In many ways, this season’s success for Pontypridd RFC is the blueprint for all non-professional clubs in Wales to follow. The positives that come from a well-deserved double this season are numerous and should be the aim for all Welsh Premiership (bar those who own professional teams) and lower league clubs, but so should be how PRFC are looking to build on that success.
For me, the key to the success of PRFC this season is stability based on the coaching setup and the “in house” method of those who understand the club being in the key positions which control both the on and off field matters. By that, I mean that they have proper club men in charge of all aspects of the club, men who love the club and see the club as “theirs”. This is vital at this level of rugby.
The two leading lights in this regard are obviously the Coaches – MacIntosh and John (plus Gareth Wyatt). Both have worn the PRFC shirt, both are ingrained in the Club and the Club’s history, both understand what PRFC is, what it represents and how its players should view playing for the club. From this strong base they can recruit players who fit the mould, who will contribute to the team ethic and who will play for the club. It is a club which tried mercenaries in the past and failed with them, for good reason. To play for PRFC, you have to understand PRFC.
It goes beyond the coaches and the players, however. The Team Manager (Richard Langmead) played for the club, the club’s Conditioning Coach (Darren Bool) played for the club in his youth days. The club runs a junior section from u7s to u16s and then into a Youth team. The Board of Directors are led by those who have been part of the club for decades and they have seen the sense to further expand the business which runs the club by encouraging supporters to buy further shares in the business. This will allow them to become more involved with their club, to “belong” even more.
Local sponsors have been found to help support the club as they are happy to be aligned with what PRFC stands for. They want their companies associated with those values and they pay accordingly. It is a community spirit.
PRFC is a family and families stick together at all times.
This togetherness is the model for community clubs. PRFC aims to be at the centre of the community, the focal point for the town and something for the town to be proud of. This model (although I would prefer an I&PS than a Limited Company as the ownership model, but that is a minor complaint) is something that all Town and Village Clubs throughout Wales should follow. There is a continuity, an identity, a value and a spirit than passes down generations and ensures longevity.
Now, however, comes the negative. The strength of PRFC and its ability to flourish as a semi professional club is not translatable to a higher level of rugby. It is the perfect set up for club rugby in Wales but that is its plateau and it should not try to push beyond that.
To compete as a professional club requires access to millions of pounds worth of funds, huge sponsorship deals and a love of money. Money is key at the professional level. Without money a team will simply not survive, let alone be in a position to compete in cross border competition. The present four Welsh professional teams are struggling on this stage with wage bills of £3.5m (let’s remind ourselves that both HEC Cup Finalists had salary caps of €8.7m as a comparison) and there is no way that a professional PRFC would generate enough income to have a cap anywhere near even £3.5m. The infrastructure in its community simply isn’t there.
It is a shame that PRFC voiced its public support for Valleys Rugby as I believe that VR could easily kill off PRFC as we know it. The time and finances simply are not there in this community to support both teams, plus the business plan of Valleys Rugby tried to kid its supporters that it could compete at cross border level with a salary bill of just £1.7m. That means that they would be twice as bad as the four Welsh teams currently are.
I’d urge PRFC and its supporters to ditch Valleys Rugby and to concentrate on themselves. I applaud their performances this year, I urge them to concentrate further on strengthening that family of players to be able to compete in their own HEC – the British & Irish Cup. They have the potential to position themselves as the Premier “Club” in Wales and beyond.
It is a family that doesn’t need professional rugby in order to survive and grow. In fact, I’d argue that history tells us that professional rugby is bad for this Club so it should concentrate on what it does best and continuing to do that as it bloody well can.