Category Archives: Money and Finances

Cash, and plenty of it.

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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cart before the horse650

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

What to do, Roger?

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What to do, Roger?

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:

Regional Responsibility

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.

Conclusion:

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……

Complacency

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Cardiff have a long tradition of failing to perform in Europe, and the recent defeat at Headingly was very much part of this tradition. And it really is the performance that fans endure – not the loss. The famous capitulation at Gloucester five years ago mirrored the performance against Leeds as a shambolic ramble took the pitch and put in one of the most feeble and half-hearted performances you are ever likely to see.

The defeat at Biarritz two years ago was by a team hugely superior in every facet. Cardiff – by contrast – were a mixture of youngsters struggling manfully to compete. The best coach in the world could have been leading that squad and he would have struggled.

But the performance on Saturday was all the more dreadful given the abject weakness of the opposition. Leeds are heading for English rugby’s second division. None of the back row – Parkes, Thomas and Morgan – would get in a Welsh professional team and their mixture of has-been Scots with overpaid southern hemisphere geriatrics feeding their pension funds are consistently walloped in the Guiness Premiership. There is simply no comparison with the Gloucester team of 2001 and the Biarritz team of 2003.

Historical Perspective

The inability to learn from previous mistakes and to react is a classic indicator either ineptitude or complacency. This is the third major game in as many matches where Young has failed to coach his players to improve their performance at the breakdown. Against Llanelli, Perpignan and now Leeds, a failure to commit players to the breakdown gifts the opposition the ball. Not too long ago, Cardiff were leaking penalties at this facet of play, but now Young’s coaching has gone too far the other way. What’s the best way to stop giving penalties? Don’t compete!

We’re just not good enough

So why is that then Dai? Is it because the players aren’t good enough, the team isn’t good enough or the coaching staff isn’t good enough? Let’s start with the pack. Well, four of the pack that played against Leeds are likely to start against England – TRT, Sidoli, Williams and Gethin. Three of this quartet featured in the team that defeated Australia. So, Dai, are you trying to tell us that the Leeds pack is better than the Australian pack?

So the team isn’t good enough? You mean as individuals or as a unit? Well, as fans have rarely seen the individuals playing as a unit, then it’s difficult to comment. Unit skills against Leeds were dreadful. The lineout was a shambles and back play haphazard and lacking in any tactical variation. Sure Cardiff weren’t good enough – any fool can read the scoreboard! The question is “why”?

The ability to perform on the day

No supporter complains when the team is beaten by better opponents. When Cardiff lost at Wasps, sure people were unhappy about the manner of victory, but few of us seriously expected a win. But what makes supporter fume is a lack of application and commitment – some call is passion – on the day. For the Headingly game, there must have been around 1,000 Cardiff supporters in the ground. Most would have traveled up from Cardiff – a round trip of 700 miles. Some came on the supporters bus, others in minibuses, and some with their kids. Now taking your kids for nine hours in a car on a Sunday isn’t an easy commitment! Then there’s the money spent on petrol, tickets – accommodation in some cases – food, entertaining the kids. All this takes more than a little application and commitment.

Supporters have every right to ask whether the players on the pitch showed sufficient application and commitment.

Frankly speaking, the collective commitment on Sunday was insulting. The team lacked hunger and aggression as a unit. Their commitment to the tackle was dreadful – most players waiting for the ball carrier to hit them, rather than to attack the ball carrier. There was no sense of urgency to support the ball carrier on the few occasions when Cardiff did go forward.

The way teams chase kicks is often a very good way to judge the professionalism and application of a side. This is a skill you can teach kids – it’s not inherently difficult but a good benchmark for how the team is working together. Good sides chase the kick in a line across the pitch, but throughout the game Cardiff simply failed to work together. The kicker and Powell were often the only two in a dog leg attempt at defence that was easily beaten. There are very few clearer examples of the poor discipline and lack of mental application within the team than this simple skill.

Lack of ambition at the club

“I’m certainly not going to get rid of him Dai Young. We are damn lucky to have him”

Cardiff chairman, Peter Thomas saying that Young is the best he can get

Let’s try and ignore the propaganda that’s pumped out from Thomson House and Llandaff, and look at what ambition the club has. When Peter Thomas says Young won’t get the sack, that means he believes Young is the best they can get. He believes that Young is getting the best out of the players, the team is coached well and Young’s team of coaches are best of the club

Sure Thomas can talk about signing better players and we’d all like to see that, but a coach’s job is to get the best our of the players he has. Can anyone say that Young did that at Headingly?

Clearly Thomas and Young believe that this is the best we can hope for. They look for excuses at every opportunity – and their not alone in this, by the way. Lyn Jones and Paul Turner are full of excuses. Blame every one else other than your own failure to deliver. So Thomas and Young think the only way to improve things is to sign better players.

But isn’t real ambition about pushing players to perform? Isn’t it about challenging existing players to improve? Sure they will come up against better individuals, but shouldn’t the team – as a unit – be able to defeat oppositions who play as individuals?

Dai Young – Peter Thomas

poodle

Why does Thomas defend Young’s inadequacies so vehemently? Clearly that is because Young is the sort of coach that Thomas wants. Now why would that be? Young is everything Thomas wants in a coach – he never complains about a lack of support in the press, he’s happy to let other board members dabble in the signing of players, his placid persona fits exactly with Thomas’ ego. Thomas does not want another coach at CAP because any strong minded leader would clearly challenge Thomas’ position.

Coaches want the best players to work with and build the team. So let’s look at what’s happening at CAP on the player/recruitment side. You may think that the signing of Lomu was commercial genius but that was not down to anything actively done by Cardiff RFC, let alone Young as coach. The Lomu deal was set up by Steve Hansen – Peter Thomas was on a golf course at the time and knew nothing about it! Hansen called Norster and offered him the deal – all the club had to do was sign.

Lee Thomas’ imminent move to Sale comes as a direct failure of the club to recognize his talent over the grossly ineffective Macleod. Against Gloucester last season, Thomas showed his potential and more importantly his mental toughness. He underlined that again against Leeds with the best performance of any of the back line. But players with mental toughness are not what the coach wants – more poodles please!

Quinnell is not being offered another contract for next season. So yet another player with a passion for the club and a hard edge so sorely lacking in the pack. Hence Young’s failure to give the big man a start this season and hence why Cardiff are so often overpowered in the maul.

The signing of Matthew J Watkins – not a bad player – is another mystery. Players get touted around the clubs in an effort to boost their salaries – as happened with Stephen Jones – but surely the coach should be making a shopping list of what he needs, not allowing Norster to sign up players just because they become available?

The Future

Perhaps the expectations of fans always outweighs the reality of clubs to deliver, but in this case the fans are clearly getting short changed. We don’t expect a squad of word class players, but we expect the squad to improve on their weakness, approach every game with a self belief that anything can happen on the day and play their hearts out on the pitch.

We fans know the limitations of the present squad. We can also see the cliques emerging which means players like Lee Thomas have no option but to leave the club having suffered the public humiliation of being told that Macleod is a better player than he. But we also know that Leeds are a poor side – Llanelli stuffed them and they are at the bottom of the league …. that is no accident.

Players at Cardiff are underachieving – ignore what Young says about not being in the top eight in Europe. What counts is the performance on the day – defeating Leeds – not whether Cardiff should be in the top eight. At Headingly, the selection was wrong, the performance abysmal and the application dreadful.

Talk is of the players working hard, but clearly not enough of that is happening on the pitch! Young players like Czekaj and Macleod are simply not improving at the necessary rate. Others – like Nick Robinson – are betraying mental weakness which reflects the complacency at the club. Players are being sheltered instead of being toughened by the club. This can be the only explanation for insulting away performances which mock the efforts made by so many supporters.

And this is the biggest problem Cardiff face – the lack of professionalism of the players.

This stems from the culture at the club where a weak coach is protected by a dabbling multi-millionaire who keeps his money in his back pocket. What the club needs is a coach who is far far tougher and far more demanding of his players. What sort of message does it send out when Young says Cardiff are not good enough to compete with the top eight in Europe? Are Leeds in the top eight??

Will Dai Young be coach next season? Too right he will!

Discredited

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Back in October, Tom took a look at the failing Celtic League and asked whether we are anywhere near to reaching viable attendance figures based on Dai Moffett’s target of 8,000. The conclusion then was that gates had actually fallen since the days of the village league, when a well funded Newport were regularly attracting over 6,000 per game, the pre-amalgimated Swanseas and Neath were both attracting over 4,000 and Cardiff’s home gates were not far from those enjoyed at Dave Parade.

Two seasons into the Celtic League, have things improved? Uh, no. We are still along way from the 8,000 figure. But all credit to Dai, at least he’s admited his mistake and is now finally trying to get some involvement with the English teams – something the WRU refused to do in the past when they had a golden opportunity to buy into the English market and grow Welsh rugby.

All the data used to calculate the figures below comes directly from the Celtic League web site – don’t believe the figures? Work it out for yourselves.

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