A normal Welsh rugby civil war takes 6 to 9 months to play out. We saw this in 1996, we saw it in 1999 (when it took a little longer) and we saw it again in 2002-3. The Union lost the first one (who controled the players when professional rugby started) but won the next two (the crazy decision to block an Anglo-Welsh league and an equally crazy decision to go “Regional”). Are they on for a hat trick?
I’d say so. Roger Lewis has the cards stacked heavily in his favour: the media won’t rock the boat with the WRU so the tone of the reporting of the present issues is weighted, the Participation Agreement ends next year but it can, at the wish of the four pro teams, roll over until 2019 which means that they will be skint until that point before he’ll try to close them again.
In return, the Pro teams (let’s forget calling them “regions” as they may not even carry that brand for much longer) have the players and a link to the English clubs. Back in 2002-3, we saw the Unity that club owners will show when the French and the English backed the Rebel Season and backed the “placing” of Cardiff and Swansea into the HEC once they were allowed to play in Wales again (it’s often thought that they turned their back on Welsh rugby during that year but that’s another Welsh rugby myth. They refused to sign the Loyalty Agreement, wanted to play their fixture list in Wales with “second teams” but were thrown out of the competition by the WRU. Only at S4C’s insistance were they allowed to play in the Cup. So this is just a nice example of how the WRU has always controlled the Welsh press).
Lewis has gone public with his desire to fully control the professional game in Wales. He has blocked the attempts of the pro teams to generate their own income, he has misled the Welsh public on how the finances work in the game (and has had the press on his side to do this, bar one Week In, Week Out BBC Wales TV show) and he has the Golden Goose of the sparkly Cowboy hat wearers willing to pay £70 to shout “Give it to Shane” whilst the bloke in the row in front goes for another beer at the Millennium Stadium.
So, in fairness to Lewis and in his defence, we know what he wants. And it’s pretty clear on how he is going about getting it – starving the pro teams of income so that they are financially struggling and entering a downward spiral akin to what we have seen at Newport Gwent Dragons since 2004. I say good on Mr Lewis, if that’s what he wants and that is what he is employed to deliver. I think that he is killing the game in doing so but he’s only doing his job.
But what about the other lot, what are they fighting for? Does anybody know? What do they want as an end game? We’ve seen snippets in the press from Hore, we’ve had Gallacher commenting on talks about working with PRL. But is that it?
The four have a representative body called Regional Rugby Wales – RRW. This body has no website, has only Gallacher as a spokesperson and is clearly not on the front foot in telling the supporters of the four teams what the hell is going on. This is, for me, more unprofessional than telling PWC to bog off when they asked for a business plan.
Now is the time for RRW to tell us what they want, how they are going to get it and just what benefits that will bring for Welsh rugby. They need a full time spokesperson, full time staff and a bloody good marketing campaign that some will get behind it. At the moment there is a huge anti-WRU stance but it is impossible to be pro-RRW as they won’t tell us that they are fighting for.
It is not beyond the wit of those involved, or their resources, to employ a strategist to lead the organisation. If they choose wisely then a recently retired ex-international with good media skills could win RRW a lot of friends and with friends comes influence. That man, call him Gethin Rhys Williams (for example), needs to be on the television every day informing us of what is going on.
That man needs to be in videos on their website telling us what RRW wants, what they stand for, what benefits it will bring and how they will get it. Even Valleys Rugby managed to do that little.
There is a huge car crash in European rugby just 12 months away as the HEC ends, or at least potentially ends. It could be civil war time but the English and French clubs have already got their message sorted and have already got their supporters on side.
In Wales, we have a carpet salesman up against the National Media. How bloody villagist.