recent Rugby World Cup.  With such a small population base, TV rights are tiny when compared to those in France and England. And this is where revenues are really growing in the sport – TV money.

Fairly obviously, there is a limit to how many international games can be played in a season, though the Unions are doing their best to keep on flogging that dead horse. How can we break the spiral?

Using the threat of not getting selected for your country

Some in the press advocate using a players desire to represent his country as a (distasteful) way to alleviate this problem – they are too close to the establishment to address the real issue which is how to boost the club game through more investment. There is simply no discussion of this issue in Wales. Vacuous statements calling for our players to return home are made, but there’s no discussion of what’s stopping them. Citing examples of other countries like Australia’s recent changes, rather ignore the point that Australia is haemorrhaging players to the French and English leagues despite the fact that disruption of lugging your family across the globe is a little more disruptive than getting in your car and driving across the Severn to Bath every day.

The answer is the perennial problem in Welsh rugby – namely the WRU’s desire to control all aspects of the game … including the professional clubs.

The solution

The rate of growth of the club game in Europe is staggering. Crowds in France are now approaching the level seen in soccer and huge TV deals follow. Meanwhile, in England, across the board, attendances are booming and the popularity of the sport is also attracting record TV deals. And neither countries have enjoyed particularly successful international results of late.

Wales is a tiny country, and raising the drawbridge and ignoring these two markets on our doorstep demonstrates the worst case of myopia. Only through a vibrant, competitive club game can we retain our best players in Wales.

upward spiralSo the solution is for the WRU to focus on making our four teams vibrant, successful commercial businesses. They should be working with the RFU and begging the English clubs for access to their pyramid – even if it means entering the lower levels for there is no future in the present structure. If they can deliver a British League, then suddenly Welsh teams will have access to a much larger market and much larger TV money. Suddenly, it will make long term sense for players to keep playing in Wales. Pro-teams will improve, and success will follow.

With the WRU now (relatively) awash with cash, they should be using these funds to put a deal on the table that delivers a league that gives Welsh pro-clubs access to the English TV market.

A cycle of dependencey

So why isn’t this happening? Whether it’s the blazers at the Union or the press that refuses to ask the challenging questions or even some of the chairman at Welsh pro-teams, they are all stuck in a cycle of dependence that will see the professional sport spiral into oblivion in Wales. Put simply, so many individuals know that they are simply not up to the level of professionalism at English and French clubs. They would need to massively up their game. And we all know that’s the case in our press for it was only the English media who asked the searching questions during the Rogercaust.

But sadly, as we approach the denouement of meaningful professional club rugby in Wales, the press chooses to focus on the international end of the sport. They are putting the cart before the horse. The international calendar – as convoluted and disjointed as it is – is saturated. Growth will come/is coming from the club end of the sport.

But let’s not push for meaningful change in the focus of our game. Let’s instead focus on pressuring individual players. Heaven forbid that as a professional athlete you should want to play in a competitive league, with the chance to win trophies, in front of full stadia, working with real professionals at all levels of the game.  That would make you unpatriotic.

It’s a Squad Game

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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 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)

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

Leicester: Owen Williams (OH)

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

Northampton: George North (W)

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)

Rugby in Japan

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On 16th September, Tier 2 Rugby wrote on excellent article on Japanese Rugby. Full of insight into the professional arm of the sport, it highlighted a number of reasons why Eddie Jones decided to part company with the JRFU. But Tom felt the analysis was a little too westerner-centric, didn’t explain why certain conditions exist in the sport in Japan and offered solutions which were overtly “just-do-it-like-we-do-in-the-west”, ignoring the local cultural context. Here’s his response.

One of the big successes at this year’s Rugby World Cup has been the rise of Japan. Under the excellent tutelage of Eddie Jones (and ably supported by Marc dal Maso, Leigh Jones and Steve Borthwick), the Brave Blossoms went notched up as many victories as did Wales – although unlike Wales, they actually defeated one of the big three SANZAR nations. Were it not for a schedule that favoured Scotland, they could well have qualified to play Australia in a quarter final.

But despite this success, Eddie Jones’ frustration with a lack of change in Japanese rugby reached such a level that he decided not to renew his contract and is now moving to new pastures. How can this happen? How can someone who has achieved so much and is so well-respected both in Japan and around the world quit the role at the peak of his popularity?

The answer lies in the structure of the game in Japan.

A massive player base

Japan has one of the largest rugby-playing populations in the world. There are 3,000 plus teams in the country with a playing population of 120,000. Typically, players begin to learn the sport from an early age as young as five or six at the many rugby schools dotted around the major cities. From there, they join the school network and then on to Univeristy. The best players typically receive some sort of scholarship from rugby-playing private Universities and these players can then be recruited by Japan’s largest corporations who fund the pinnacle of the sport in Japan – the Top League.

Typical of the Japanese education model, competition is tough. Although sport falls someway down the pecking order in Japan, to reach the peak you have to show total dedication and many hours application. But the path is narrow – for those who don’t play rugby at high school, it’s difficult to learn the game at University. And of course, for those who don’t enter University, there’s a big gap.

One’s pedigree is a prized asset in Japan, and those who have watched Japanese rugby from the stands know that on the sheet of paper that passes for a program that is handed out before the game, players names are listed with the University they attended and even their high school. It’s rare to see a player at the top level who is not a graduate. And when you consider that only 45% of the Japanese population are graduates, you can see the wastage in the system.

Takashi Sato is a 24 year old scrum half who plays for Kobe Steel. This is his profile page on the club’s web site. He started playing rugby from the age of 8 at Neyagawa – a well known club in the north of Osaka. His junior high school was Sada, again in Osaka. Then moved to Tokai Gyosei (a feeder for high school for Tokai University) and then finally to Doshisha Univeristy – one of the top rugby playing universities in the country. His club publish these details for each player in their squad.

Further complications arise around which university and which high school players attend. There is still a culture in Japan that dictates that it is not possible to excel at sport and academically – sport is seen as somewhat frivolous. So the better academic institutions typically either do not possess a strong sporting culture, or if they do, the two paths are very segregated. You have a choice, study hard and make a successful career or “play” rugby. You won’t find an international rugby player who is a qualified doctor.

Town-based teams very much sit outside this pyramid, and as such, it’s rare that players can move from traditional clubs into the professional leagues. It’s a narrow path – go to a rugby-playing high school, secure a scholarship to a private university who play rugby and then get recruited by a company to play in their company team.

University Rugby

There are two University leagues in Japan – one base in the east and the other in the west. In the Eastern Japan Kansai League (based around Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto-Nara), there are seven leagues containing 48 teams. Those Universities at the top of those leagues recruit the better players from high school, and the numbers involved are staggering. Many of the top University teams in Western Japan have player numbers in the hundreds. But there is simply no infrastructure to cope with these sort of playing numbers. Coaches are largely volunteers, even if the top Universities are recruiting the better coaches (Wayne Shelford enjoyed a stint at Ritsumeikan Univeristy). Despite a huge number of pitches the gap between an under-coached and ill-prepared elite and the rest is wide even within these large University clubs. With an over-concentration of talent in certain universities – many talented players or late developers rarely see a coach and revert to playing rugby merely for fun where results are not important. At second tier universities, facilities are chronically underfunded. Only a strong network of ex-players keeps these clubs afloat – sponsoring everything from weight training equipment to jerseys and training camps.

Company Teams in Japan

An effort has been made to add a geographical spread to rugby in Japan, but teams are still based around the corporate model. Here’s one example of how the systems works. A head of one of Japan’s major manufacturing companies was approached by the head of the JRFU and encouraged to increase investment in his company’s rugby team. New training facilities were built and the player budget increased (to attract top players from overseas). Why do companies invest in rugby in Japan? It is seen as partly marketing, partly something for employees to get behind and associate with and partly social responsibility. All this, however, has nothing to do with creating a pyramid from which international quality players will emerge.

There are a number of misconceptions around the indigenous players who are recruited by these companies from University. On the positive side, players have a strong chance of a career after rugby if they stay loyal to their company. The old “employee for life” system is dying out – despite what the out-of-date Western media will tell you. But nevertheless, when players careers are so relatively short, and can be ended with one tackle, having the security of stable employment is something those on the fringes of the sport would very much appreciate.

However, the idea that these players are semi-professional is misleading. They train twice a day, and although they do spend time at the office, the work they do is trivial in nature compared to more career-minded employees. “Working” at the marketing department means time spent in the marketing department, whereas professional players in the UK may spend an equal amount of time at the local Starbucks.

Traditional Club rugby

Japan’s multi-layed system also includes player who play for the love of the game for local town or city based teams. One of these is Okayama Rugby Football Club. Founded in 1953, they’re a club with 57 players, practicing once a week with a game on a Sunday. They have close links with local schools and also run a senior’s team. You could say that they are a typical rugby club that we would see in any Tier 1 country. They’ll pick up players who don’t travel the narrow path to contracts with the corporate teams and select players of all ages – perhaps those who don’t follow the university route but still love the sport. Hang on a minute, aren’t things supposed to be different in Japan?

Problems with this system

There is a horrendous waste of resources in that capable players who fall outside this narrow path have no way to break into what is essentially a ring-fenced, closed shop. Sadly, coaching standards are very low and receive low respect and priority. Despite being very reliant on High School and University coaches, the JRFU has no influence on who is recruited. An accreditation system has been created, but it falls a long way behind those in more developed countries. There is even a real possibility of graduates who do reach company teams actually seeing a fall in the standard of coaching.

But the money swilling around corporate Japan is huge. Vast salaries are paid to imported (usually) southern hemisphere players who play a limited number of games. With no pyramid in place between the corporate game and younger players, the scope to improve on skills is limited. There is no meaningful trickle down effect. With their huge salaries, it could be argued that these foreigners are a real drain on a system that desperately needs funding at the lower levels.

Cultural Differences

To western eyes, many facets of Japanese education seem strange or even outright bizarre. But from Japanese eyes, some of the practices in Western education are sloppy, lightweight and frivolous.

One of the many strengths of Japanese culture is the belief in total dedication to one’s path in life – make your choice and work to become the best you possibly can at this. This flows through into their approach to sport. So training can be an all-consuming affair from a young age. Rather than criticise this approach as limiting those who want to switch sport as they mature, shouldn’t we really be asking the question that given this dedication, why isn’t the system producing top class players? The playing numbers are huge – unlike tiny countries like New Zealand – so it really isn’t a numbers game. The issue is what is being coached – not how many are receiving the coaching.

The counterargument to the proposition that players like Courtney Lawes (basketball) or Alex Cuthbert (VIIs) crossing from other sports is a good thing, is to imagine how good a player they would be if they had the total dedication from an early age that is widespread in Japan.

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Poor facilities

So with so much dedication on show from Japan’s young rugby players, why doesn’t this transfer to success on the international stage?

Among the many criticisms Eddie Jones made of the sport in Japan, two in particular are worth looking at in more detail. The repetitive nature of coaching in junior high school was described as mundane and offering little variety. A second criticism (this time of players at the higher level of the sport) was of poor tackling skills. Both these issues have their roots in dreadful facilities.

Tenri is a city just outside Osaka in Western Japan. It is located in the prefecture of Nara, one of Japan’s ancient capitals and contains one of the nations top rugby schools. From elementary to high school right through to University, there is pathway for privately educated students to excel – and at Tenri, rugby is in the blood. This year, the team will complete in the 95th National High School Championship. Many of these high school games are televised – how many tier one countries can claim to show high school rugby on terestrial television?

One would expect such an institution such as this to possess some of the best facilities around. But this is far from the case. Pitches at lower levels in Japan are typically compacted dirt, inter sprinkled with grit. In the baking heat of the Japanese summer, these turn to concrete. In autumn when the typhoons visit, they can turn into mud-baths. Players regularly suffer serious abrasions to the skin, and in the summer months, these can become infected. Coaching a contact sport on these grounds is highly challenging. It’s really no wonder that the safe option is to choose repetitive passing drills.

In Japan’s densely populated cities, even finding a grass pitch is a challenge. Opportunities for joint practice sessions with corporate teams offer the possibility of access to better training facilities, but with the strict seniority system in Japan, games between Universities and company teams are a rare occurrence.

JRFU position

The JRFU recognises the challenge they face in Japan and they have a plan. Despite the recent upsurge in popularity as a result of success in England, there has been a long term decline in the popularity of the sport in the traditional base at Univeristy level. Faced with an impenetrable mass media the JRFU has struggle to get air time – the rise of soccer and the pre-eminence of baseball has proved an insurmountable barrier. Don’t be fooled by the wealth of the corporate teams, a lack of investment has seen clubs at all levels struggle. A lack of presence at youth level, in VIIs and the women’s game is chronic.

The JRFU has a strategic plan to drive the game forward in time for the next rugby world cup. Two main targets have been set

Target 1: Aware of the need to widen the historically narrow pipeline described above, the JRFU will focuss on community sports clubs, increasing the spread of tag rugby and the better utilisation of existing sporting facilities. They’ve set a target to increase participation by 75,000 (instituting a “200,000 campaign”).

Target 2: They aim to increase the number of spectators of the domestic Top League to 1.4 million by 2019 – a figure which would compare favourably to the cumulative attendances of Europe’s Rugby Champions Cup. This they hope to achieve through a number of branding and marketing initiatives (though ironically, their best promotional efforts have been achieved by the departing Eddie Jones and his team). One excellent initiative is that they will begin to build a database of all coaches, referees and players in an effort to understand the scope of the sport.

Challenges for the JRFU

The existing fragmented system in Japan is not conducive to producing a winning international team. Change is needed, but Japan doesn’t do dramatic change very well. And if anything, things are about to get worse.

The imposition of a Super Rugby franchise on the existing structure will create more of a circus than a development tool for the national side. The franchise won’t even play all its games in Japan, let alone create any links with local talent factories. Corporate owners will see it as competition, and already we’ve seen too many players who aspire to playing at a higher level ignoring the local franchise and moving overseas. It has all the makings of an approaching failure.

How to develop the game in Japan?

Although one could argue that it is not the job of the National Coach to create a plan for revolutionising the structure of the sport in Japan, one could also counter-argue who would know better than the national coach? Whilst we’ll probably never know what went on behind closed doors between Eddie Jones and the top echelons of the Japanese Rugby Football Union, it’s a real shame that he didn’t publicise what he wanted before walking away from the job. There’s others he could learn from in this respect.

In the absence of proposals from Eddie Jones, here’s three ideas that will hopefully stimulate some thinking.

1

Investment is desperately needed in facilities at the local level – and that mostly means Desso-type “GrassMaster” pitches. (In fact, this is already happening, though not necessarily from funds originating from the JRFU.) As mentioned above, the JRFU is working on an accreditation system for coaches, but imagine how successful this could have been if the official manual was written by Eddie Jones.

2

The sport needs to learn from the success of soccer in Japan which started off as a company-based league before finally moving to the J-League – a city-based competition.

3

The JRFU – working with the corporate sector – needs to build centres of excellence around regional teams and develop a pathway for all players, regardless of their age or academic pathway. These new teams should be encouraged to create links with local schools, universities and other corporations. JRFU needs to see these teams at the top of the pyramid, with selection and contracts offered to players irrespective of age.

Achieving this is a massive challenge for the JRFU and they will need all their years of experience and links with industry to make this happen.

The Super Rugby Franchise is a foreign creation by well-meaning people who really don’t understand the structure of the game in Japan and what needs to happen to encourage development. Without doubt, outside influence will help force change in Japan – as it has done throughout history. But this franchise is not the answer and could prove to be a further dangerous drain on funds. The answer is local, inclusive development, funded by rich corporations investing in the community.

But what is certainly beyond discussion, is that Japanese rugby will be all the poorer for that fact that Eddie Jones won’t be around to oversee or have an input into these or any other changes.

Tom was one of those atrocious Univeristy coaches in Japan where he lived for over four years. Although he did his best to avoid long and tedious sessions, some of his ex-players are disappointed that he didn’t apply the same principles to his post-match debriefings.

What / who is Cardiff / the Blues / Cardiff Blues / Blues?

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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’.

 

 

Cardiff’s Finances

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First, some history

Cardiff Rugby Football Club was established in 1876 as the rugby section of Cardiff Athletic Club (CAC) and remained in that set up until the advent of professionalism. CAC also has bowls, hockey and cricket sections. The rugby section played their first games at Sophia Gardens, just a short trip up stream from their eventual home at The Arms Park. During this long history they enjoyed regular fixtures against southern hemisphere international touring sides and defeated New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. They have a much better record against Australia than Warren Gatland, remaining unbeaten in six matches until 2009 when (playing under the brand Cardiff Blues) they were comfortably beaten by the Qantas Wallabies (see page 35 here).

With the advent of professional rugby, CAC’s rugby section was transferred to Cardiff RFC Ltd. The club continued to shine and lost narrowly in the first ever European Cup final to Toulouse at the National Stadium. The 1995-6 season saw the first major investments by Peter Thomas, and entrepreneur originally from Merthyr who had made his fortune in confectionary.

Stagnation in Welsh rugby, and a failure by the WRU to recognise that it is the club game where growth is set to accelerate, saw an unbeaten Rebel Season, featuring games against all the top English clubs. But the WRU failed to embrace the offer of an Anglo-Welsh league and the opportunity was lost.

Relationship with the Cardiff Athletic Club

CAC are owners of the land on which Cardiff Arms Park is situated. They do so under a convenant originally set up by the Marquis of Bute which authorises the land to be used for sporting purposes.

In 1997 CAC acquired £500,000 Ordinary £1 Shares in the capital of Cardiff Rugby Football Club Ltd. – the company set up to run professional rugby at CAP. CAC also own of 750,000 Heritage Shares which cannot be traded or sold, taking their total shareholding of £1,250,000. This entitles CAC to appoint 3 Non-Executive Directors to the Management Board of the Cardiff RFC Ltd (renamed Cardiff Blues Ltd in November last year).

Who owns Cardiff?

Peter Thomas : 1,062,000

CAC (Heritage Shares): 750,000

CAC (Ordinary Shares):  500,000

Martin Ryan: 500,000

Paul Bailey: 500,000

John Smart: 500,000

Simon Webber: 20,000

Gareth Edwards: 5,000

Others (non-board members): 698,202

Total Shareholder Value: 4,035,202

 

Who runs Cardiff?

Peter ThomasPeter Thomas is a multi-millionaire who originally built his fortune with Peter’s Pies in Caerphilly. The 72 year-old went on to sell the company for £95m in 1988, and he moved into property with the creation of Atlantic Properties. Back in 2012, his family featured on the Sunday Times rich list, with wealth estimated at £225m.

Simon WebberSimon Webber is a 53 year old with multiple directorships in 21 active companies. His roles are mainly in the food and confectionary industry and he is based in England. He was appointed as a director at Cardiff on 22 November 2004. Webber is a barrister by trade.

Paul Bailey70 year old Paul Bailey is chairman of the Bailey Group, a property company. He amassed his wealth through various property deals, working closely with Peter Thomas and his brother Stan. His estimated worth is around £75m. Bailey’s money has provided loans to keep Cardiff afloat.

Gareth EdwardsGareth Edwards is the greatest scrum half ever to have played the game of rugby union. The 68 year old was appointed as Director in May 2003. His major role at the club is to act as a recruiting agent and scout. When recruiting overseas, his name opens all doors – a wise appointment for the organisation.

John SmartJohn Smart is a property developer and owner of JR Smart Ltd. Reputedly worth close to £100m. Smart by name and nature, he has been a constant thorn in Peter Thomas’ side. The two do not see eye to eye on the running of the club. In recent years, Smart has taken a back seat and seems reluctant to get involved in day to day affairs.

Martin Ryan57 year-old Martin Ryan was appointed a director in August 2014 and immediately invested £500,000 in the club. He still chairman of London Welsh Exiles. He is an extremely successful and well educated businessman. Ryan’s money – along with a loan from Bailey – bought the new pitch at CAP.

Richard HollandRichard Holland is a former vice-president of corporate relations and sales at Celtic Manor. He joined Cardiff following a stint as boss at Chepstow racecourse. The 42 year-old was appointed as CEO in January 2012, taking over from Robert Norster. His grandfather captained for Cardiff in the 1932/33 season.

Keith MorganKeith Morgan is a chartered accountant by trade. The 65 year old is an ex-chairman of CAC and also head of its rugby section. He is also Vice Chairman of the Rags. Each CAC representative serves for a three year term. Any replacements have to be approved by the CAC Management Committee.

Christopher NottChristopher Nott is a 56 year-old lawyer and non-executive director at the Cardiff Blues Ltd. Nott is one of the directors appointed by the CAC. A commercial lawyer, he is a managing partner at Capital Law – which employs 13 litigation lawyers and handles business in the £100ms.

John Huw WilliamsJohn Huw Williams was appointed as a board member in December 2014. He is the third representative from CAC and replaced Malcolm Childs. Williams is the present chairman of CAC and played over 100 games for Cardiff.

John Feehan and the Pro12

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A recent interview with Pro12 head John Feehan, made a number of claims relating to the Pro12. We take a look at one of them, namely that “significantly more people attended the matches this season than last season”.

Unsurprisingly for an Irishman based in Dublin, his views are very much coloured by what is happening in his own geography.

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Glasgow’s success on the pitch this season has seen record numbers at Scottish grounds[1. All the data used to compile this article is taken directly from the Pro12 web site (or previous iterations of this web site).]. Significantly more people attended matches in Scotland – a 16% increase[2. The authors make no claim as to the voracity of this data.] on last season.

It was also a record for the Irish with 567,052 people attending Pro12 games .

However, things are very different in Italy. Putting aside the discussion on non-payment of €1.5m[3. There’s a lack of clarity on the exact amount involved. Some press reports quote FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi, claiming that “The (previous) €3million fee has been reduced to less than a third … it’s a huge victory”, whereas other press outlets claiming the figure is €1.5m] this past season has seen the second lowest attendance at Pro12 fixtures in Italy. In the first season of Italian representation in the league, over 83,000 people watched league games in Italy. In the 2014-15 season, almost 20,000 fewer people watched Pro12 games.

At this point, it may be a good idea to ask why John Feehan ignore these facts, or is it that he is simply unaware of the failure of Pro12 to grow the game in Italy?

Finally, let’s take a look at the Welsh clubs.

In the stands ….

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Pro12 attendance in Wales increased to is 353,248 – a growth of 22,151 on last season. A large chunk of this is down to the increased success of Judgement Day – which we’ve already covered elsewhere. This is a 7% increase on last season. However, it is actually less than two season’s ago when the total home attendances topped 359,000. From a Welsh perspective we think Mr Feehan is over-cooking the turkey somewhat.

Let’s look at how each club fared.

Cardiff Blues

Cardiff Blues

Despite the product on offer, despite the losses, despite the poor performances, Cardiff retained their title the best supported rugby club in Wales. That really is a remarkable fact. Hard work off the pitch in marketing the “Blues” brand seems to be paying off. Attendances are up when one would expect them to be down.

An average of 8,863 attended fixtures at CAP (and the double header at the Millennium Stadium[4. Double header attendances are split in two for analysis purposes.]). This represented an almost 10% increase on Pro12 attendances on last season. There is still some way to go to reach the heady days of 10,000+ as an average gate reported when the club played at the soccer stadium, but the overall trend us up from the 2010-11 season. Credit to Richard Holland and the staff at CAP for growing the popularity of the club. Selling a poor product is tough, and they’ve excelled in selling it better than before.

Fact check: So is this significantly more than last season? 10%? We say yes. 

Scarlets

Scarlets

The Scarlets average home crowd of 7,069 is the lowest in 10 years at the club. Despite a mediocre season in Llanelli, they remain some way ahead on the pitch of teams based in Cardiff and Newport. So why this dip in popularity?

Looking at the Scarlet’s performances across all competitions, they’ve had worse (or equally bad) seasons in the last 10 years – in particular the 2007-8 season (with only 5 wins at home that year) – but this season is an all time low.

Fact check: So have “significantly more people attended … matches this season”? Absolutely not. This season was not far short of disastrous for the Scarlets.

Ospreys

Ospreys

On the pitch, by some margin, the Ospreys remain the most successful Welsh club in the history of the Celtic League in all its guises. Indeed, the 2014-15 Pro12 season saw them undefeated at home. In the early years following the realignment of the professional game, the Ospreys were by some margin the best supported club in Wales. In the 2006-7 season, attendances for Pro12 games averaged at over 9,000, but since then – other than the 2012-13 season – those levels have not been reached. This season’s average of 8,398 is up just under 6% on last season, but again a 10%+ fall on the 2012-13 peak.

Fact check: So is this significantly more than last season? 6% is a fair rise, though the long term trend is still fairly flat. This is despite on-field success and must be a concern for the board in Swansea.

Newport Gwent Dragons

Newport Gwent Dragons

A Pro12 final position of 9th saw the Dragons finish above Cardiff Blues for the first time since 2004-5. A feel-good run of victories in the European Challenge Cup raised spirits at the club and this translated to an increase in gates. The club also finished 9th in the 2013-4 season, but last in the season before.

The Dragons won only five games at home in the Pro12 this season – pretty much par for the course in recent years.

For seven seasons, total Pro12 attendance hovered between the mid-40Ks to mid-50Ks level, but this season 85,614 souls enjoyed the Pro12 journey from the terraces in Newport. This is a 19% increase on last season.

Fact check: So is this significantly more than last season? Absolutely, it certainly is. 19% is a big increase for the club, though it is debatable whether performances in the Pro12 itself are behind this increase.

In conclusion …

Contrary to the view often expressed in the media, there is little evidence to suggest there is a direct correlation between winning form on the pitch, and attendance at Pro12 fixtures. Witness Cardiff’s 2012-13 season which saw only three home wins but an average gate of just shy of 9,000. Clearly other factors are at play which lie outside the scope of this analysis.

Turning to Mr Feehan’s comments, as you would expect, little effort seems to have been made to make a close examination of country-by-country trends, or even club-by-club trends.

Glasgow’s rise in Scotland has boosted interest from a very low level, but the SRU remains intransigent in the face of approaches to set up more pro-clubs with investors pressing for action. The blazers like to keep control and this is holding back the growth of the game. Finishing last in the Six Nations does not seem to have shaken this resolve.

John Feehan’s Irish sides continue to succeed in the Pro12. Connacht have enjoyed their most successful season ever.

But the facts elsewhere seem to have escaped Mr Feehan. Despite the Dragons’ increase in gates, Welsh rugby remains flat. Good work in Cardiff is offset by disaster in Llanelli and support in Swansea has been poor – despite continuing successes on the pitch.

And as for rugby in Italy, could the situation be any worse?

Perhaps Mr Feehan needs to look beyond his own borders and look at the Pro12 as a whole?

 

Notes:

European Competition Attendances

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As Europe’s rugby season draws to a close, this past weekend saw the first of the season’s finals played – the European Cup and Challenge Cup featured teams from France, England and Scotland. This season saw the demise of European Rugby Cup Ltd (or ERC), the company set up to run Europe’s club competitions, with nine equal shareholders represented on the Board of Directors: Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby, Fédération Française de Rugby, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, Irish Rugby Football Union, Scottish Rugby Union, Welsh Rugby Union, Regional Rugby Wales and Federazione Italiana Rugby. This season has been seen the first competitions organised by the new body European Professional Club Rugby (or EPCR).

A key component in revenues generated by professional sport is TV money and ERC’s poor performance in this area was one major reason why it was wound up. More on this to follow in subsequent blogs, but inevitably interested parties will also turn to attendance figures as a benchmark for how well the two competitions – the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup – have faired this season.

Challenge Cup attendances

First the good news. Total attendances in the Challenge Cup fell just short of the 400,000 mark – up by over a fifth from last season. Furthermore, the average attendance at fixtures also rose to its highest ever point.

However, this figures should come as no surprises having the participation of lesser rugby nations like Spain or Portugal. Furthermore, the presence of an extra Welsh club also boosted attendance figures.

Champions Cup attendances

The Champions Cup saw a reduction in participants. When the competition began in 1995-96, only 15 fixtures were played. In the following season this grew to 47, but then in subsequent years, boycott from English clubs resulted in a fluctuating fixture list. Finally, from 1998-99 to 2013-14, 79 fixtures were played, whereas this season, this was reduced to 67. Unsurprisingly, with this reduction in the number of fixtures, total attendance dipped to under 1m – the first time that has happened since the 2011-12 season.

Turning to average attendances, despite a 3% growth on last year’s average, EPCR will be disappointed that despite the supposed extra focus on quality, averages attendances did not surpass the peak in the 2008-9 season of 14,874. Interestingly, there seems to be a four-year cycle appearing in Champions Cup attendances with new peaks reached every four years. Perhaps this reflects an influence from a looming Rugby World Cup, though this is far from clear.

Breakdown by country

Analysing attendance by country is somewhat distorted if one includes data on knock out phase fixtures, as these are not guaranteed in any one geography every season. So in this section, I’m focussing merely on pool games, where there has been more parity between participants.

Apart from the fact that it’s probably not such a good idea to use such garish colours in a chart, at first glance, it seems there’s a limited amount we can learn from this chart. All countries suffered a fall in paying customers at the grounds.

Implications for Welsh rugby

But a closer look reveals something alarming for fans of Welsh rugby. Unsurprisingly, with a cut from three to two teams participating in the Champions Cup this season, there’s been a fall in attendance figures. But what a fall! Fewer people watched top European competition (and this is pool games only, remember) this season than at any time since the 1998-99 season. Only 46,892 attended Champions Cup pool fixtures – down from a peak of 126,811 in the 2008-9 season. That’s a fall of 73%.

Looking at the data in percentage terms, the effect is even more striking. Whilst the contribution of English and French fans has been steady, the increasing popularity of European competition in Ireland is clear to see. What is more striking however is the shrinking of the Welsh figure.

And finally ….

These trends raise a number of questions for Welsh rugby. Should we be worried about the drop of almost 80,000 in the attendance at European Champions rugby games in Wales? People will surely just watch Challenge Cup games instead, right? Subsequent blogs will address these questions, but perhaps a more fundamental question that needs to be answered is why Welsh rugby sacrificed a guaranteed place in Champions rugby? What did we gain for this sacrifice? Some may argue that our teams are not competitive in this competition, but the only way to get better is to play against the best. After all, Cardiff are one of only two teams to defeat Toulon in Europe in the last two years. Paying customers are attracted by quality – even the quality of the opposition. Without that exposure, our clubs are being robbed of revenue and the game in Wales will suffer. Finally, the best sporting competitions are comprised of participants any of whom can win on a given day. Cardiff indeed proved this two seasons ago. But with the huge disparity in TV deals signed between England, France and the Pro12, what can be done to arrest the transformation of the European Champions Cup into an Anglo-French competition?

Notes on the data used to compile this blog:
1. Attendances are missing from official records for the early seasons of the Challenge Cup which renders that data unsuitable for comparison purposes.

Judgement Day III – some context

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Welsh rugby’s late season double header saw the highest attendance of the three times this jamboree has been held. See what happens when people work together? Now with Roger finally consigned to Rhoose, there are already signs of a resuscitation of the pro-game under the guidance of Gareth Davies.

The 52,762 who turned up in Cardiff to watch the two games represented a big jump on the previous two double headers, up from 30,411 in 2014, and 36,174 in 2013.

So this is all good news, right? Well more bums on seats means more revenue for the pro-game, so let’s not get too negative about this progress. But what about the hype in the media about the attendance figures?

Biggest attendance for a Pro12/Celtic League Fixture in History

That’s really stretching it as this was in fact two games. So you could argue that the attendance per game was 26,381. That’s some way short of Leinster’s 22-18 victory over Munster in March last year, when 51,700 turned up to watch that game in Dublin. In fact, JDIII doesn’t even make the top 10 for the highest Pro12/Celtic League attendances of all time.

Biggest attendance for a pro-game featuring a Welsh club/regional team this century in Wales

That record is still held by Cardiff, and their agonising defeat to Leicester in the HEC in 2009. But JDIII does make it into the Top 10, coming in at number six.

Biggest attendance for a Pro12/Celtic League Fixture in Wales

This is a record that also wasn’t beaten. In the second Celtic League Final, Neath faced Munster at the Millennium Stadium, and 30,076 souls saw Neath go down 37-17 against the Irishmen on that day in 2003.

Biggest attendance for a professional game of rugby in Europe on 25th April 2014

There’s a record that will undoubtedly stand. Leicester’s defeat of London Welsh came in second with 23,016 and Toulouse’s outstanding win in Paris was witnessed by 20,000 (still awaiting LNR’s official figure on that one).

Biggest attendance for a professional game of rugby in the world on 25th April 2014

Sadly, we’re still some way short of that. 45,872 watched the Stormers beat the Bulls in Cape Town.

Until the first double-header in 2013, and since the demise of cup finals that regularly filled the then National Stadium, we’ve been robbed of big domestic games in Wales. The English and French have maintained that tradition and double headers in London have become a regular success. Saracens’ games against Harlequins are now regularly drawing 80,000 plus at Wembley.

As ever with Welsh rugby, the press is always more interested in making a story than reporting on the facts, and are particularly myopic when it comes to historical trends or taking a non-parochial view of events.

Rugby attendances in Wales have dipped since their 2009-10 peak (more on that in later blogs), but perhaps the biggest conclusion we can draw from Judgement Day III is this. Despite all four teams being mostly shorn of their international stars (thank you Warren), and despite the fact that the untouchable Clancy was refereeing one of the games, and despite the pretty poor performances (Ospreys’ aside) that have plagued Welsh club/regional rugby this season, 52,762 people turned up to watch these two games. Now that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

£100m

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Last month, I had a life changing experience. To be precise, it was my wife’s life changing experience, but my life will now never be the same. A distant uncle with no relatives left the sum of £100m to her in his will. Now that’s a life changer. Like the wonderful woman that she is, she said, “Let’s split it 50-50, but you must invest at least 50% of your share.” So £25m goes into the bank and I’m earning more money in interest than I can spend. Life is good. And better still, I’ve got that £25m to play with.

So what to do with my £25m? Suddenly, I realised what this meant. This is my chance, I thought. I can invest the money in my dream – to help build Cardiff back up to become one of the top teams in Europe.

So, three weeks ago, I approach the board at Cardiff Arms Park with my proposal and business plan – a massive cash investment to develop the stadium and surrounds, a complete overhaul of the support staff and training facilities, and serious investment in the playing squad.

“Thank you very much for your gift,” they said.

“Hang on a minute!” I replied. “I’ve got more than just money to offer. I would like to retain some influence to ensure my cash is used in the way I’d like. Let’s convert my cash into shares.”

“Not possible”, came the reply. “We can’t issue shares from Cardiff RFC Ltd – the company that owns the Cardiff Blues – because part of the shares are held by Cardiff Athletic Club (CAC).”

“I don’t follow”, I replied.

“Well, under the company structure of CRFC Ltd, a certain percentage of shares must be held by CAC – and they don’t want to buy any more shares, so we can’t convert your gift into shares without them also buying shares.”

Dumbstruck by the control still held by an amateur organisation, I was shocked. “So what you’re telling me is, even though I’m offering you a £25m investment, you cannot offer me a stake in the business?”

“I’m afraid so”, came the reply.

I was angry. I was frustrated. All those dreams I thought I could realise were suddenly shattered. I lashed out and said something stupid, “In that case, I’ll take my money to Newport and invest it there instead!”

“You can’t do that either. They’re 50% owned by the WRU.”

Ah well. I wonder if there’s a club across the border who would be interested?

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