European Nightmare

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As the disjointed and heavily disrupted Celtic League season draws to a close, all Cardiff supporters will be frantically trying to work out what is going to happen at the end of the season.

What is perhaps even more bewildering, is that players are signing extensions to their contracts without the certainty of in what competition they will be playing next season.

If current form continues, there is a real danger than Cardiff could fail to qualify as of right for next season’s European Cup. Worse still, could fail to qualify for a play off place against the third Italian side.

Next year’s European Cup

For the 2005 / 2006 season, the 24th place will go to the winners of a play-off between the highest placed non-Heineken Cup qualifying team from Scotland, Ireland or Wales in the 2004 / 2005 Celtic League and the third-placed side in the 2004 / 2005 Italian Championship. This game will be played the weekend after the 2005 Heineken Cup final at a venue in Italy.

With the final of the European Cup to be played at Murrayfield on Sunday 22 May, the Italian game will be on the weekend of 29th May – the week of Whitsun Bank Holiday. In a further twist, this will be a week before Wales’ game against Canada, and the week before the Lions opening game against the Bay of Plenty. Could be an interesting tug of war over a number of players – Martyn Williams and possibly Shanklin and Gethin Jenkins in New Zealand, and a whole host of others in Canada. Will Ruddock try to force players to rest? If he does, and Cardiff comply, then the team playing in Italy could be seriously weakened to the point of rendering them underdogs.

Italian Club sides
Treviso
Viadana
Calvisano
SKG Gran Rugby
Catania
Rovigo
Parma
Padova
Leonessa

The best Cardiff can realistically hope for this season is to qualify for this play off game (over the season, the table doesn’t lie and if that’s where Cardiff finish, then they don’t deserve better). The latest status in Italy’s Super 10 competition shows Calvisano in third place. But the competition is only half completed and there are nine more games to play. Should we start planning a trip to Italy? Well, Calvisano play at Brescia – between Milan and Verona. Ryan Air fly to Brescia pretty regularly from Stanstead – that’s the good news. The bad news is that we won’t even know who Cardiff will play until mid May – so how do we organize our flights?

Should Calvisano (or the team who finally finishes third in Italy) face the game on the weekend of the 29th May, then they will benefit from fixtures right up to the weekend of the qualifying game. Moffett and the WRU have failed to provide a fixture list that will give the bottom finishing Welsh team such a luxury. Should Cardiff fail to qualify for the Celtic Cup competition, they will play their last fixture six weeks before the Italian game.

If Cardiff can reach 8th place in the Celtic League, they will play the first game of the Celtic Cup on the last weekend of April – still one month before the play off game.

The run in

The next home fixture will be against Munster, and like far too many games this season, the policy of the respective Unions is the first thing to consider when trying to predict the result. Will either club be allowed to field their best XV? Last season, Munster were thrashed 60-14 at CAP, but earlier this season Changalang-supported Munster gave Cardiff a going over. The only good news for Cardiff is that with such a big gap in the fixture list, there’s an opportunity for the walking wounded to recover. Next up is a trip to Stradey. Cardiff have won only once in Stradey since September 30th 1995 (but what a victory!)

With only one victory away from home all season, it’s unlikely that Cardiff will win in Glasgow either (where they’ve at least one twice in the last five years), but the final two games should see maximum points with near to a first XV available.

Given the state of the league table, Cardiff’s best hope is to catch Connacht – Ulster are too far ahead, as are Llanelli. There are two key Connacht fixtures approaching – one against Llanelli and one against Leinster. But once more it seems that the Union will have final say over the competition. With the Leinster game mid-Six Nations, it seems likely that Leinster will be forced to face their second XV and given their lack of strength in depth, Connacht should win this game. Should they gain victory against Llanelli and Leinster, it seems unlikely that Cardiff will quality for that game on the weekend of May 29th.

For the club to finish 8th, they must finish above Ulster or Connacht and Edinburgh which is more than unlikely. With victory in Stradey and Glasgow very unlikely, Munster at home even less likely, then victories over Borders and Ulster seem all that’s left. Cardiff will need results to go their way to even qualify for the game in Italy, but to qualify for the Celtic Cup is unlikely.

Cardiff don’t qualify – so what?

Well, this time everyone suffers. All money from the Heineken Cup will be equally shared equally amongst all four professional teams, and next season that means completely equal funding (and the Ospreys will loose the £0.5m funding advantage next season). So ERC money will be reduced, so less money will flow into the game in Wales. Lack of high level competition means that Cardiff’s internationals could spend the peak of next season playing games against Spanish or Portuguese sides (and all this the season before the next world cup). That will hardly bring the punters through the gates, and so revenue from attendances will also fall.

Sadly, Moffett and his chums have agreed to a further impoverishment of Welsh rugby with the decision to allow only three teams of right into the Heineken Cup. A few seasons ago, Wales had five.

So what led Moffett to give away a place for one of Wales’ teams at the top level of the sport? “The WRU is very grateful for the on-going support it has received from its ERC partners. This is a very important decision for our regions and we are delighted with the outcome for not only next season, but also for the format put in place for future qualification,” said Moffett.

So reduced revenue for the sport (from the ERC and Sky), reduced gates and reduced exposure for Wales’ top players to top European competition and what does Moffett say – “The WRU is very grateful”. What sort of madness is this?

 

Remaining fixtures in the Celtic League

Border Reviers

Ospreys vs Borders (L)
Newport vs Borders (L)
Edinburgh vs Borders (L)
Ulster vs Borders (L)
Borders vs Munster (L)
Cardiff vs Borders (L)

Ulster Rugby

Newport vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Glasgow (W)
Munster vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Borders (W)
Cardiff vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Llanelli (W)

Connacht Rugby

Connacht vs Llanelli (W)
Edinburgh vs Connacht (L)
Connacht vs Leinster (W)
Connacht vs Ospreys (L)
Newport vs Connacht (L)

Cardiff Blues

Cardiff vs Munster (L)
Llanelli vs Cardiff (L)
Glasgow vs Cardiff (L)
Cardiff vs Ulster (W)
Cardiff vs Borders (W)

European Challenge Cup Teams

 

2004 / 2005

10 French (Seeds: Brive, Beziers, Montferrand, Montpellier, Agen, Pau. Non seeds: Narbonne, Grenoble, Auch, Bayonne)

5 English (Seeds – Sale Sharks, London Irish, Saracens, Leeds Tykes. Non seeds: Worcester)

8 Italian (Seeds: Viadana, Rugby Parma. Non seeds: Rugby Rovigo, Petrarca Padova, GrAN Parma, L’Aquila, Leonessa, Amatori Catania)

1 Irish (Seed: Connacht)

1 Scottish (Seed: The Borders)

2 Spanish (Non seeds: Cetransa El Salvador, UC Madrid)

1 Portugal (Non seeds: RC Coimbra)

Ceptic League – cut the cr@p

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As we forecast more than four years ago even before the first ball was kicked in anger, the much hyped Celtic League still remains sponsorless. Over the years, the Union has shown itself manifestly incompetent in running the sport in Wales, running up huge depths and overseeing the decline of playing levels to such an extent that Wales is now firmly second division in rugby terms. So how should we reward this mismanagement of the international game? Simple. Allow the Union to control club rugby as well! Obvious, isn’t it?

We’ve strongly advocated a professional structure separate from the confines of Union control, with clubs given the freedom to market their own player and their own team. Clubs should be allowed to generate the own sponsorship. The clubs’ role is to provide players for the national team – those good at it, should be financially rewarded by the Union, and those who do nothing for the national team should not receive Union handouts. We’ve been saying for years that the Union should stick its nose out of club rugby and instead invest in the grass roots of the sport. Player development should be left to clubs where competition for places will provide the necessary impetus to player development.

But the argument has moved on in the last four years. We always knew that Cardiff Rugby was run for the benefit of ex-players and the privileged few, and now this old boys club is under serious threat from the biggest old boys club of all – the WRU.

Sadly, neither party is interested in the future of the sport – increasing spectator numbers, more sponsors and better facilities. Far from it. The battle ground is over control of the sport – and the Union is winning.

We take a look at the Celtic League and ask the question, who is benefiting from this structure? Supporters? Coaches? Players? Investors? The Media? Or is the league more Ceptic than Celtic?

Supporters

Local rivalry in Welsh rugby is as old as the hills. The strength of the top teams may have changed – no Neath vs Aberavon and Maesteg vs Bridgend capturing the attention of thousands – but intense rivalry has been one of the traditional strengths of the game in Wales. The “new” buzzword has been intensity – but we’ve had it for decades! What is more intense than a Cardiff-Newport game, or a Neath-Llanelli game? These are the games that have traditionally drawn the biggest crowds. So what’s happened since the start of the Celtic League – are there any significant changes?

Well, the good news for Moffett is that attendances are on the increase*. The Celtic League – although sponsorless and overexposed on our TV sets – has seen attendances in Wales rising consistently from 2001 onwards. It’s probably too early to judge this season, but if we plug in the averages, the results are clear – average attendance is now approaching six thousand (not so far from Moffett’s target of 8,000). Last season, Celtic League attendances in Wales approached a quarter of a million. So everything’s rosy? Right? Well, not quite.
capcrowdsLooking in more detail, the biggest growth in attendance has been the stand alone kings – Llanelli. Average gates have more than doubled between 2001-2 and this season – now standing at an average of over 7,200. In fact, ALL the growth in attendances has been at the home of our Turkish brothers.

At CAP, attendance has fallen from an average of just under 6,000 to 4,500.

Rodney Parade has seen a similar dip in average attendance – though there are signs that the disenfranchised are returning in an effort to reclaim their club from the hands of Moffett. What about that model of regionalism – the Ospreys? Well, two into one doesn’t really go, and they’ve also lost around a thousand supporters a home game from when they operated as two separate teams. But the biggest loss of spectators (of course) is as a result of Moffett’s demolition job on Pontypridd and to a lesser extent Bridgend. During the 2001-2 season, an average of 6,000 spectators was watching these two clubs. Inevitably, when they merged, the figure dropped to less than 3,000.
rodneycrowdsAnd the conclusion to all these facts and figures?

Rationalisation at the top of the sport was much needed, but Moffett’s tactics have alienated thousands of Welsh rugby supporters, and driven them away from the game. Where are these missing thousands? Will the remaining professional clubs be able to entice these fans to return to the professional sport? The figures suggest otherwise – with the negligible gates at the Brewery Field, and the missing thousands who should be supporting the Ospreys.
ospreyscrowdsThese missing supporters have little identification with the new clubs. Franchises were the obvious solution, but the WRU missed the chance to make the system open and fair – smoke filled rooms and dodgy deals are the preferred solution leading to unsubstantiated rumours alleging all sort of dirty dealings. Clubs used to represent your community – your home town or city. It was the club you first supported as a child with your father …. an identification that grew up over years and decades. Now, that very same club has either disappeared, or been taken away by the Union. There is no identification with a club born out of a bad marketing dream – as a result, supporters lose their loyalty, and there is no passion for the club. No passion in the stands matched by no passion on the pitch and this removes that intensity which set us ahead of the competition.

The away fans have gone from the game and that special buzz that stood Wales aside from the dry and insipid atmosphere of English rugby are gone. There is no banter, no sense of rivalry, no atmosphere, and yes that word again, the “intensity” of parochial rivalry is gone. A total lack of occasion diminishes the experience of watching rugby and reduces it to pantomime. No pyramid in the sport means no competition for places in Europe, no reward for excellence (clubs not rewarded for producing top players and not penalised for failing to qualify for Europe), and no relegation. A guaranteed place in Europe is bad for the sport.

Coaches

In appointing Ruddock, the WRU sent a clear message out to Welsh club rugby. Vocal for many years in his support of the Irish system of Union-control, Ruddock was the perfect appointment for the WRU and he quickly began his constant assault in the media with his mantra of Union-controlled “regionalism” (whatever that means). Gareth Jenkins – the most successful and skilful coach in Welsh rugby with a proven record of success – never stood a chance of the job. He is a club man, Llanelli through and through, and would never support the increased control by the Union over the sport.

With the demise of the Warriors, Jenkins was further cut out – deprived of a chance to strengthen his ageing squad by the politics of the Union. All this is never out in the open never open to public scrutiny and only open to the charge of underhand tactics.

So is this Celtic League good for our coaches? Well, one thing is for sure, the Union-controlled Irish structure has lost at least two class coaches in recent season – Alan Solomons and Warren Gatland. Why did they leave? Could it be that they wanted more control over their charges and wanted to coach the way they wanted to? What new excellent fresh coaches have joined the Celtic set up? Uhm ….. none. And who would want to? Even Irish chief executives are complaining about a lack of support from the IRU.

Coaches can’t chose their own squads – Union interference in the running of the clubs means that squads will now be limited to two foreigners. Is that a good thing? What we need in Wales are experienced foreigners who can have an educational influence on Welsh players. Tiechmann and Percy have been/were excellent additions to the game, boosting interest and crowds as well as acting as role models. Who can forget the influence of Peter Muller at Cardiff? Now we have “open warfare” by the Union against “foreigners” – hardly an atmosphere conducive to attracting the best. The result is that more and more foreigners are signed as cheap solutions to budgeting problems.

Coaches have no guarantee that players are available – Ruddock’s control over Welsh squad players causes an intolerable disruption for club coaches. How can Dai Young plan his training sessions when he doesn’t know how many players will be there and how many will be with Ruddock? It wouldn’t be so bad if the Welsh coach had a positive influence on players, but for Cardiff in recent season we’ve seen players confidence ruined by the mismanagement of Henry and Hanson.

Coaches have no guarantee that the players in their squad actually want to be there. Gareth Williams was told to play for Cardiff – Alfie was told not to and we can only speculate about Sidoli who clearly looks like he wants to be somewhere else. Players are already being “forced” to play where they don’t want to. We already have central control and central contracts in all but name.

Players

Is this structure good for player development? Central control means there’s little identification with the club they are forced to play for. The days when players saw clubs as their own – playing for their home town or city – are fast disappearing. The Union is trying to replace this sense of identity with a circus of mercenaries drifting around from one allocated club to another. They can no longer chose which club they want to play for.

The Celtic League is fast turning into a graduation school for the Zurich Premiership and French Leagues. Stephen Jones, Alfie, Gareth Llewellyn, Gary Powell(!), Richard Parks, Christian Loader, Darren Morris and Colin Charvis are all playing “overseas” with the “foreigners”. When the stars of our game leave, who attracts youngsters to the sport? With Rhys William’s and Jamie Robinson’s contracts coming to an end, will these players chose to stay in WRU-controlled Welsh club rugby?

Investment

There is now no incentive for private capital or benefactors to invest in the sport. Moffett and his chums have already alienated two of the biggest inventors in recent times – Leighton Samuel and Buy As You View – and he’s now working on forcing another investor away (Tony Brown). For Moffett to feed Thomson House with more propaganda about the dangers of losing Welsh stars overseas is frankly ridiculous, when he – almost single handily – bullied Samuel (and his stadium investments and best pitch in Wales) out of the sport. What have you done to increase funding for the sport, Dai?

Forcing out investors like Marcus Russell and Leighton Samuel is frankly criminal – the sport in Wales is desperate for more funds to compete with the Irish, English and French and by putting control in front of development, the WRU is only further impoverishing the sport.

This is ALL about control. If it was about developing the sport, where is the extra money that a Chief Executive is supposed to generate for the sport? Recently, Moffett secured a rumoured £70,000 increase in his salary – not so dissimilar to the £125,000 a year he cut from the sport when he got rid of the A team. The Union are well on the way to destroying great club names like Newport and Cardiff – completely marginalising all support in a concerted effort to remove any barrier to their total control.

What does “together” mean? “Together” for those who agree with you, and stuff those who want to invest in the sport?

No – Moffett set out with an idea in his mind (mainly taken from his experiences in New Zealand) and has steamrollered it through. He has taken no account of local culture and circumstances. His dogmatic approach has alienated those whose interest in Welsh rugby does not come from a career move, but comes from a passion that they will take to their grave – long after Moffett has left for his next job.

The Media

The media gravey train in Wales is firmly behind the Union. The Union feeds the media with wall to wall coverage on the television, and a press office in Thomson House fed daily with the party line. In turn, the media is assured of the exposure it craves and a chance to hob nob with Moffett’s cronies. But of course the ultimate irony is that as a direct result of Moffett’s refusal to include Samuel in his plans for the future of the game, European Cup TV revenue will actually fall this season.

Where have all the real journalists gone? Where is the investigative reporting into what happened to the Warriors? Why are no questions asked about the secrecy surrounding WRU holdings in rugby infrastructure in Wales? Doesn’t the media feel it should ask why investors in the sport – Sameul, Russell and now Brown – are being driven away precisely when the Union has such huge debts and has a responsibility to develop the sport in Wales?

Sure the TV people are happy. Viewing figures keep them in the limelight and they can justify the ridiculous kick off times by claiming they are investing in the sport. But at what cost? Kick off times keep the opinionated armchair fans who don’t invest in Welsh rugby (no season tickets, no match tickets, no merchandising) happy, but discourages attendances (as the facts show).

Conclusion


The Celtic League has provided the perfect platform for the SRU and the WRU to assert their control over top clubs in their countries. And the results in Scotland should be a warning for us all. North of the border, the sport is dying on its knees. Their Union-controlled solution has been a disaster as attendances fall off a cliff. Their three professional clubs roam from one soulless empty stadium to another, playing out defeat after defeat. The Union’s only remedy is to search the world for anyone with a Scottish aunt in a desperate attempt at a short term fix. There is no partnership with local clubs, and no investment from local benefactors.

In Wales, the megalomaniac’s rule – control at all costs and the alienation of thousands of supporters and private investors. Far from increasing the popularity and inclusively of the sport, the WRU is driving people away. Perhaps most importantly, it is also driving away our star players. By alienating non-Union funding, the limited resources mean our best players will leave Wales. And the worse thing of all is that the Union doesn’t care! Far from it! It actively rewards those who leave by giving one the captaincy of a country he no longer lives in!

Pre-Season Results of Celtic League vs Non-Celtic League Sides

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Worcester 12 Cardiff 10
Leicester 31 Cardiff 13
Gloucester 28 Llanelli 6
Llanelli 17 Wasps 20
Toulouse 28 Ospreys 14
Ospreys 5 Bath 15
Edinburgh 0 Leicester 36
Munster 13 Newcastle 6
Munster 5 London Irish 12
Northampton 35 Newport 11
Northampton 47 Edinburgh 17
Ulster 19 Harlequins 26
Connacht 9 Newcastle 32
Connacht 16 London Irish 24
Sale 43 Glasgow 6
Glasgow 20 Sale 39
Leeds 34 Glasgow 3

 

P17 W1 D0 L16

As the Celtic League (CL) and Zurich Premiership (ZP) finally kicks off, the Welsh media is full of comparisons between the two competitions. Are the two leagues really comparable? Can the Celtic League really compete with England’s best? Let’s take a look at how things stand both on and off the pitch.

On the pitch, based on pre-season friendlies, the situation is clear. Only on one occasion when teams from the ZP and CL went head to head, did a CL side come out on top. Home or away, the Celtic sides came off second best – in many cases by a considerable margin. Even in the so-called Anglo-Celtic Challenge, a battling Llanelli – for all their home advantage and huff and puff – came a poor second to a Wasps team missing many of its stars. When the Turks pressed hard and rallied in the second half, the side from Wycombe always had plenty in the tank to surge ahead, playing well within themselves.

Stories from England abound on the increase in season ticket sales on record sales last season. Following an increase of 12% last year, latest reports show a 19% increase this year! The ZP will kick off this weekend with a record crowd of over 50,000 at Twickenham – could a Llanelli vs Cardiff and Ospreys vs Llanelli double header attract even half that figure? Details in the Welsh press are scant – despite desperate attempts to over exaggerate on season ticket figures (Llanelli’s season ticket holders number only 1,000 more than relegation bound Worcester). None of the four teams is proudly proclaiming even modest increases in season ticket numbers. Newport’s second XV have sold more than 1,000 season tickets for the coming season. There is little change on last season and no sign of Newport’s missing 3,000 supporters. Even compared with village league attendances three years ago (see our editorial) attendances are well down – particular due to the mismanagement of the situation at Newport. 2000-1 was a record season for ticket holders – since then Moffett’s presided over a reduction in attendances.

Financially, many ZP are finally breaking even – despite many doom laden predictions in recent seasons that they too were in financial trouble. Northampton have recently announced record profits – profits that Welsh clubs could only dream about. Meanwhile, limited TV coverage ensures the right balance between promotion of the sport and overkill. In Wales, Moffett has sold the soul of the game to the TV companies, and gates have plummeted. Saturday afternoon kick offs are a distant memory in contrast to the ZP. In a mad dash to boost short term finances and clear the WRU debt as fast as possible, he’s quickly destroying the soul of our game – its history, tribalism and traditional highly competitive nature sacrificed in favour of reducing the WRU’s historical financial mismanagement in racking up huge debts for the Millennium Stadium.

Moffett’s target of 8,000 per home game (incidentally, what Cardiff City count as season ticket holders) is a pipe dream, whereas in England, there is no sense that clubs are losing their identity sacrificed in some lemming type dash towards oblivion. “If one suffers, we all suffer!” seems to be the creed of Moffett and his cronies in the press. This farcical idea of inclusion was put into place at the Warriors and what happened? The club went bust. It was put in place at Newport and a forced amalgamation with Ebbw Vale and what happened? Season tickets down. Not content with destroying Ponty and Bridgend, and impoverishing Newport, now Moffett is attacking Cardiff with an ignorant attempt to water down any sense of identity with the club in the nation’s capital city. Cardiff doesn’t need to spread its efforts even more thinly to attract supporters – it needs to attract those right on its own doorstep!!

Meanwhile, successful clubs like London Irish are growing from strength to strength – playing in first class stadium, in front of record crowds and NOT having to sacrifice the name or tradition of the club. In England, success has been built on traditional clubs – Bath, Northampton, Gloucester, Leicester etc.. There is no sign of these proud organisations throwing away their identity, just because London Scottish and Richmond folded due to bad financial planning. In Wales, there seems a curious logic that because some clubs could not compete financially, all must somehow sacrifice their future.

In England, more and more clubs are reporting black balance sheets, high quality overseas players are welcomed with open arms, and clubs are rewarded for producing English internationals – not penalised as in Wales. Top players are limited to a maximum of 32 matches for club and country with clubs receiving £30,000 for each player they provide to the élite squad and £10,000 for a representative in the national academy.

What does the RFU do for the clubs in England? Do they insist on clubs amalgamating? Do they threaten clubs identities by enforcing meaningless recycled names? No. Each Premiership club receives £5 million from the RFU this season to help to pay elite salaries. This is in addition to the £1.9 million for each of the 12 clubs from central funds to cover basic salary costs for all players. In addition, there is an ‘upside’ payment: a contribution based on TV monies, sponsorship deals and the like amounting to £3.5 million.

Meanwhile, Welsh clubs play in a sponsorless league, with match times designed to minimise revenue through the turnstiles and maximise reliance on a crazy Union-negotiated TV deal, have their identity undermined and destroyed and finally receive no reward from the Union for producing the stars of the tomorrow. When we hope for an independent press to report on these difference, we are fed a regular diet of spin and no substance.

And the saddest thing of all is that deep down – despite Moffett’s attempt to whitewash the situation – the press know that traditional rivalries are what sell papers. When it suits them, their happy to give the approaching Cardiff vs Newport game, its true billing as one of the oldest rivalries in rugby.

Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Abandoning one of the fundaments of sport – winners win and losers come nowhere – led us to this situation. 16-1 …. The scoreboard never lies.

Who the hell are the bloos?

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It seems as though the dictat from the WRU is for the media to refer to each professional team in Wales solely by it’s nickname, rather than it’s full title. The Western Mail is full of gaffs on this subject: constantly writing Blues and then slipping the word “club” into the article, but the club themselves are also slipping into the style by writing just Blues on the web site and other material.

Indeed, the confusion over the name of the team that plays at Rodney Parade led the new Chief Executive to issue his own press release detailing how the press should refer to the team. Of course, they have mostly ignored it and followed the line from Moffett of just using the nicknames. It is also alleged that, when meeting with the disgruntled Warriors supporters after their shutdown, Moffett instructed those guys that all the teams will only be known by their nicknames.

So here is the problem: the media and politically correct public relations lot are following Moffett’s line and only using the nickname of the team.

This leads to an important question that all stakeholders and shareholders in Cardiff RFC must ask themselves: what damage is being done to my investment by this naming and reporting? It’s quite obvious that removing the name “Cardiff” from the team will do commercial damage to the club. If they become known in the popular press and media as just the “Blues” then it is difficult to see what the company represents, where it is based and how it can benefit any potential investors or sponsors. More importantly, it throws away a strong brand name established over the past 128 years.

There is no distinguishing the “Blues” from Chelsea (nicknames the Blues) or even the Auckland Blues. The club has sacrificed a global brand – Cardiff RFC – for a South Wales, media generated brand. Only in a narrow strip around the M4 will the word “Blues” ever hope to mean a rugby team playing in Cardiff. To the rest of the rugby world, the “Blues” play in Auckland. Since when did Cardiff become a pale imitation of some NZ team which has only recently come into existence (a long seven years after CRFC was born)? Rebranding in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but to pick a brand name already in use by another rugby team is ludicrous!

Without doubt it has long been the WRU’s aim to maximise revenue for themselves and impoverish the clubs (depriving the clubs of their best players, no reward/compensation for clubs who provide players for the national side, a suicidal TV contract that puts short term financial gain over the long term development of the sport). But if Moffett and the WRU-puppies in Thomson House and Llandaff are affecting the financial future of the club, who will speak out? Is the political pressure that the club is succumbing to also affecting the commercial viability of the club? Is the Board at the club defending the clubs shareholders, or merely capitulating to Moffett driven media-pressure?

We would reason that this naming issue is affecting the club and is affecting the marketability of that global rugby name – “Cardiff”. The correct name of the team is the Cardiff Blues, not just the Blues. It represents Cardiff, is owned by Cardiff RFC, plays in Cardiff and is supported by Cardiff. It should be the focal point for rugby supporters in and around the City and it should be using the famous name of Cardiff Rugby for its own benefit. Instead, it is allowing the press and the Union to ruin the identity and dilute the brand. Once more, instead of rewarding excellence, the structure of Welsh rugby says if one is weak, everyone must be weak. If some clubs are forced to amalgamate because they lack the financial clout to survive alone – everyone must surrender their identity.

This must not be allowed to continue. It is time for Peter Thomas to take control of the issue and ensure the club is referred to as Cardiff. Indeed, dropping the Blues altogether would be extremely beneficial, even replacing Blues with “Rugby” if a subtitle is needed. This is the only way to secure the brand, to increase commercial interest and to protect our invested moneys. After all, that is their job.

How a siege mentality drives customers away

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Over the year’s we’ve been big critics of the club and the way it almost seems to set out to deliberately alienate fans. Full credit to Dai Young for answering points raised by fans – this is a first – but once more, even when trying to take one step forward, the club has succeeded in taking two steps backwards.

Cardiff supporters are rightfully justified in feeling indignant about some dreadful performances by Cardiff under Dai Young’s leadership. Who can forget the humiliation at home to Northampton last season, the slaughter in Biarritz? Fans pay good money to follow and support the team and feel let down when substandard performances humiliate their efforts to be real fans.

So let’s look at Dai’s points.

  • “I don’t have to justify myself to anyone.” Criticism of Dai is not done by true Cardiff supporters.

Here begins the first lesson. Never ever openly criticise your customers. They “buy” your product, and pay your wages. You may think they are imbeciles and that you know far more about everything and anything than they do, but never EVER show an arrogant streak. Comments like, “I am answerable to the supporters”, “I fully understand the fans frustrations”, “We have to improve – and improve quickly” will find a more sympathetic ear.

  • “Critics of Cardiff have no sense of reality.”

Clearly Dai’s sense of reality is different from those who complain about Cardiff’s performances this season (and last). Cardiff fans believe defeating the worst team in the Celtic League, a team that conceded over 100 points in their previous two Celtic League games is a realistic expectation. Dai does not. What does that say about how low Dai is aiming this season?

  • “Putting Cardiff “on top” will not happen overnight.

We’ve seen a constant slide in Cardiff’s performances over the last four seasons. From European Quarter Finalists (hey! We even made the final, once!), to European no-hopers in the space of three to four seasons. What on earth makes Dai think that the fans are expecting to be “on top”? A win away to the worst team in the Celtic League would do fine for starters, and to arrest the constant decline would be nice. “On top”? That’ll be the day!

  • “When the full squad is available, things will turn around. I will not blame the players.

When the full squad is available, snow will fall in the Sahara. All squads have injuries. Well conditioned squads have fewer injuries. Draw your own conclusions. As for not blaming the players, well, a good coach would never say we lost because the players are rubbish. But, a smarter coach would say, “Our performances have been sub standard. The players know that if they do not improve, we will face severe problems this season.”

  • “Hardly any of the signings have played yet.

This is an interesting one. Fester has played and his crass behaviour let himself, the club and the supporters down. Gareth Williams hasn’t played because he was injured. Wasn’t this checked before he signed? Andy Moore took one games to get injured – conditioning? Why was Shanklin signed given the weakness elsewhere in the squad and the obvious fact he’ll barely play for Cardiff this season? Crompton – likewise – is another sick note specialist. Dan Baugh was offered a new two year contract. Why? Isn’t it obvious he’s past his best? Likewise for Matt Allen – both good soldiers for the club, but injured and lacking the impact of old.

  • “Last season, I didn’t see it (losing away from home) as a particular problem.

I really can’t follow this comment at all. Three words for your Dai – Northampton, Ulster and Biarritz. There, now please explain again why you can’t see this as a particular problem.

  • “True fans should take time to see what is happening at Cardiff.

How much time, Dai? Given the decline over the last four seasons, and this being your second year at Cardiff, how much time do you need to beat the worst club in the Celtic League?

  • “When the World Cup is over, we will be more than a match for anyone.

What at? Rugby? Come on Dai. Wake up! Every other team in the League will be strengthened. The vast majority have far more players at the World Cup than Cardiff!

 

I’m in a minority in that I’m prepared to give Dai the benefit of the doubt. Blaming him for the ills at the club severely misses the point. The comments made in the press show how poor the club is at speaking with supporters, and how incapable they are of attracting new ones. The lack of dialogue between fans and the club has worsened. As I’ve said before, familiar faces are no longer there on the terraces.

It’s about time the club came clean and stated it’s aspirations for this season, otherwise fans will become even more disenchanted with substandard performances against pretty dire opposition.

Good luck against Edinburgh, Dai! You going to need it!

 

Dai’s Comments

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“I don’t think I have to justify myself to anyone. I have been selected to do this job by Cardiff and by the Welsh Rugby Union. Such criticism is disappointing from people who call themselves Cardiff supporters. There is no sense of reality in terms of the expectations put on Cardiff these days.”

“I can understand their frustration, but we have only played three games. I know our supporters want us to be at the top and we are working extremely hard to do that. But it will not happen overnight. However, I am convinced that we will turn it around once we get the full compliment of our squad back.”

“I will not blame the players, I cannot question their attitude or their commitment. I find it remarkable people are saying we have not signed very well when hardly any of our signings have played yet.”

“So where is the evidence? Gareth Williams and Tom Shanklin have been with Wales and Gareth is now injured. Jonny Vaughton has played a friendly and is now injured, as are Andy Moore and Darren Crompton and Craig Quinnell is suspended.”

“As far as the away form goes I accept that in the two defeats we have had this year we were poor and extremely disappointed with ourselves.”

“But last season I didn’t see it as a particular problem and I am convinced we will turn things around.”

“I feel frustrated more than under pressure, but you don’t take this job if you cannot cope with pressure.”

“I have confidence in myself, the people I have got around me and the players. Although things have been disappointing and frustrating it is up to me and the players to prove the critics wrong.”

“We still had enough quality on the field to have won both those games. All I can say to the fans, the true fans, is to take the time to see what is happening at Cardiff to get a full picture.”

“Most of the pundits I have listened to think we have a poor squad. That’s their opinion but I disagree with it. I don’t know how they can say that when we haven’t had most of our signings on the field.”

“I believe, when we do get everybody fit and others back from the World Cup, we will be more than a match for anybody.”

Special thanks to the bois at the Western Mail for lifting ideas liberally from this site and getting Dai Young (CRFC) to answers questions raised here. (1) (2)

A lack of ambition?

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2000
Dec 10 Edinburgh 29-11 L
Jan 20 Toulouse 38-27 L
Jan 27 Gloucester 21-15 L
2001
Sept 15 Munster 10-51 L
Oct 6 Montferrand 10-37 L
Nov 3 Glasgow 32-47 L
2002
Apr 19 Edinburgh 32-10 L
Sept 6 Connacht 23-22 L
Sept 14 Borders 15-18 W
Oct 18 Ulster 25-6 L
Nov 30 Edinburgh 22-26 W
Dec 7 Northampton 25-11 L
2003
Jan 18 Biarritz 75-25 L
Sept 5 Glasgow 23-13 L
Sept 26 Borders 22-20 L

Another weekend and yet another sub-standard performance full of unforced errors and a half hearted mental attitude. Should we be surprised by yet another capitulation by Cardiff away from home? And we really mean, AWAY FROM HOME, not a forty minute bus ride down the M4. Half the players probably travel longer to get to training than they would to play AWAY games in Wales!

So why does the clubs woeful record playing outside Wales continue? In the last three seasons (going back to that memorable day at Vicarage Road), Cardiff have played 14 times outside Wales and only managed a victory on two occasions. During the season previous to the victory over Saracens, the bois also managed a victory against the Harlequins.

So does the club focus on winning away from home? Do they prioritise away games? Do we see extra priority being given to curing this achiles heal? Uh no. Things have got MUCH worse. Think how pleased we’d all be with a loss in Toulouse by only 11 points! Back then, we were gutted. Losing by only six points to Gloucester? Fantastic result! Back then, we were suicidal.

Clearly targets have been lowered as fast as standards have fallen. Three seasons ago we had a squad that we thought could compete in Europe. We stood in The Shed and thought we had a chance of making the semi-finals. Now?

The playing staff at CAP are of a considerably lower standard than they were three seasons ago. Back then, Peter Thomas was talking about winning the European Cup and high profile players laid the foundations to the claim that Cardiff were the best club in Wales. Now, they’re barely the best club in Cardiff.

The drive has gone, the willingness to invest has gone and the club seems to be more interested in breaking even in the short term than investing in the future. And that DOESN’T mean sacrificing a bunch of kids to yet another mauling of their confidence. When the club should have been investing in an experienced Argentinian tight head, or a World Class southern hemisphere second row/number 8, the limit of their ambitions was an English journeyman and re-signing Rob Appleyard.

Following defeat against the worst club in the Celtic League – a team who conceded more than 100 points in their previous two games – it seems pretty clear that if the club continues with its present lack of investment, we can expect a tustle with Ruddock’s team for who will NOT be playing in the European Cup next season.

The Supporters

The same old faces are definitely NOT around on the terraces as they were last season. One season of kids against men was bad enough, but rugby fans are simply not prepared to pay to watch another season of sub-standard amateur performances. Even hardened Cardiff nuts are not supporting the club as they once did. Staging home games on a Friday night effectively limits potential spectators to those who work within one hour of CAP. Contrast the clubs attitude with a hugely successful club like Leicester and you begin to see how badly mismanaged Cardiff really. Despite an army of season ticket holders and a guaranteed five figure gate, Leicester stood on principle last season and refused Sky’s request to play on a Friday night. Can you imagine Cardiff RFC doing the same thing?

Away trips on a Friday night show the clubs utter disregard for supporters – Cardiff is most definitely NOT a “supporters’ club”. The club has always been reluctant to offer any assistance to organising away trips (other than as a means of ripping off supporters with inflated travel costs) and instead relies on the dedication and commitment of those who love the club and DON’T put money in their pockets at the forefront of every decision. Away games on a Friday night mean that supporters have to take a day off work to follow the team. When the location for some games – Borders and Connacht are two that spring to mind – is so far from any easy means of transport, the club clearly couldn’t be bothered whether there are Cardiff supporters at the game or not. And the way the club plays away from home, that’s probably not such a bad thing!

Now that we have the Rags attracting more attention (by making travelling to away games nigh on impossible), the club is using rugby at CAP EVERY Saturday as a way of increasing revenue. Whether the first XV win away from home or not is largely irrelevant to the club, as long as those fivers keep getting spent to watch the Rags.

So there you have it. Cardiff RFC is clearly more focussed on bleeding money from supporters in the short run than investing in a winning first XV. Away games are irrelevant – just look at the results! Filling CAP every week is what matters.

… and the implications ….?

Cleary this approach to the running of the club is not sustainable. Once the core supporters lose interest in away games, how long before they lose interest in watching the Rags getting thumped by forty points? How long before they find something better to do with their weekends? When the first XV start bringing the same form they exhibit away from home to shambolic performances at home, how long before gates start falling at CAP? We all know that this has already happened and the club is on a downward spiral.

Next week, Cardiff face Edinburgh in the quarter final of the Celtic Cup. Count the Cardiff supporters in the crowd. Why bother to travel to support your team when they turn in such terrible performances? Edinburgh began this season with only 22 professionals in their squad of 33 and the average age of the squad is under 23. Cardiff should walk the game. Will they? More crucially, does the club care whether they do or not? After all, they’ll have a good crowd at CAP watching the Rags play Pooler and some tasty bar takings after the game when the die hards watch the game in the club house.

Looking at the fixture list, given the present run of form, it’s difficult to see Cardiff winning anything until the crucial game against Ruddock’s team on November 7th. Loose that, and the kids will be playing in the Mickey Mouse Parker Pen next season and you can forget about attracting ANY class players to play at CAP.

Cardiff RFC – “The Greatest” – not at this rate.

Welsh Internationals – A waste of money?

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vs

Two weeks away from the start of the season, and the question on many Cardiff supporter’s lips is, “How many games will our stars to play for the Blue Blacks this season?”

The Australians feel no need for warm up internationals, but in a desperate drive to bleed every last pound from the pockets of Welsh supporters, the WRU is cramming in as many meaningless internationals as it can. Given Hansen’s first selection against Ireland, he himself has admitted that he can’t pick his best team. These aren’t warm up games, they’re revenue generators for the Union. Hansen will name his squad of 30 on the 5th September and from the 30th August to Wales’ first game against Canada on 12th October, the players will be allowed to “rest”.

Wales’ last pool game is against New Zealand on Sunday 2nd November, and as runners up in Pool D, they are likely to face Australia on November 9th.

There is an agreement in place between Hansen and Wales’ professional clubs, that the top players are likely to be out for three weeks following this game, which means a rest for Martyn Williams, Iestyn Harris and possibly Rhys Williams and Jamie Robinson until Sunday 30th November. This would mean the first game these play for Cardiff could be the first European game against Sale on December 5th AT THE EARLIEST!!

Then comes the Six Nations.

With the WRU likely to ban players from playing for their clubs during the Six Nations, between February 7th and April 3rd, we’re unlikely to see Cardiff’s Welsh internationals turn out for the Blue Blacks.

It sure makes you wonder whether its worth having a Welsh international on your books when they simply don’t play sufficient games for their clubs to justify their salaries.

So how many Celtic League games will Cardiff’s Welsh internationals play this season? Well, there’s the game at the end of December against Pontybonty, and a further two in May meaning a maximum of three!!! All rather farsical! Don’t expect the club or the Union (or their lackies in the press) to broadcast this fact, but how can they expect us to pay for season tickets when we don’t get to see the best players at the club?

Munster have splashed out on Cullen, Jones Hughes and a Kiwi prop to name just three. And no wonder. They’ve realised that if the Unions are going to stop the clubs fielding their best XVs, the need to recruit “overseas” stars to attract supporters through the turnstiles.

But as we all know, this can’t last.

Expect an increasing number of players to retire from international rugby to concentrate on the more lucrative and stable club game. To our benefit, one of those is Crazy – who will now hopefully enjoy an injury-free season in Blue and Black.

The Union is cutting money to the clubs, but depriving the clubs of their prime assets. Time to offload the internationals?

Cardiff’s 10 Welsh Squad Players ….
Rhys Williams, Craig Morgan, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Robinson, Iestyn Harris, Nick Robinson, Ryan Powell, Ben Evans, Martyn Williams, Robin Sowden-Taylor

 

Where Moffett Went Wrong

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Welsh rugby has recently experienced a number of vital revolutions that have changed the way the professional game will be played, administered and financed from now on. A man called Moffett came to Wales as WRU Chief Executive as the dire financial situation of the Union forced the banks to intervene. On their insistence, a professional administrator was brought in to control spending and to restructure the whole game in order to ensure its financial survival. Moffett came with a recent background in sports administration with time spent in Australia, New Zealand and England and was an obvious choice from the short list of applicants for the £200,000 a year post (rumoured to be tax free).

So, what did we – the fee paying fans of Welsh rugby – get for the same money that it takes to run the ‘A’ team per season? Well, for a start, we had a number of cuts (including the ‘A’ team) that we were told were necessary to keep the overdraft from toppling over its £10m limit. Further cuts were made to Development Officers and other grass roots programmes, but the loss of these was tempered by the ridding of the privileged of the General Committee. Even before Moffett’s arrival the bank had prevented the huge numbers of freeloaders taking trips to follow the National team, but Moffett had now formalised these. Cuts even extended to player’s salaries and the free post match reception tickets for their family members, but all these were necessary as that overdraft limit loomed.

These changes were all small fry when compared to Moffett’s plans for ON FIELD changes. Within days of his arrival he had suggested using Cobner’s old regional plan for professional rugby in Wales whereby the Union, i.e. his bosses that make up the General Committee (which was soon to be named “Executive Board” despite having the same members), would have total control of the game from player’s contracts through to administration. All those millions pumped into the game, at the bequest of the Union at times, was to be written off without a care as the seven year power struggle between clubs and the Union was to come to a head. Unfortunately for Moffett, his bargaining positions were seriously weakened by the previous actions of his bosses on the General Committee who all have Professorships in “Shooting Welsh Rugby in the Foot”.

Moffett could not win central contracts or even Union control of the game, but he did force the junior clubs into realising that they could no longer compete in the professional game as stand alone clubs, so the compromise reached was joint ventures for some and stand alone status for those strong or brave enough to go it alone. Unfortunately, this compromise was only reached after a series of legal threats and very public arguments made through the Welsh press as tempers were frayed and the Green monster of jealously abounded.

BUT – he did it. Moffett, within 6 months of his arrival, had persuaded the professional teams to restructure for the benefit of themselves, the overdraft and the £70m loan that hangs over the stadium. Soon the spin was put on that this was regional rugby, all for the benefit of the grass roots where the new ventures (or newcos) would be centres of excellence for the junior teams. This was to appease those of the 230 amateur clubs who voted to kill off the other 9 clubs as professional entities in a show of ignorance and jealousy that could only work in Wales. However, we were there . . . . .

Now it was down to the clubs to sort themselves out with new Boards of Directors, playing squads and administration staff. Oh . . and, of course, the names of each team.

This is where Moffett went wrong.

At the time of the agreement made between all parties around the table of Professional Welsh Rugby we still had weeks of rugby to play in what became a meaningless season. Now was the perfect time to canvass the opinion of the fans on the most important part of the whole structure – the names of the teams. When two parties combine for a new venture it is vital to keep on board all the existing customers whilst striving to attract more but how could those presently involved feel included in the new venture? Some hard line fans were not interested in “merging” for professional rugby, preferring to watch their own Village team play in the new Pentref Premiership. Many more were intrigued and realised the necessity for financial survival was this new set up, but ALL wanted to be included.

Existing season ticket holders, members and shareholders of the “merging” teams should have been consulted at each and every remaining game to find a consensus for the name of each team. All fans would have realised that budgets would control the playing squad and most recognised that the coaching candidate for each venture was fairly obvious. All would have recognised that playing games at each venue would have led to inclusiveness so the only remaining problem was the name . . . .

So, just as Welsh rugby is fighting to maintain its own dwindling customer base let alone trying to build on it, Moffett goes on holiday and leaves the squabbling clubs to fight amongst themselves!

Newport and Ebbw Vale have created so much animosity amongst the fans that even local MPs and AMs are getting involved. All the noises from Neath and Swansea are coming from the Gnoll as Swansea fans watch good players move to other ventures and clubs. Pontypridd and Bridgend have even cancelled one name because their fans were in uproar!

So, Mr David Moffett, you blew it. You could have insisted on a small marketing budget to be given to each team to consult the fans on what they wanted, but us fee paying fans seem to be a little way down your list of priorities. No matter how many posts you make on fans websites, your record shows you as half a job Bob.

Cardiff Squad Season 2003 – 2004

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Last September, we selected our squad for the 2003-4 season, and now Uncle Peter’s had his chance! The back line remains largely unaltered, apart from the addition of ex-Saracens Tom Shanklin and Jonathan Vaughton from Swansea. Shanklin is well know to us all in Wales – a strong runner and tough tackler he’s very much built in the Gareth Thomas mould. However, something we often overlook is his tender years – he’s still only 24, so the youthful make up of the back line will remain.

Vaughton, meanwhile, is a product of Swansea’s U21 academy and was curiously not awarded a regional contract by Lyn Jones. Last season, he was top try scorer with seven, and also made numerous first XV appearances.

It was good to see the club offer Matt Allen a contract for the 2003-4 season, as although not the most spectacular of players, Matt formed the bedrock of Cardiff’s defensive efforts in the 2002-3 season. Because of international call ups, Cardiff’s back line in the Celtic Super 12 could be similar to the one that ended last season – DVV, JV, NW, PM. DD, NR and RS with cover from the U21s.

Given the weaknesses up front, strengthening the pack was obviously one of Dai Young’s priorities in preparation for the season ahead. In the front row, Cardiff have suffered all season with the lack of a recognised tight head – losing both Spence and Powell early on in the season. A fired up Ben Evans should make the difference, but that’ll be down to Dai’s motivational skills. Should Mr F Bentos join the club, then our tight head problems could be at an end. John Yapp’s progress this season has been immense and now we need him to concentrate his efforts on his scrummaging skills – where there is still a weakness. With more neutral refs next season, the Baby Faced Assassin may get a fairer chance to show in his first season as a Welsh qualified player.

The return of Fester in the second row will provide much needed power in the scrum as well as another ball carrier. Senekal is another who’s never shirked the hard work, but he still looks a little lightweight for the big time. Despite not having his best season last year, John Tait’s departure will be a big blow, but now’s the time for Tait Modern to take up the challenge and show he can exceed the levels his brother reached. Equally athletic, the Modern version is far more aggressive, and if channelled well, this aggression could provide a necessary edge to the pack. Andy Moore is the third ex-Swansea player to join Cardiff in the closed season and is very much in the Ben Evans mould – excellent when on form, average and ordinary when not. These two will present a challenge for Dai Young.

The back row has been an area where Cardiff have struggled for many seasons, but with a mix of home-grown talent and judged recruitment, could the right balance finally be struck? Other than MW and RST, all the remaining players can play at eight or on the blind side, and in McShane and RST Cardiff have two of the finest young back row players in Wales. Brownrigg’s athleticism combined with the power of Nathan Thomas – Bath’s players of the season last year – mean there’s a mix of pace and power. Appleyard can consider himself lucky to get a contract, and then there’s Crazy Dan. Is the ex-chef ready to cook up another corker of a season for us? Do those knees have any more mileage in them?

Can we survive for the next eight weeks until Leicester arrive at CAP?

Full Backs
Rhys Williams, Donovan Van Vuuren
Wingers
Craig Morgan, Dean Dewdney, Nick Walne, Jonathan Vaughton
Centres
Pieter Muller, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Robinson, Matt Allen
Outside Halves
Iestyn Harris, Nick Robinson
Scrum Halves
Ryan Powell, Richard Smith
Props
Ben Evans, Kenneth Fourie, John Yapp, Darren Crompton
Hookers
Andrew Lewis, Gareth Williams
Second Rows
Andy Moore, Heino Senekal, Craig Quinnell
Back Row
Martyn Williams, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Nathan Thomas, Jim Brownrigg, Dan Baugh, Dan McShane, Rob Appleyard
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