The professional game is at a crossroads in this country as Roger Lewis’ own policies are beginning to bite him on the backside. For years he has underpaid for the access Team Wales (his team) have to the assets of the four professional teams and this slow starvation has caused them to be unable to offer the wages players can command in the European market. He compounded that starvation with an insistance on employment of Welsh qualified players, regardless of their ability or likelihood to play for Team Wales. This insistance increased wages as the talent pool meant a shortage of supply and a seller’s market.
Whilst doing this, Roger saturated the fixture list with Team Wales fixtures to the point where these games were in competition with the four teams which supplied the bulk of the players. Despite the WRU being shareholders in the Celtic League, we still had inter-Region games on weekends Team Wales were playing. Despite the WRU being shareholders in ERC, Lewis still drew up a fixture list for Team Wales that prevented the four from having six weeks worth of access to their players before Rounds 3 and 4 of the ERC competitions.
On top of this, he now has to lower ticket prices in order to get bums on seats to watch the Golden Goose.
And yet some still wonder why the four aren’t as good as is the expectation of them!
It’s obviously possible to write in real depth on this subject so I’ve tried to condense my thoughts into a few bullet points:
- WRU contribution up to £8m pa from £6m pa. This is a long way from the RFU’s payment of a minimum of £102m over 8 years, but it’s a start. This payment would lead to guaranteed access for 20 weeks per annum – 6 weeks Autumn, 8 weeks 6N, 6 weeks Summer Tour, plus the maintenance of existing access for player training, fitness and medical tests
- The present £9.1m earned through competition and broadcast revenues should continue to be shared equally amongst the four but the payment of £8m must be made by player supply to Team Wales.
- £7m to be paid for the top 35 players named by the Team Wales Head Coach on August 1st (after Summer Tour) = £200k each
- £1m for 40 top players at u20 level = £25k each
- Players not playing in Wales see their £200k put into a reserve pot
- Each player outside of top 35 who is called up earns his club £10k a week (which also provides an incentive to promote from u20 level to senior squad) at senior level
- Any surplus at end of the Summer Tour (i.e. before the next year’s squad is announced) is split four equal ways
- From 2014-15, no player playing outside of Wales will play for Wales unless in existing contract
- Minimum wage spend per squad is £500k on top of Competition & WRU money for top 38 ERC registered players for year after, to be heavily audited
- No one player can earn more than 15% of total salary spend
- NWQ limit to be 8 players including time servers in registered squad of 38 players
- All four “encouraged” to open up a percentage of the business to be supporter owned through Supporters’ Trusts. A minimum of 5% and one board seat to be in place by 2015.
- Coaching positions should be the choice of the four with encouragement for at least one member of the coaching team to have coached in a different league. This will encourage ideas to come into the system from outside, rather than becoming stale and insular.
On top of all of that, I’d look to put into place an U23 competition for only Welsh qualified players, played on a home and away basis with the top two entering into a Grand Final. This would look to provide something of a stepping stone after u20 international rugby.
- Will guarantee 6 u23 games per season, to be played outside of the IRB windows (possibly HEC group game weekends to ensure BBC coverage on TV)
- Should be a highlight / showpiece for best u23 players not playing in HEC
- Two over 23 players allowed per match day squad
- Aim to play FIRA National teams on designated weekends as Wales u23 v Spain, or Portugal etc.
- Aim to play other Pro 12 and / or AP “A” teams on additional weekends outside of IRB window
- Aim for 12 u23 fixtures per season with, in effect, the u23 team entering the LV= Cup
All of which involves the top end of the tree and rather ignores the roots. So:
Welsh Premiership & BIC
- WP should be cut to 8 teams and all to play in the BIC
- Newport, Swansea, Llanelli and Cardiff should step out of WP and concentrate on u23 rugby
- WP should be based on promotion / relegation of best 8 semi pro teams in Wales, regardless of geography
- “Regional PA” should be scrapped in favour of individual loan deals with WP clubs when u23 players become available / return from injury
- 4 pro teams should be focussed on developing players within their own system from 16 to first team through pathway of representative rugby and allow clubs their independence
- There should be no “developmental” responsibility or pressure on WP clubs. They should simply aim to be the best they can.
- Strict audit function put in place to ensure that books balance, including wage cap at 65% of turnover (promised turnover, excluding any WRU payment) or £650k (whichever is greater)
- WRU grants of up to £75k available per team to be spent on infrastructure only and not wages (including travel, training facilities, hospitality facilities to become centre of local community etc)
- Clubs must be encouraged to own their own ground and be community owned
- A WRU gift of £50k per annum can be spent on player wages.
- Any u20 players not involved in the u23 rugby should play WP rugby with wages covered by the four on Academy terms (a set wage agreed across all four for parity reasons) at teams best suited to their circumstances (geography, coaching, positional requirement, availability). Host WP team pays nothing, so owning club also covers WP club standard win bonus / appearance fee.
- In the BIC, the Irish teams will be encouraged to remove their A teams and play top club sides by offering fixtures of their A teams versus Welsh four u23 teams
The removal of the handcuffs of “regional responsibility” on the WP teams and the enforcement of their independence leads to the thought of “what happens with regionalism”? Well, here goes:
The main responsibility must be the growth of the game at u18 and schools level, in order to create the conveyor belt into recreational, club and professional rugby. This must be in partnership with the WRU as the game itself benefits more than will the four professional teams.
- Ratio: 1 Development Officer per x schools and clubs? Equal funded?
- Monthly coaching master classes to be run to train the coaches of junior clubs within the region
- Regional Clubs Liaison Officer to be a standard employee for each of the four, to work on closer links to assist with coaching development, junior rugby and grant applications for infrastructure
- Players encouraged to take coaching badges and work with clubs at age grade level and senior level.
That’s a lot to take in but I think that it is a blueprint which could work, and should offer more than just a basic document for discussion purposes. The funding model is designed to reward the professional teams who develop talent for the international game AND is designed to reward the amateur clubs who become the hub of their communities. Those are the key aims for both games.
There is enough in the finance model for the pro game to provide strong HEC teams, especially when you think that all of those Team Wales player bonus payments won’t be made available to those not playing in Wales. A player can earn tens of thousands per season playing for Wales, meaning that the more lucrative contract outside of Wales is just that little bit less lucrative……