Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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.

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

Congratulations to the Noisy Neighbours

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In many ways, this season’s success for Pontypridd RFC is the blueprint for all non-professional clubs in Wales to follow. The positives that come from a well-deserved double this season are numerous and should be the aim for all Welsh Premiership (bar those who own professional teams) and lower league clubs, but so should be how PRFC are looking to build on that success.

For me, the key to the success of PRFC this season is stability based on the coaching setup and the “in house” method of those who understand the club being in the key positions which control both the on and off field matters. By that, I mean that they have proper club men in charge of all aspects of the club, men who love the club and see the club as “theirs”. This is vital at this level of rugby.

The two leading lights in this regard are obviously the Coaches – MacIntosh and John (plus Gareth Wyatt). Both have worn the PRFC shirt, both are ingrained in the Club and the Club’s history, both understand what PRFC is, what it represents and how its players should view playing for the club. From this strong base they can recruit players who fit the mould, who will contribute to the team ethic and who will play for the club. It is a club which tried mercenaries in the past and failed with them, for good reason. To play for PRFC, you have to understand PRFC.

It goes beyond the coaches and the players, however. The Team Manager (Richard Langmead) played for the club, the club’s Conditioning Coach (Darren Bool) played for the club in his youth days. The club runs a junior section from u7s to u16s and then into a Youth team. The Board of Directors are led by those who have been part of the club for decades and they have seen the sense to further expand the business which runs the club by encouraging supporters to buy further shares in the business. This will allow them to become more involved with their club, to “belong” even more.

Local sponsors have been found to help support the club as they are happy to be aligned with what PRFC stands for. They want their companies associated with those values and they pay accordingly. It is a community spirit.

PRFC is a family and families stick together at all times.

This togetherness is the model for community clubs. PRFC aims to be at the centre of the community, the focal point for the town and something for the town to be proud of. This model (although I would prefer an I&PS than a Limited Company as the ownership model, but that is a minor complaint) is something that all Town and Village Clubs throughout Wales should follow. There is a continuity, an identity, a value and a spirit than passes down generations and ensures longevity.

Now, however, comes the negative. The strength of PRFC and its ability to flourish as a semi professional club is not translatable to a higher level of rugby. It is the perfect set up for club rugby in Wales but that is its plateau and it should not try to push beyond that.

To compete as a professional club requires access to millions of pounds worth of funds, huge sponsorship deals and a love of money. Money is key at the professional level. Without money a team will simply not survive, let alone be in a position to compete in cross border competition. The present four Welsh professional teams are struggling on this stage with wage bills of £3.5m (let’s remind ourselves that both HEC Cup Finalists had salary caps of €8.7m as a comparison) and there is no way that a professional PRFC would generate enough income to have a cap anywhere near even £3.5m. The infrastructure in its community simply isn’t there.

It is a shame that PRFC voiced its public support for Valleys Rugby as I believe that VR could easily kill off PRFC as we know it. The time and finances simply are not there in this community to support both teams, plus the business plan of Valleys Rugby tried to kid its supporters that it could compete at cross border level with a salary bill of just £1.7m. That means that they would be twice as bad as the four Welsh teams currently are.

I’d urge PRFC and its supporters to ditch Valleys Rugby and to concentrate on themselves. I applaud their performances this year, I urge them to concentrate further on strengthening that family of players to be able to compete in their own HEC – the British & Irish Cup. They have the potential to position themselves as the Premier “Club” in Wales and beyond.

It is a family that doesn’t need professional rugby in order to survive and grow. In fact, I’d argue that history tells us that professional rugby is bad for this Club so it should concentrate on what it does best and continuing to do that as it bloody well can.

BOSS It!

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Pontypridd RFC are developing a share scheme that will allow further investment into their club and for this they should be applauded. Instead of asking Supporters and Followers for the up front purchase price of £50 a share, these can now be paid for monthly at £10 per month. Every five months a new share certificate is issued to that subscriber.

Obviously there is some devil in the detail here but that is for individuals to find for themselves. What if somebody pays for four months but not five? Do they get their £40 back or what happens to it? Minor issues that should not detract from the point in hand.

All rugby clubs should be encouraged (forced? how?) to allow supporters to purchase shares in similar ways as supporter ownership is vital.

The long term success of a sports organisation is dependent upon taking supporters with them and we have the prime example of this under our noses in Cardiff. Have the change to red from blue seen empty seats at the Soccer stadium then Mr Tan would have had to back down. As it was, supporters took the pill for his investment and are now seeing the rewards.

The next part for Pontypridd must be to form a Supporters’ Trust. Not every fan has £120 spare per year to buy just a couple of shares so a large group of them coming together is the best way forward to ensure representation for all Supporters, regardless of disposable income.

Supporters’ Trusts are set up as Industrial & Provident Societies, with one member one vote being the crucial element in their formation. All are equal. All have one vote. If the Pontypridd supporters really want a democratic Supporter owned club then the only route to take is to go through a Trust.

That way will also allow Ponty Rugby to be owned by an I&PS, which allows it to then become eligible for grant funding for numerous organisations. This way, Ponty Rugby truly becomes the hub of its community.

And I urge ALL non-professional rugby clubs in Wales to go this route.

What is there to support?

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There are many different reasons as to why an individual chooses to “support” a sports team, ranging from location / parental influence / a favourite player / they like the kit. In the Welsh media at the moment there seems to be a desire to show that the popularity of soccer, plus having two top flight soccer teams, will somehow negatively affect the support of our professional rugby game. But will it? Is soccer the biggest danger to support at professional level or could it be something else? For me, it is rugby’s ability to eat itself that is a greater danger. Soccer has always been popular in South Wales and it is pretty clear now that it is the most popular team sport in Wales for support and player numbers. And I think that it has been for some time, well before Swansea entered the Premiership. With the wall to wall media coverage of the sport and the well known wages on offer, it has always been the choice of sport for most youngsters in Wales. Having Cardiff City in the Premiership won’t affect that. Rugby will always have its place in Welsh society, especially outside of the cities of Cardiff and Swansea, but that is no reason for it to be lazy. It faces increases challenges from all leisure activities, not just soccer, in its race for customers so it has to offer something at the professional (not international) level to get people through the door. This leads us to the question of why anybody should support (by that I mean pay for tickets) any of the four professional rugby teams in Wales. Our friends in the media would have us believe that support should follow “regional lines”. In other words, if you live in Bridgend or follow Bridgend RFC then you “should” be an Ospreys supporter too. If you live in Pontypool then it is the Dragons for you and so on. For me, this is an utterly nonsense argument that ignores freedom of choice, ignores the fact that South Wales is tiny geographically and is further confused by the ease of movement along the M4 corridor. So, Mr Western Mail, what if our “supporter” in question is a 30 year old single lady who was born and raised in Pembrokeshire, went to University in Swansea, works in Cardiff and lives in Cwmbran. Which is her team? Ultimately, the answer is the same answer as it is for everybody else in Wales: her team is who she chooses her team to be. Where she lives, where she works, where she was born are all irrelevant as South Wales is too small to exclude any of the four teams from her support. This is not the same in Ireland. Dublin to Belfast takes close to 2 hours, Dublin to Galway 3 hours, Munster is significantly bigger than the whole of Wales. These are major reason as to why looking at Ireland for a supporter led “regional model” is not a sensible thing to do. In this example, our 30 year old lady could finish work on a Friday evening in Cardiff and make any of the four home grounds by the BBC imposed kick off time of 7.05pm. She couldn’t do that in Ireland without a helicopter. This is why the obsession with branding and the removal of “club names” is a total red herring argument in Welsh rugby. Each of the four should be free to brand themselves as they choose so that they can best maximise their income, rather than pander to some media led nonsense about support lines. If the Newport Gwent Dragons earn more sponsorship (and retail income, if that is what they think) by using that brand then media should respect that and use the proper name. Ditto the other three. The obvious example here is Cardiff. In terms of rugby heritage, that brand is so strong (if not for the other brand alignment of it being Wales’ capital city) that to dilute it would be (and has been) commercial suicide. At this point it is worth remembering that a good commercial sponsor is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. A retail punter is worth about £100. Professional rugby is a bottom line driven venture that must be about maximising income. It is not a community based social inclusion project that is designed to “be available for all” and “exclude nobody”. We don’t have the geographical brands in Wales (because it is so bloody small) to be able to maximise income and maximise inclusion. So how else can our four attract paying spectators through the gate? Well, I’d say that they were doing a pretty good job of it already when you consider their trading conditions. They are not at all in control of the product: they cannot control who they play against, they cannot control their fixture lists, they cannot control their broadcast contracts, they cannot control when their better home grown stars are available to play for them! Yet, three of them still average close to 8,000 crowds. But do they get any praise for this from the Welsh press? No. Which is incredible in itself, but becomes understandable when you realise that the press will not rock the boat which causes the market conditions our four have to trade in. So can more be done to attract support? Obviously, it can. The best way to do this is to be successful as supporters want to follow winners. It’s not about glory hunting, as such, but about wanting the support emotions to ultimately be happy. If we are to invest our time, money and emotions into our sports team then we must expect value in all three and this is how the Ospreys stole a march on the other three some years ago. Good players, “names” that the kids want to see play and be associated with, will attract supporters from wherever. It’s easy to get to the Liberty off the M4, which means that it is easy to get to from wherever in South Wales. The problem from now on is not soccer taking away the existing support base but that support base not getting value from the investment of time, money and emotion. With belts being tightened and the “names” players leaving, what is the incentive to stay on supporting these teams? Why peg it to the grounds for these TV driven kick off times to see sub-standard players delivering poor quality rugby. It’s cheaper and easier to watch it at home. This is how rugby could eat itself. With the talent drain from the professional sides negatively affecting the quality of play, with the knock on effect of our teams losing more often, then it is more and more likely that support will simply drain away to its sofa to watch the game. It won’t leave the game for soccer, but it will leave the game for the sofa. And this won’t just be a problem for the four professional teams. As the WRU loses control over its top players when they move outside of Wales, the fitness levels of these players will be lower when entering the international season and results will suffer, as we know how much emphasis on fitness is key to Gatland’s (and Howley’s) way. In other words, for the sake of the professional game as a whole and in order to keep the present level of support, this top level impasse over finances needs to be broken. The best Welsh players must play in Wales, top overseas players must be attracted and the fixture list amended, or it won’t be soccer killing rugby in Wales but it will be Roger Lewis doing it.

Sink or Swim

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Lewis has gone on record with his opinion (and, at this moment, it is only his unless I’ve missed Pickering’s public approval of that stance) that the WRU should run the entire professional game in Wales.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/20836386

This is quite a claim as there is no infrastructure in place at the WRU to run four additional teams and there doesn’t seem to be a model already in place in any other country for such a North Korean style of set up. In Union “controlled” nations like Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand, each of their teams has its own management structure in a “devolved” manner, but that doesn’t seem to be what Lewis wants.

At the moment, all four of our professional teams have “helpful” ground usage deals. Llanelli paid c.£8m up front for a 99 year lease, the Ospreys make a mint out of their shareholding in the company which runs the Liberty and the other two play at the grounds of their club owners for, basically, a peppercorn rent. But if the WRU owned and ran each of the four teams then I’m pretty sure those ground rents would rise and if you want to see what happens to a rugby club who just rent a ground for matchdays then don’t forget the shambles of the Cardiff City Stadium.

On top of those ground rental deals, the WRU would have to meet all of the staff costs for players and coaches. And then, on top of that, there would need to be something of a centralised administration process if not four separate Managing Directors of each of the four teams.

How does Lewis think that the WRU could afford that on the present figure of c.£15m that is “paid” out of Union “funds” to the four teams? Of course, the WRU would also receive the income through match tickets and sponsorship, but if the four cannot make money out of the present set up then how does Lewis think that the WRU will manage to?

These, of course, are questions that our National Media should be asking of Lewis but, as the link above shows, it was an English broadsheet which carried the story. Lewis has stated that there is no additional money on the table to meet the obvious needs of the professional game, so he must think that he can run the entire game from a central office in Cardiff on a sum of approximately £20m. And at this point, it’s worth remembering that the salary cap in England is approximately £5m for playing staff alone. In France, the cap is over €8m.

All I can see from Lewis is an agenda of disruption to our professional game as he strives to drive away the necessary private finance that should be there to fund growth. Instead of trying to produce a marketplace which allows the four to grow their income through fair use of their best assets, he strangles their income earning potential by overuse of their assets without fair recompense.

The ONLY way Wales will continue to challenge in cross border competitions is if our four teams increase their income to the point where they can retain those top players who want to stay in Wales and to the point where they can again attract talent like Percy Montgomery instead of Jamie Smith, Xavier Rush instead of Robin Copeland, Marty Holah instead of George Stowers and Deacon Manu.

Lewis has created, instead, an environment of ever decreasing returns and ever increasing costs. In the Union’s defence, they have compensated the four with £600k each in order to minimise the playing of non-Welsh players, but that is the only fair thing that I can see out of the last Participation Agreement.

Now is the time for Lewis to be smart instead of an egotist. He should cut the four free, allow them to sign their own broadcast deals, allow them to sign up to their own competitions and to control their own income streams. We need to rid ourselves of the summer test and of the fourth AI. He needs to allow the four to stand on their own two (eight?) feet to see if they sink or swim.

And if they sink, he can step in and take over that side…..

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