Whatever the WRU say in their negotiations with the Six Pack, you can guarantee that the vested interests are stronger than the desire to improve the professional game. In the outdated structure of the game in Wales, Rhymney Rugby Club have more say over domestic competition than the Welsh coach.
The vote at the EGM will undoubtedly fail to ratify Terry Cobner’s proposal on a six team franchise for the professional level of the sport in Wales. It’s not a closed shop, and through hard work and dedication any club in Wales can become professional with guaranteed financial support from the Union.
However, the EGM on the 7th will reject this proposal – just what the Union want.
They want the club owners to withdraw from the sport – they want to take ownership of the players and dictate to the players where they should play , who their coach and team mates should be, where they should live, etc. etc. for make no mistake, this is what central contracts mean.
When the owners pull out from the sport, a number of top clubs will go bankrupt and players will become free agents. By “buying up” Neath and already holding dominant shares in Llanelli and Pontypridd, the Union will then be in a position to “own” all the top clubs in Wales. They can then impose any structure they like.
They’ve always wanted control over players’ contracts and now they will have it. Expect the establishment of a number of district teams with all players in these teams contracted solely to the Union. Players in Wales will have two choices to further their earning – either sign a Union contract and be told where to play, or leave Wales and look elsewhere for more freedom of choice.
Salaries offered by the WRU will be lower than those in England – the Union has insufficient resources to keep pumping money to all its 200-odd members and subsidise the top level of the sport.
The district teams (three in South Wales and one in North) will enter the European Cup. Shorn of the top talent in Wales, they will become the also rans of the competition.
The top Welsh players will cross the border to earn more money in England.
The Union will then be faced with a choice – pick the English based players and field a stronger team, or pick the district players and lose.
They’ll opt for the English based players (who will have a much bigger national profile.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. These players will be playing in a higher level of competition and this may well transfer itself into a winning Welsh team.
So the Union wins! They have a domestic structure which they can dominate, they have funds from the international games which mean they can still live in the fashion to which they are accustom, and they have a rock solid future of monopoly control.
What a waste for the Welsh rugby-watching public! We want to cheer our top teams to victory against the best in Europe, and the amateurs in the Union just don’t care about this. All they want is a flat domestic structure where winning their league is more important than winning in Europe. How short sighted for the game in Wales and the development of players who can travel to a country like New Zealand and win a World Cup.
How short term is this?
With domestic teams consistently failing at the highest level – Celtic League and European competition – will the young fail to be attracted to the sport?
With club rugby a poor and irrelevant cousin to the larger, better financed and better supported sport across the border, will the young still be interested?
Without their local heroes to support locally, it’s clear that Welsh domestic rugby will slide into amateurism – played and organised by dedicated individuals at a local level, with a few stars playing in England.
What are our choices?
In calling an extraordinary general meeting on the 7th April the WRU is making their contempt clear for the professional clubs at the top end of the sport in Wales. If ever there was a clear case of sticking two fingers up at the people with whom you are negotiating, this is it.
There now remain three possible scenarios for the future of the game in Wales:-
1. The private subsidisers of the sport in Wales pull their money out and the professional arm of the sport collapses.
2. The Six Pack stick two fingers up at the Union and organise their own competition next season – buying up the best players from the remaining clubs.
3. A smaller number of clubs (probably Newport and Cardiff only) stick two fingers up at the Union and try to enter the English pyramid.
An independent competition next season
Containing six teams with no European competition, played on a two home and away games a season (20 games), the Six Pack may set up their own competition next season, outside the umbrella of the amateur-controlled Union. The clubs may try to set up another club to boost the games to 24.
Marketing the games themselves, they will surely be able to do a better job than the Union of increasing sponsorship levels (particularly if Newport are involved). Who knows, we may even get a sponsor for the new professional league?
Negotiating their own contract with television – much in the same way as Cardiff and Swansea did during the rebel season – will give them a futher source of income.
Remember that the Union have only offered the clubs £900,000 next season and if they feel that they can secure more than this amount, then don’t be surprised if this is the chosen structure for next season.
It’s unlikely that they’ll be much support from across the border in England, but even a low key, reduced number, mid-week cross border knock out competition (including Gloucester, Bristol and Bath) would generate more income than playing Caerphilly or Ebbw Vale.
Joining the English pyramid system
Given European competition law, it’s be interesting to see what would happen if Newport, for example, moved their ground 20 miles east and the club suddenly found themselves in England.
Restraint of trade rules would mean that they’d be able to join the English pyramid.
Without doubt, Gloucester, Bristol and Bath would relish the opportunity of playing against Cardiff and Newport again on a regular basis.
Even if the two clubs applied to join the English system – for example – and ended up at Division 2 level against the likes of Nottingham, Plymouth and Rosslyn Park – this may well be viewed as a preferable to working with the shambolic nature of the WRU where Newport or Cardiff’s voice carries as much weight in decision making as Rhymney’s.
Given the inevitable promotions that would follow, bu 2007, Wales’ two biggest clubs would be in the Premier Division and with all the increased sponsorship and media exposure that would follow, it’s difficult to see how Uncles Peter and Uncle Tony could ignore this as a long term possibility.
So which of these three scenarios are the most likely to come to fruition? Well, Tony Brown and Peter Thomas have come a long way in the last few years and invested vast amounts of money into the sport in Wales. If – as now seems likely – they are unable to defeat the Neolithic union and it’s amateur-dominated structure, will they really give up now?
The players carry the real burden and have the most power in any negotiations that will take place on the game. Sadly, it seems that they are the only part with enough power to force a resolution. With a boycott of the Scottish game looking ever the more likely, and the likely selection of a Scab XV in their place, differences look to be ever wider apart.
It is possible of course that if Newport and Cardiff leave the Union, then we may be left with a mixture of one and three of our possible scenarios. The Union are able to impose their regional structure and destroy the top teams in Wales and Newport and Cardiff decide to play in the English system – all pretty similar to the football example of Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham.
And the result for the National Team? Just look at Wales’ latest football world ranking!