Author Archives: PhilBB

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)

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’.

 

 

B&Bs v B&ABs

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This is the proper club derby, the one with the serious history dating back decades to when the two played each other four times a year or more. This is the old rivalry, this is the one that matters and this is the one that counts. Or at least it used to before plasticity in Newport and lunacy at Cardiff emasculated the fixture.

Still, never mind, let’s make the most of it as any victory over the Newport team, whatever fancy dress or stupid #eeeknockediton #limegreenfamily nonsense that surrounds it, is always to be savoured. It was always more sweet to go to Dave Parade and to win a knockout game so let’s hope that Saturday will bring back the more positive memories to overcome the pantomime set up surrounding the game.

At the core of this game is the fact that Cardiff should be good enough to win, even without key players like Cory Allen, Rhys Patchell and Adam Thomas. Well, two of those three anyway. What stands in their way is not so much the ability of the home team (who are always set up to play the underdog style of Cup rugby that helps in one offs, thanks to Lyn Jones’ love of kick and clap rugby) but the standard of coaching heaped upon this group all season.

The key part of the NGD game plan will be to win penalties from the driving line out. Cardiff have a real achilles heel in this area and the ease in which it was exposed by the NGD at BTSportCAP over Christmas will not be lost even on Lyn Jones. The driving line out will win penalties that Prydie can kick and it will also encourage the kick to the corner to go for the try. If Cardiff can hold out the driving line out in the first 30 minutes in order to stop that part of the home team’s gameplan then they will be some way to winning the game.

The next problem for Cardiff is the average number of points conceded per game. Since McIntosh was appointed as Defence Coach he has managed to produce a record equally as bad as his predecessor (who was sacked) and he appears to be less “The Chief” and more the leader of the Israelites out of Egypt in that he has coached his players to part like the Red Sea. This allows the NGD two key attack points to try out – the driving line out and the cunning plan of keeping the ball long enough and for enough phases until Cardiff’s defensive line predictably crumbles.

In return, Cardiff have little attacking shape. It’s true that they are capable of scoring some stunning tries and can maintain the ball for a large number of phases but all of that seems rather out of keeping, out of the norm, unpredictable. You don’t look at this Cardiff team and see where the tries will come from which means that Saturday is a big test for Gareth Anscombe. He looked to play pretty well at Dave Parade earlier this season but, for this game, he and Lloyd Williams must see the team home. Ideally, Cardiff will play a pick and drive game close to the breakdown in order to develop momentum as none can come from this team in the outside centre channel. Anscombe must send Evans, Smith and Cuthbert off short passes and into the NGD half back area. Key to that, of course, is the support play of Warburton and his fellow back row players.

We’d start with Vosawai at 8 to play the driving game, with Warburton and Jenkins on the flanks as these are the strongest players over the ball. It is in the contact area that this game will be won and the importance of controlling possession will be key. It’s cup rugby, so limited ambition and risk free rugby, which Cardiff can play pretty well. They must evoke the spirit of Wasps in 2010 and the way that Rush led that game if they are to prosper.

It will be tight and it will likely be determined by JP Doyle, the referee. His interpretation of the breakdown area and the front row binding could necessarily bring the penalties that will decide the winning margin.

Where is Everybody?

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So the present theme / stick with which to beat Pro Rugby Wales is crowd levels. For example, the self proclaimed “National Newspaper of Wales” ran a back page story on why crowd levels were as poor as just over 5,000 for some games, but used a poll of just 3,000 votes for the basis of their story. Clearly, the irony of this was lost on the intellects running that paper into the ground, more so when you consider that was 3,000 votes and not 3,000 unique voters.

This story was run on the Friday before a weekend of European Club rugby, something that PRW fought for almost to the end of its existence last year. The four members are signatories and shareholders of the new competition and, in achieving this, won the war with Roger Lewis. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that the WM is not willing to support PRW in this competition but to produce, with such vulgar rigour, this piece on the Friday before Round 4 shows how its editor has nailed its colours to the Sinking Ship of the Jolly Roger.

That aside, absolute crowd numbers at all of the four teams are at a low ebb but are far from as relatively bad as many wish to make out. It is always pointed out that the Irish teams can attract significantly larger crowds than the Welsh teams and this is used as a stick to beat PRW. Those wielding the stick highlighted Ireland as the model to use for a Union run professional game. Those wielding the stick never mention how well that model is doing in Scotland.

At this point it is worth pausing to note who is wielding the stick. Well, in simple terms, it is those who have volunteered to be outside of the professional game in Wales yet who feel entitled to be within it. This core, basic, sense of entitlement can be simply traced back to 2003 when “regional rugby” was introduced. Despite there being no one single document in the public domain of what a Welsh Rugby Region is supposed to be (other than the WRU Articles of Association which note that PRW are Regions), there is a mass of disenfranchised individuals who seem to think that “proper regions” will somehow “represent” them.

Which takes us back to the comparison with Ireland. For starters, how can an area so small as South Wales be split geographically for “representation”? If you want to consider just how small the area of South Wales actually is then consider that Munster has a land mass (9,527 square miles) bigger than the whole of Wales (8,022 square miles). How can that be split further? To get from Newport to Cardiff is one train stop, to get from Swansea to Newport is under an hour by car. I’ve seen it suggested that Wales should be split by Compass point for “support” purposes but where would the line be drawn? For starters, there’s no private finance or infrastructure ready to support professional rugby in the North. Then we have the case of the Chap who lives in Newport, works in Cardiff but was born in Swansea. Who is he “represented” by? It’s ludicrous to think that Compass points are somehow representative.

To return to Ireland, it’s now time to turn to population base. If you consider four teams in South Wales share a catchment area of 2 million people then it must be noted that this is roughly the single catchment area for both Ulster and Leinster. In other words, there are lots more people available to pay for professional rugby in the areas which have higher attendances. All of this is before, of course, we consider that the direct competitors for PRW are Swansea City and Cardiff City who both regularly attract crowds well in excess of 18,000. The Irish provinces have no such winter professional team sport competition.

Therefore, in South Wales, we have a small population who, as we know, isn’t relatively financially well off. So when you consider the price of the ticket and that most of the home games are on free to air TV, it’s no wonder that crowds are low.

But none of that address the key issue of the product being poor, for it undoubtedly is. It should be of no surprise that it is so poor when PRW have been deliberately kept poor by the WRU for many years. Let us not forget that Lewis claimed that there was no more money that could be paid from the international game to its immediate supply chain. Again, those making the comparison with the Irish game, omit to mention the killer fact here that the IRFU spends significantly more on elite rugby than does the WRU.

In professional sport, the cause of the product being relatively poor is because of the standard of player employed and, in turn, that is caused by the finances available to pay the player. If you wish to continue the comparison with Ireland, look at the number of top Irish players playing outside of Ireland compared with the number of top Welsh players. For the sake of argument, let’s call it 1 (Sexton) versus well over a dozen. If PRW were able to condense those dozen players into the top three Welsh teams then it is obvious that they would be more successful. And then people would turn up to watch them…..

This lack of finance, however, isn’t all about the top dozen players in France and England. It’s also about the loss of quality mid-range players who are outside of Wales like Owen Williams, Ian Evans, Nicky Robinson, Dwayne Peel and many more. The experience of these players (not only their talents) would bring a huge boost of success to the Welsh teams.

So Lewis has created the perfect storm for Welsh rugby through his desire to pay off too early the stadium debt. He has drained the professional game of comparative finance from the international game and discouraged the benefactors from further investment. Let’s remember, he publicly claimed that if PRW did not sign to roll over his PA then he would see that they were no longer in business. This prevented them from being able to invest into their squads for many seasons.

We are told, by the disenfranchised, that the WRU would invest more into the pro game were they the owners of the pro game. Of course, there is no evidence for this at all whilst, to counter the argument, there is years of Roger Lewis driven evidence to note that investment into the pro game was not part of his desire.

So these are the ingredients to the argument: a small, vocal, minority of self decided disenfranchised folk with a sense of entitlement that is totally misplaced and, of course, is never driven by the desire to put their money where their mouth is. The pro game has passed them by as there is nothing that could be in place to entice them, along with more people than the present set up attracts, to become paying punters. They are collateral damage. They are irrelevant and small in number.

What the Western Mail should be focussing on, were it interested in journalistic standards over maintaining its “close” relationship with the WRU, is how the financial differences between Irish and Welsh rugby has driven the game to where it is today. The starvation of the professional game by the WRU, combined with the threat of preventing the PRW from trading, has forced the game into the quality of squads we presently have in Wales. And, frankly put, there is not one supporter of a PRW team who wouldn’t want those squads to be stronger.

Therefore, the simple answer to bringing in more paying supporters is to ensure that the teams are strong enough to be competitive, entertaining and, ultimately, to win. That will bring in more paying supporters, as history proves, but when this is combined with a competition which also attracts the floating supporter then the professional game will grow further. All of which, of course, means money. The four should be able to brand as they see fit, to chase new income streams as they see fit, to control their broadcast contracts and, ultimately, to choose their own competitions.

Only when all of that is in place – combined with the market rate for supply to Team Wales – will our four be successful. And only then will people be enticed away from their sofa and free to air TV to actually buy a ticket.

2014-5: A Season’s Preview

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So much has changed since the end of last season and yet so much has remained the same. Whilst the WRU still block the progression of the professional game by underpaying for services from RRW and overpaying for services from Barclays Bank, the future of the professional game remains in the balance. Will Wales have proper professional teams or will they pay lip service to the idea that a strong professional game will ensure a strong international team? And, perhaps more importantly, who still actually cares? The impasse has gone on so long that many have just given up on it.

Add to that fact that we are still stuck in the ProSiambles league spawned by the dreadful Celtic Accord, things are looking gloomy. However, there is a shining light of hope that has been delivered by the appointment of Mark Hammett from New Zealand.  Let’s be honest, he has joined the club at the best possible time as it can only be onwards and upwards from the dreadful reign of Phil Davies but further hope was provided by his first signing being a new Strength and Conditioning Coach – Paul Downes.  We had banged on so often last year about the lack of physicality in the Cardiff team and how it was so negatively affecting the team, so the good news is that somebody else also had spotted this obvious fact.

But before we look into the future, we must first mention Owen Williams and his terrible accident.  “Stay Strong for Ows” is the caption and we all buy into that and wish him well for his future. We certainly hope to see him back at CAP some day soon.

Along with Hammett has come, so far, another couple of Kiwis – Jarrod Hoeata and Welshman Kiwi Gareth Anscombe.  The former is a player who will come in very useful if they can decide whether he is a lock or a blindside, the latter will probably spend more time with Team Wales than with Cardiff. Hoeata will land soon in Wales, but Anscombe won’t be here until the end of October.

The other key new signings (again, so far, as there are a number of non-Welsh spaces available) include Tavis Knoyle, George Watkins, Manoa Vosawai, Josh Turnbull, Craig Mitchell and some ex-Pontypridd players. In one way these signings offer a hope of improvement on last season because of the concentration on season-long available players but the lack of quality of signing means that there must be a number of new non-Welsh qualified signings to make up the shortfall.

To succeed at ProSiambles level requires the very basics of rugby – a simple but effective set piece, a good kicking game, players to get over the gain line and a consistency of selection. With the signings made over the summer (including the coaching staff) there is a hint that those basics could be in place. However, so many new signings means that time must be given and we probably won’t be seeing the “proper” Cardiff until about Christmas time, just before the best players leave to play International Rugby…….

That said, we should see an improvement on last season. We should see more games won (because of a better conditioned and more settled squad) and we should see a progression into the knockout stages of the European Mickey Mouse Cup as only London Irish stand in the way of that. The question is whether Cardiff will qualify for the proper competition through their finish in the ProSiambles, but it is too soon to judge that with so many new ingredients into the team. There’s righteous optimism in place, but it’s very cautious.

First Choice 23 (will it ever be seen?):

Anscombe, Cuthbert, Allen, Hewitt, Watkins, Patchell, Williams, Vosawai, Jenkins, Turnbull, Hoeata, Paulo, Mitchell, Rees, Jenkins

Filise, Dacey, Andrews, Reed, Navidi, Knoyle, Fish, Smith

Dogma or Financial Common Sense?

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The present stand off in Welsh rugby seems to be about what freedoms and rights four individual, privately owned, businesses have under the regulations of the IRB and the WRU. There is an enormous legal battle involved therein which is beyond the wit of most men, certainly me. My hope is that this dispute does reach the courts because we need rugby to modernise across Europe, in line with the law of our Continent and in line with modern business practices.

We have the owner of Toulon looking to challenge the rights of the IRB (especially Regulation 9 about player release for international windows and more) in the European Courts, so a challenge within the Courts of England and Wales as to whether Unions can block their clubs from playing wherever they like will be an interesting addition to that challenge.

However, we must hope that both parties in Wales have the same goal and that goal must be to have four strong professional teams who are able to compete on a cross border basis, aiming to compete with the much financially stronger French. If both sides have that goal then the difference is clearly on how to achieve it.

The Regions clearly want to choose the competitions they play in and to negotiate their own broadcast contracts. The reason for this is entirely obvious: clubs in France and England have this ability already and are significantly more successful in bringing in revenue than are the Celtic Unions. The figures prove this: the Pro12’s TV revenue for next season is (potentially, based on participation) about £9.5m a year across 10 teams. The French contract is approximately £60m across 14 teams, the English contract is approximately £27m across 12 teams.

Therefore, it is quite obvious as to why RRW want a piece of the English pie and not the Celtic pie. It is also reported that should there be an Anglo-Welsh league next season then that would be worth £4m a year to the RRW teams.

On top of that, we have on the table an offer for a Rugby Champions Cup which is to be broadcast by BT Sport and to be run by the participating clubs. This, according to RRW, is worth £1m more per year per team than the offer for a continuation of the Union controlled ERC tournament.

So, it is all about the money. And why not? This is professional sport, after all. The recent investigation into Welsh rugby by PWC indicated that the RRW teams must find ways to increase their income and this is exactly what they have done.

Now doesn’t this seem all well and good? Why would a Union have an issue with its member clubs acting this way as it is exactly how the French and English clubs act?

Well, the answer seems to be control. It seems as though the WRU is reluctant to allow the clubs to act that way as, under the Agreement they work to at the moment, all of the above work (competition choice and broadcast contract negotiation) is undertaken by the WRU. The easy dig at that belief is to note that the Unions have performed pretty poorly at both of those tasks as the Pro12 is neither popular with supporters nor financially attractive to broadcasters.

So is it just dogma that is preventing the Union allowing RRW to choose its own competitions and negotiate its own TV deals? Well, there are a few straw men arguments that go alongside this which must be considered. The first is that allowing RRW to act in this way will somehow undermine the amateur game in Wales or cause it financial difficulties. This is an argument that I find utterly alien as I don’t see how the amateur clubs are affected by whether the Ospreys play Leinster or Leicester. I’ve never seen a written coherent prose for this argument but it is often raised. The financial side of the concern is simply addressed by the WRU issuing a “tax” of a small percentage on any competition income generated by RRW.

The next straw man argument is that, by wishing to negotiate their own deals, RRW want to control the entire game in Wales. This is a particularly crazy argument as RRW teams have a difficult enough task running their own business so quite why they’d want to make that more difficult by being a controlling influence over the amateur game is beyond me. There is the thought that the RRW teams will want to be more involved in the pyramid of talent production but surely the only dissenting voices to that idea will be those at risk of losing their position of local influence.

The biggest straw man argument is that allowing RRW this freedom will negatively affect the Six Nations. This is a particularly large pile of nonsense. The simple truth is that the French have the purchasing power to attract whichever players they want, with the English getting the next best. This is already in place, it is happening and it will happen for years to come as both the English and French leagues have broadcast contracts in place for years to continue this trend.

Therefore, the best players from Ireland and Scotland will leave their countries regardless of whether RRW negotiate their own deals or not. The biggest risk to the Six Nations is the Toulon challenge of the IRB Regulation 9, not whether the Ospreys can raise their salary cap from £3.5m a year to £5m.

The only real argument to this issue is that the WRU signed up to a Pro12 contract which has a three year rolling notice term that is yet to be announced. There could be a significant charge to the WRU for not fulfilling its obligations to enter its best teams into the competition. However, the WRU is no position to do this because, if the RRW teams go rogue, it will need to enter its own teams which will clearly be inferior. So the other Unions (mostly the IRFU and SRU, as the Italians may leave the league anyway) choose to sue then the WRU seems powerless to prevent it. Alternatively, the WRU could back an AW league on the proviso that RRW teams play out the three remaining years of that Pro12 contract in return.

The benefit of this could be that the Welsh Premiership is freed of the clubs which own the regions, allowing that tier to be truly independent and competitive, whilst the RRW teams have a guaranteed “A” competition in the Pro12 so that talent is given game time.

Wales has already exported too much talent. There are already too many Welsh qualified players playing outside of Wales. If RRW ploughing their own furrow can both bring most of those players back whilst keeping most of our better players (noting that the French will always have the pick) then this is only a good thing for Welsh rugby.

So unless the WRU can negotiate contracts of the value that RRW are already being offered, their resistance to RRW acting this way can only be because of dogma, because of fear for the loss of their influence, because of the loss of £10m+ from the company turnover. There can be no other sensible defence.

For me, all parties benefit if RRW goes its own way. The WRU will be able to renegotiate an Agreement for player release rather than lose that ability altogether, more money will come into the game for the WRU to spend on its amateur arm and it will spend less time administering its professional arm. It’s only dogma and personality preventing this.

Tis the Season to Be Jolly

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As we enter what should be the most enjoyable and crucial part of the season, it is matters off the field which dominate thoughts more than the up coming derby games of the holiday season. Yet, in a strange way, the fight with the Union off the field has brought the four teams together to promote these derby matches better than ever before and it seems to be working as ticket sales are very good. We even have a sponsor for the games as Domino Pizza are putting up some cash – perfect for the couch potato follower of the game in Wales.

These upcoming games (Ospreys at home and then our friends to the East at both home and away) should be about finalising qualification positions for next season’s European competitions but, sadly, they will not be. Either all four of our teams will be playing some dreadful Pro12 Cup with a few disinterested French teams, or we’ll all happily be playing the English. The latter, please, for me.

However, there is still some bragging rights and pride to play for plus there’s a rumour that Gatland might actually watch some of them as Irish chat shows aren’t broadcasting over Christmas, so there may be some Six Nations squad places up for grabs.

The last two games have seen Cardiff knock Glasgow out of the European Cup and many are proclaiming that things have turned around since the bad times of the first half in Exeter. I’m not quite sure of this yet, however, as the Munster game proved that there is still a soft underbelly in this Cardiff team that can be attacked through close driving rugby. Glasgow, thankfully, barely played that way in either game but they did have some success at it when they tried it.

I think that it is pretty obvious that both Newport and the Ospreys will know how to beat Cardiff. First up, the Ospreys will rumble it up the park, play for territory and bring their centres back close to the back row. They will play off their scrum half, bring runners on the ball and Tipuric will have a field day as Warburton is still carrying a book signing injury. This will be a real test for Cardiff and a true measurement of how McIntosh has improved things since Exeter. The potential strength of the Ospreys pack, even if it is missing Hibbard and Adam Jones, should see the visitors win by more than a converted try if they play that way.

Newport GD, on the other hand, don’t really have the pack to do that. They don’t have the ball carrying options or the talent or togetherness to drive consistently close to the breakdown in order to create the gaps in the defensive line. The games against this lot, both home and away, will likely be a lesson in madness, in unstructured play and in indiscipline, to the point where the games will likely be won by individual talent and goal kicking (the latter being referee dependent).

The game at home will be labelled “entertaining” as the surface will allow a chuckabout and, potentially, something of a point fest. Cardiff really should be winning both games but the injury list will mean that the workload on the players of the last few weeks will catch up with them for the away game. In other words, this series is likely to end one all.

The shame is that these series of games aren’t as important as they should be and, hopefully, aren’t as meaningful as they will be next season.

Years of decline and wasted time….

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It wasn’t so long ago that Cardiff were thrown out of competing in the Welsh League because the club refused to sign a long term agreement with the WRU. This was at a time when professionalism was new to the game and some of the clubs were fighting the Unions for control of the game, it’s assets and it’s future.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

This week we have heard from Nigel Wray, the Saracens Chairman, that the Welsh teams should join the Aviva Premiership which is remarkably similar to what happened when Cardiff (and Swansea) were thrown out of the Welsh League. They had campaigned for the Welsh clubs to go with the English clubs and won an agreement for a year long competition, after the Rebel Season had finished, for four Welsh clubs to play in such a competition. That year was to be spent with all four parties (the RFU, the WRU, the Welsh clubs and the English clubs) sorting out the future of the competition in terms of ownership, income generation and the distribution of that income to the participants.

Cardiff had put Welsh rugby on the front foot with these negotiations and Peter Thomas was leading the way, but the fight was won by Vernon Pugh and Glanmor Griffiths of the WRU. They blocked the tournament, Cardiff and Swansea lost their bottle and we have been subjected to over a decade of dreadful Celtic rugby ever since.

Of course, there was a backlash within Wales. The minor clubs were up in arms and the tail wagged the dog. We have seen the myth of “regional rugby” imposed and now we see the domestic game dying in Welsh rugby.

The loss of the HEC next season will leave a hole of £5.5m into the professional game in Wales. The HEC generates almost as much for the four teams (yes, the Newport GD get an equal share despite not playing in the competition) as does the International game. This is a key point: what the WRU pays for access to the players is only slightly more (£6m) than the HEC pays just for playing in the competition. That £5.5m is before gate receipts and match day takings, of course, so it is pretty obvious that the HEC generates MORE for the professional game in Wales. In the unlikely event that one of the three teams get to the knockout stages then all of the prize money (and it is substantial) that they earn is then theirs.

The key part of that £6m from the WRU is that it is for access to players outside of the IRB window. For those who think that the professional game in Wales either doesn’t need that access or will be able to negotiate it from other club organisations, you have to wonder why a Union would do that instead of ensuring its own domestic supply chain is strong AND you have to wonder if the Union would be able to pay the demands of those foreign club organisations. Once the players are lost from playing in Wales then the access to them is much more difficult and, potentially, much more expensive.

So that’s the scene we now have in Welsh rugby. Over a decade ago, the clubs had the opportunity to lead their destiny but now they are solely reliant on others doing that for them. Do the clubs side with the WRU and be subservient forever with no change of making the business pay, or do they push to side with the clubs and face another Union / Minor clubs backlash?

Cardiff used to be good. They used to be a top team. They used to be leading these negotiations and, at one point, the Chief Executive of Cardiff was a board member of the organisation that ran the English club game. Nowadays, however, Cardiff lose at home to the worst professional team in Europe. Nowadays, Cardiff are reliant on old favours and memories for a place at the top table in European rugby.

And the irony for the regionalists is that what could allow Welsh professional rugby to survive is the relationships built up well before 2003, whilst the time spent since 2003 has been navel gazing to appease the Villagers instead of pushing forward the professional game.

The decline of a once Great Club

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It wasn’t so long ago that Cardiff were thrown out of competing in the Welsh League because the club refused to sign a long term agreement with the WRU. This was at a time when professionalism was new to the game and some of the clubs were fighting the Unions for control of the game, it’s assets and it’s future. Doesn’t that sound familiar? This week we have heard from Nigel Wray, the Saracens Chairman, that the Welsh teams should join the Aviva Premiership (http://www.espn.co.uk/premiership-2013-14/rugby/story/198553.html) which is remarkably similar to what happened when Cardiff (and Swansea) were thrown out of the Welsh League. They had campaigned for the Welsh clubs to go with the English clubs and won an agreement for a year long competition, after the Rebel Season had finished, for four Welsh clubs to play in such a competition. That year was to be spent with all four parties (the RFU, the WRU, the Welsh clubs and the English clubs) sorting out the future of the competition in terms of ownership, income generation and the distribution of that income to the participants. Cardiff had put Welsh rugby on the front foot with these negotiations and Peter Thomas was leading the way, but the fight was won by Vernon Pugh and Glanmor Griffiths of the WRU. They blocked the tournament, Cardiff and Swansea lost their bottle and we have been subjected to over a decade of dreadful Celtic rugby ever since. Of course, there was a backlash within Wales. The minor clubs were up in arms and the tail wagged the dog. We have seen the myth of “regional rugby” imposed and now we see the domestic game dying in Welsh rugby. The loss of the HEC next season will leave a hole of £5.5m into the professional game in Wales. The HEC generates almost as much for the four teams (yes, the Newport GD get an equal share despite not playing in the competition) as does the International game. This is a key point: what the WRU pays for access to the players is only slightly more (£6m) than the HEC pays just for playing in the competition. That £5.5m is before gate receipts and match day takings, of course, so it is pretty obvious that the HEC generates MORE for the professional game in Wales. In the unlikely event that one of the three teams get to the knockout stages then all of the prize money (and it is substantial) that they earn is then theirs. The key part of that £6m from the WRU is that it is for access to players outside of the IRB window. For those who think that the professional game in Wales either doesn’t need that access or will be able to negotiate it from other club organisations, you have to wonder why a Union would do that instead of ensuring its own domestic supply chain is strong AND you have to wonder if the Union would be able to pay the demands of those foreign club organisations. Once the players are lost from playing in Wales then the access to them is much more difficult and, potentially, much more expensive. So that’s the scene we now have in Welsh rugby. Over a decade ago, the clubs had the opportunity to lead their destiny but now they are solely reliant on others doing that for them. Do the clubs side with the WRU and be subservient forever with no change of making the business pay, or do they push to side with the clubs and face another Union / Minor clubs backlash? Cardiff used to be good. They used to be a top team. They used to be leading these negotiations and, at one point, the Chief Executive of Cardiff was a board member of the organisation that ran the English club game. Nowadays, however, Cardiff lose at home to the worst professional team in Europe. Nowadays, Cardiff are reliant on old favours and memories for a place at the top table in European rugby. And the irony for the regionalists is that what could allow Welsh professional rugby to survive is the relationships built up well before 2003, whilst the time spent since 2003 has been navel gazing to appease the Villagers instead of pushing forward the professional game.

A Return……

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Although we’re starting slowly, Tom and I have decided to relaunchhttp://www.cardiffrfcfans.co.uk

Tom has worked hard over the last few months to get everything back up and running, making sure that all of the old links and match reports are there for all to see.

We hope to keep the site up to date over the coming seasons and would always welcome feedback of (nearly) all kinds, so much so that there is now a forum on the site.

So, please have a scout around and get in touch if it tickles your fancy

http://www.cardiffrfcfans.co.uk

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