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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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

Peace in our time

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Last summer, financial consultant Robin Allen was brought into the Welsh Rugby Union on £1,000 a day to help stabilise the shocking financial crisis within Welsh rugby.

But the seeds to this crisis were sown many years before. And as those of us who sat in that temporary stand in Bedford knew very well, that game provided the turning point in the club vs Union battle.

The 1998-9 season was a watershed for rugby in Wales. Simply speaking, Cardiff and Swansea had given up on the Welsh Rugby Union ever developing a coherent structure for the sport, and felt compelled to do something about it. The Union has completely failed to grasp the opportunities offered by professionalism – paralysed by substandard officials in key positions and a wholly amateur approach to the professional era. The WRU’s competitions were then loss-makers (and are still loss makers, incidentally). Club finances in Wales were in a complete mess – Neath were bailed out to the tune of £600,000 by the WRU, Bridgend were teetering on the edge, Llanelli had to sell their ground and Pontypridd recorded huge losses.

All clubs other than Swansea and Cardiff were forced to sign a loyalty agreement with the Union because they were so dependent on the WRU for central funding that if that funding was withdrawn, they’d go straight into receivership. “What we’ve got just isn’t going to balance a business,” said the then Chief Executive at CRFC, Gareth Davies. “We haven’t got a product. All that’s happening is the clubs are living hand-to-mouth from the WRU money with no structure being put in place for them to survive without it.” Anything changed recently?

The two clubs were so frustrated with the inaction of the Union that they decided to try and create their own revenue stream in which to service. Change was essential, and Peter Thomas and just about everyone else involved knew the answer was a British League.

The WRU relied heavily on the rebels for one of the best results ever against SA – 12 of the 17 players used that day were playing their club rugby against English clubs, and Pies Snr had only just returned from Richmond.

But the Union opted for the status quo over change and WRU were opposed to the League. It’s always been about who controls the club game, and it still is. The WRU feared the English clubs would succeed in their battle for independent commercial rights. The Union knew that they would be surrendering influence and power if a pan-Union competition was created, and the increasing strength of club rugby would threaten their free lunches. Proposal were drawn up to create two divisions of 10 clubs – the top division made up of six clubs from England, two from Wales and one each from Scotland and Ireland. The same format would happen in the second division. The WRU wanted 30-40 Welsh clubs involved – plainly ridiculous – and yet another example of the cloud cuckoo land in which the WRU live.

Next season Cardiff will field two teams – one in the Celtic League and one in a new 16-team Premiership league. This won’t be the first time Cardiff have planned to field two sides in different competition. Back in the rebel season of 1998, the club planned to put one team out against the English, whilst fielding another in the Heineken Cup and Village League. On that occasion, the WRU refused. In fact, they threw Cardiff out of the domestic league. Funny how things have gone full circle, eh?

A fudged compromise was reached after the rebel season with promises from the Union of new competitions and the signature of Swansea and Cardiff finally appeared on the Union’s 10 year sacrifice to maintaining the status quo. First a Welsh-Scottish League was put in place. With a lack of patience and a lack of sponsorship, that collapsed amongst criticism of the Scots performances in Wales (anyone think about the Welsh performances north of the border?).

Then came the Celtic League and still a total lack of sponsorship. Simultaneously the same old tired Village League was trundling on – unsponsored and increasingly populated by substandard foreign imports plugging the gaps the locals failed to fill.

So the Union was delivering new competitions, but the only money on the table was the miserable sum on offer from the Principality for the Village Cup. Was this sustainable? Clearly not, so the disruption was set to continue …..

 

Three years of inactivity

Despite protestations from a so-called Gang of Six (Bridgend, Cardiff, Llanelli, Newport, Pontypridd and Swansea) that the structure of competitions managed by the WRU in Wales had to change, the governing body rejected moves to join the professional era. Pandering to the amateur clubs to which they owed their power base, Glanmor Griffiths and chums buried collective heads firmly in the sand and insisted that the status quo had to continue until 2007. Finally, after a threat of strike from the players, “the WRU general committee, working on advice from the Union’s Director of rugby Terry Cobner and his department, agreed to reduce the Premier Division to six professional clubs as soon as legally practicable,” said WRU chairman Glanmor Griffiths in a statement dated 16th March 2002. The players had threatened strike action, coming up with quite reasonable requests for future of the game. Completely alienated by both clubs and Union, players felt without a voice, and were forced into making a stand.

Dennis Gethin said you cannot reduce the number of clubs in Wales in 18 months and that was on 17th March 2002. Well Dennis, looks like you can!

Finally, after three years of activity the Director of the Welsh Rugby Union came up with a revised structure for the game. Better marketing? More sponsorship? Better TV deals? Nah! Given the Union’s anti-club history and a particularly antogonistic stance towards the benefactors that were keeping the game in Wales going, it was no surprise to see that the Union’s idea was to kill professional club rugby for good. December 2001 saw Cobner propose that the eight leading teams in Wales join forces for a four-team, regional system in the Heineken Cup and a new-look Celtic League.

“Thanks for all the money you’ve pumped into the game, but we’ll take over now”, was what Cobner was saying. Swansea would be forced to amalgamate with Llanelli, Neath with Bridgend, Cardiff with Pontypridd, and Newport with Ebbw Vale. The regional sides would play at Swansea, Neath, Cardiff and Newport. Quite where the Union was going to find the money from to run these amalgamated teams was not clear, but then again, finance has never been at the core of any Union plans. It’s all about control.

 

Players Ideas

It took the players to call for limits on the number of games played per season – 30 by international players (including 10 international games). Assuming that European Games will account for a further 8 games, that leaves 12 games only in the Celtic Super 12 – half the fixtures. A new two-tier system for professional and semi-professional rugby in Wales was also part of the plans – seems like they were the only one’s talking sense all along!

* A full-time professional division made up of six clubs funded to the tune of £1.5m;
* A second tier of 10 semi-professional clubs funded to the tune of £100,000 a year;
* The six professional clubs to chosen by a management board made up of representatives from the great and the good of Welsh rugby;
* The criteria for the six clubs to be based on financial, international players, academy and facilities tests (i.e. grounds and training facilities);
* The second tier of the current nine Premier Division clubs and this season’s First Division champions;
* Teams will comprise of development players, U21s and squad members of the professional team;
* The Super Six to play in European Cup and Shield, Celtic League, Principality Cup and new Super Six tournament;
* The second tier to play in a Welsh domestic competition;
* Welsh international players to be limited to 30 games per, including 10 international matches per calendar year;
* The Super Six clubs to reduce their non-Welsh qualified players to two per match-day 22, by the 20042005 season;
* A salary cap for the full-time professional and semi-pro teams;
* A more realistic structure of international match player payments, in line with those of other European rugby playing nations;
* A strong drive to increase revenue through sponsorship;
* A full examination of available funding and a review the WRU’s current revenue streams.

 

 

Comparison

 

Cobner’s Plans Gang of Six Plans Tasker Watkins Report Moffett’s Plans Peace in our time
Teams? Four regional teams Club based – top six clubs Club based – no money for the lower levels Four regions awarded as franchises – one in the north and three in the south Two sooper clubs and three amalgamated clubs – no bidding and no franchises
Result? Ditch clubs Ditch Ebbw Vale, Caerphilly and Neath Eight clubs Ditch clubs Neath and Swansea amalgamate, Ebbw Vale swallowed up by Newport and Caerphilly ditched
When did this idea surface? November 2001 December 2001 December 2001 January 19th, 2003 January 20th, 2003
Who holds the players’ contracts? WRU Clubs Top players contracted to WRU WRU-appointed Premier Division Management Board* (Glanmor Griffiths, Mal Beynon, Selwyn Walters, Alan Phillips, Terry Cobner, David Moffett, Steve Hansen) Clubs
Who runs the game? WRU Professional partnership – Union and Rugby Wales Partnership Ltd Eight man executive Board. WRU run by chief executive. WRU Uh – no change

 

Pantomime Horses

As we write this editorial, there are many details that are still to be found or even worked through, but the bones of the solution are much closer to the original so-called Gang of six plans than Cobner’s Central Control catastrophe. This solution is the culmination of just four months work by the new Chief Executive of the WRU, David Moffett. He arrived in Wales with the reputation of being an axe man, a cost cutter and bean counter with little respect for the traditions of the game.

His initial actions did nothing to allay the fears of rugby fans, cutting the ‘A’ team from the game in Wales meant the gap between the club game and intentional rugby was widened. This move saved just £200,000 per annum – exactly his salary. Further cuts were made at the real grass roots of the game. Many local Development Officers lost their jobs and those that were part funded by the professional clubs had their funding removed too. The motivation for this and other changes to the day-to-day organisation of the WRU was the crippling debts of £66m, plus an overdraft of over £9m. The bank was unhappy and Moffett was the man to cut the drain of finances from the Welsh game. Wonder what the man in charge of finances at the Union was doing? Glanmor ….?

Some of Moffett’s cuts
John Prince, Wales under-21s administrator, as well as the administration manager and commercial chief.
Chris Padfield, development officer for Gwent for the past 11 years, has been made redundant and so has the District A (Gwent) secretary who has been there two years longer.

Moffett’s initial negotiation position over the future of the game in Wales was to cut out the main source of extra money in the game – THE CLUBS and their BENEFACTORS! What was the sense in this? Moffett resurrected Terry Cobner’s Four Province Plan, with three teams in the south (based in Newport, Cardiff and Swansea) and one in the north (based in Wrexham).

In one move, Moffett’s alienated the entire professional game. The clubs were up in arms over this plan as they’d been the ones propping the game up to the tune of some £15m over the 8 years of professionalism – money the Union had failed to generate. Of course Henry and the Union had been more than grateful that Welsh players were back in Wales – “bringing players home” – and really got something for nothing. Of course, these players brought their wages with them and soon the wage level in Wales had reach some parity with that in the richer game in England.

In February 2003, Moffett presented his plans to an EGM of all member clubs of the WRU . It was claimed that the clubs had their chance to suggest an alternative to Moffett’s “Four Provinces” but they had not taken it. Was this plan really what Moffett had in mind, or was he using it as some sort of stalking horse?

But an agreement was made by all parties for five teams very early on in the negotiations and we all thought that was that.

Was there really a lack of unanimity amongst the clubs? During the whole negotiation process between the clubs and the WRU, the Union’s involvement in one of Wales’ major clubs managed to further muddy the waters. Neath RFC was viewed as a Trojan horse by the other professional clubs and was soon isolated from any involvement in plans for the future. This did the supporters, players and staff at Neath a great disservice – but what could they do? Glanmor was refusing to sell the club, so they were in a right mess.

A press conference was called to announce Llanelli, Neath / Swansea, Bridgend / Pontypridd, Cardiff and Newport / Ebbw Vale as the teams and Leighton Samuel (Bridgend) and Gareth Thomas (Pontypridd) had supposedly shaken hands on the deal.

But someone could still throw a spanner in the works. The pantomime horse with Glanmor in the front and Cuddy in the back turned the whole affair into a poor imitation of Goldilocks and the three Provinces. Mike Cuddy, Chief Executive of Gower Park, said that the Union could not negotiate on the behalf of Neath through Gower Park . . . . . . . . . so the deal was off. Cuddy said he ” ‘ad no happetite for it”. Clearly the porridge was too hot.

Act two of the farce was set in yet another general meeting of the WRU. With the professional game in turmoil, the Union’s logic was that the amateurs should decide, and so Severn Sisters and Mumbles RFC had their 15 minutes of fame. So what was the vote all about? 4 Centrally Controlled Provinces – 3 in the South and 1 in the North: 4 Centrally Controlled Provinces – 4 in the South 4 Wholly Club Owned Franchises: 4 Franchises with “Multi-Club” ownership – 50% senior, 30% 2nd senior, 20% junior clubs all designed on Cobner’s WRU districts ……. it was anybody’s guess! Was it the right way forward? Oh yes it was! Oh no it wasn’t! Oh yet it was!

The Document was designed with “Newcos” in mind – clubs would amalgamate to compete in cross border competition. Moffett said the finances were there only for four teams, Cobner said the players were there only for four teams. So confident were they that their actions were legal and fair that the document voted on by the Member clubs had the number of teams as X. So confident were they that their actions were properly costed, the funding was £x over x years.

With the rest of us shouting, “The bank manager’s behind you!”, the villagers just didn’t get it. They were being promised matches against the big boys in the Pentref Premiership should they reach Division 1. Think of all those bar takings! Everybody was down at the same level. Everybody had suffered “pain”. There were no winners but the losers could always say they were not alone. So that was it then, yes?

Four teams, organised by the Clubs but with the Union having control over player movements, player salaries, coaching appointments, Board decisions, sponsorship and Academy planning. This was what Cobner had wanted – near total control of the professional game whilst dressing it up as club control.

But it was not to be.

The Ugly Sisters

Those who had propped the Union up during the Henry years when their money was first needed now wanted their voice. Those who had negotiated with Moffett would not accept the deal and they had aces up their sleeve. If Moffett expected his Pied Piper act would guarantee the unthinking masses would blindly follow behind him, he was sadly mistaken.

Llanelli – and to a lesser extent, Cardiff – quickly rejected any ideas from the Union that their clubs should be sacrificed on the pyre of Union control. With a deep sense of irony, the very agreement that Cardiff had refused to sign prior to the rebel season was now the clubs’ chief weapon against the Union. Their second weapon was an agreement with the English and French clubs that without the Welsh clubs agreement, they would veto any change to the Welsh entrants into the Heineken Cup. Serge Blanco publicly stated that the French clubs would block ANY move to enter Welsh teams into the Heineken Cup without the total approval of ALL the Welsh clubs.

Moffett wrote to all the clubs threatening to tear up the loyalty agreement, but Llanelli said “See you in court!” Now with the Union’s funds in such a state that the only lawyer they could afford was Lionel Hutz, Moffett knew he had no case and had to compromise. So now we had Moffett promising four, but the courts possibly saying 9 with all clubs being funded at the minimum guarantee of £450,000 per season instead of the combined team earning £1.5m.

This focussed minds.

Cinderella Finances

So finally the clubs realised that if they didn’t meet the demands of Cardiff and Llanelli (with the silent backing of Pontypridd( for a five team solution they would only receive £450,000 next season. That, of course, would have seen the financial death of many clubs and they would clearly have fallen into administration as Swansea RFC had done. Ebbw Vale and Neath would be the first to fold with such small funding. Suddenly Mr Cuddy found his happetite – a £1m happetite.

Mr Russell of Ebbw Vale went quiet on his quote that “a small town from Carmarthenshire was holding Welsh rugby to ransom” (strangely he failed to mention Cardiff in the same terms) but the most telling quote came from Mike Price of Neath RFC. He finally admitted that the “Newco” agreement was the only way Neath RFC could have a voice at the top end of Welsh rugby in the future. Initial objections from Neath on merger with Swansea.

This agreement was nothing about representation of all teams in a region, nothing about the betterment of the Welsh national team – this was only about keeping your snout in the trough.

Despite Mr Moffett’s tremendous efforts to bring about the change that was so obviously needed he has come to understand that the clubs hold the aces.

A Grimm Fairytale

Just before the agreement was announced, the Welsh International players threatened to pull out of the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia. Just after the announcement, the ERC announced that the WRU was not to have influence over the selection and coaching of the entrants. The clubs have the players, the clubs have the support of the broadcasters who wanted 5 teams, the clubs have the money and the clubs have the lawyers and the other European Clubs backing them. The Union had 230 amateurs and this was a no contest. The only bastion for Union control that remains is who controls the players? The 50:50 contract share that was in the Moffett document and the daft draft that was in the Moffett document may still be in place. On past records, who do we trust to negotiate the better contracts? The clubs or the Union?

Moffett’s men

Moffett has appointed three colleagues to help him drag the WRU into the 21st century. Former Ebbw Vale, London Welsh and Barbarians scrum-half Steve Lewis takes over as WRU General Manager replacing former secretary Dennis Gethin. All these title differences make it very difficult for outsiders to get a grip on who is responsible for what.

An accountant by qualification, what’s more important about Lewis’ past is that he has extensive experience in international business – though again decifering exactly at what level is very difficult when little information is published by a Welsh press intent on keeping the details away from the public.

Steve Lewis described the investment of so much money in the Millenium Stadium without ensuring full utilisation of that asset as a “serious error of management”.

And the new marketing and commercial manager is Gwyn Thomas, who joins the game’s governing body from a “senior position” with Tesco in Wales. Again the press is vague, but Thomas seems to have been an ex-store manager. The cinique would say, “what does a shopkeeper know about running a sports organisation like the WRU”, but without doubt a sense of commercial acumin has been missing from the Union.

The final appointmentt of Moffet is new Millennium Stadium manager Paul Sargeant, a former director of Wembley Stadium. The WRU has debts of £66m, including an £8m overdraft and when the Union is forced to shelve out money to lay a new pitch several times a season – this asset is becoming more like a mill stone than a profitable investment. The Union has been slow to sell the benefits of the stadium as a “National Asset” earning money for the whole of the South Wales area, and surely this must be one of Sargeant’s first tasks.

So far, all we’ve seen from Moffett is cost cutting and very little of fund raising. He has abolished the U16 and U17 Welsh teams (saving around £50,000 a year). The A team cut is said to save £200,000 a season. The nine development officers appointed by the WRU to develop the game have to reapply for only five positions. 25 heads were cut from the Union and the national team also faced a £100,000 cut. Perhaps most worrying for fans of the game is the cut in referees mileage allowances – from 40p to 30p a mile. Touch judges fees halved from 55 quid to 27.5 per game. What we need is high quality officials and the last thing we should be doing is discouraging probably the most important man on the pitch.

Having said all that though, the WRU seems to have found 10million from somewhere.

Stuart Gallacher quite reasonably demanded that the WRU should open its books to the public, and with all this cost cutting going on and Moffett penniless in the face of the demands of the professional arm of the sport, we supporters have a right to see the extent of the commercial mismanagment of the Union in recent years.

So who does run the game in Wales?

The game in Wales is largely run by local authority councillors and well meaning amateurs. Ex-players pepper the sport. Now all this is fine for the amateur arm of the sport, but professional rugby is being held back by a lack of skilled individuals in the right places.

The WRU set up a Premier Division Management Board with the same old faces controlling the professional arm of the game. Glanmor Griffiths, Mal Beynon, Selwyn Walters, Alan Phillips, Terry Cobner, David Moffett, Steve Hansen and the magnificent seven who will manage the game.

The two representatives from the WRU board are Maldwyn Beynon – a non-executive director of the Millenium Stadium and member of the WRU. Now non-executive directors are individuals who are usually paid a hell of a lot of money to ofer advice to directors. They have no voting rights. Some individuals collect these non-executive posts and make a fortune with very little responsibility. Mr Beynon is a 69 year old who played for Brynmawr RFC – now a member of that club – ironically the club at the cente of the WRU draw cock up this season. Quite what he brings to the party, no one seems to know and he’s hardly around to answer to the press or anyone else about what he does. He is also a District A representative in the Union and largely shuns press attention.

The other representative is Selwyn Walters – a 56 year old who is the WRU’s Six Nations representative. He’s also club secretary at Lampeter, and another in the long line of local councillors who populate the WRU ranks. Last year in the Mirror, he was famously quoted as saying “I always go along with the official press releases from the Union. It’s always been a policy of mine never to go into details about anything really.” Does this sound like the views of a man who will provide the necessary leadership and drive we need to take the game into the professional era in Wales?

Where did the funding come from to run club rugby in Wales?

The Rugby Football Union gives £2.3m to each of its 12 Zurich Premiership teams. Money is distributed equally to all clubs. The Scottish and Irish Rugby Unions also fund their professional province and district teams on an equitable basis, with Ulster getting around £2.2m from the Union.

In Wales, each of the nine premier clubs receive just under £270,000 from TV deals brokered by the Union with S4C and BBC Wales.

Clubs also receive a £30,000 each time one of their games is shown live on TV. Under-21 rugby is funded in Wales to to the tune of less than £50,000 per club. Heineken Cup get just under £300,000 each for participating in the tournament. Parker Pen teams get only £180,000.

Other funds are distributed by the Union based on the number of players each club supplies to the Welsh squad 0 the more players, the more money clubs recieve.

The WRU also takes out £90,000 of the clubs money for central marketing. That’s a hell of a marketing budget from the Union – wonder how they use that? Wouldn’t that money be better spent by the clubs?

What does the future hold?

Moffett’s report on four provinces laid out quite detailed plans of what structure the Union wanted. Now however, a combination of poor PR from the Union and poor press reporting means fans have little idea of exactly what has been decided – if anything. Moffett’s original plans were widely reported in the press, but since then, we’ve heard or read little factual information and the only conclusion one can draw is that it’s pretty much a free for all.

Not that the clubs have been any better since their final proposals were adopted by the Union. Should we expect any more from the clubs? Do they have a body to act in their best interests? Uh, no. That should be the Union. On the long road to the demise of the professional game in Wales, each club is fighting for its best interests (you could argue that that’s no bad thing), and the Union is unable to offer any leadership or focus.

Finally, a Celtic Super 12 has been delivered, but we’re still no wiser on where the funding for this will come from. The Union, meanwhile has announces a new £10million academy – massive indoor arena, weight training facilities, four rugby pitches, an Astroturf surface and a 400 metre running track. So the money seems to be there – or is it?

Central contracts? What do the players think? Well, Jon Humphreys said he would retire from the game if the WRU forced him to move from Cardiff, but things seem to have moved on since then. Gareth Williams was told he had to move from Pontybonty to Cardiff, and Alfie was told he could not sign for Cardiff – even though that’s what he wanted to do. This season’s coach is telling players where they should play their rugby, even if it’s unlikely he’ll be around when the very same players contracts are up for renewal.

Unfortunately, our view of how the game will develop next season is that very little – if anything – has changed.

Regions, Provinces, Amalgamated clubs – what’s the difference?

Well, the short answer to that question is, don’t ask the Union. Alan Phillips publically dismissed the idea of provincial rugby, but he’s hardly alone in that opinion. Sadly, few in the game have a clear business idea of what the difference is between regions, provinces, franchises, amalgamations and super clubs – and don’t expect the press to dwell on the details of what has been done to our game. Spin and headlines are far more valued at Thomson House and the English press just print the same regurgetated copy. As for the BBC, well, they’re even worse.

Despite Moffett’s announcements that there would be no mergers – that’s exactly what we’ve got.

What we have is teams forced to amalgamate to save money – they could not rely on the same Union hand outs to keep them afloat and as a result they’ve had to cut costs. Newport – in the guise of the submission of Tony Brown – mysteriously surrendered 50% control to a village at the top of the Valley who will bring nothing to Wales’ third largest City. The bois from Jurassic Park have no players, no finances and no where near sufficient supporters to fund a professional team, but have somehow managed to wrestle control of Newport away from Mr Brown. Newport’s benefactor has clearly done so much for the game in Newport and in Wales in general – attracting international names to the game and boosting the exposure of the sport. However, he’s clearly sold Newport short on this one and rugby in Gwent will suffer as a result. Our prediction is that Newport (if they play at Rodney Parade they’ll be Newport in all but name), will struggle next season. Divisions behind the scenes will lead to an unsettled squad and the team will fail in Europe and in the Celtic League. Fair-weather supporters will no longer turn up, and the club will quickly revert to pre-Brown days.

Pontybonty should have the strongest squad on paper, but will the Ponty faithful flock to the Brewery Field? We think not, and expect higher attendances for the Pentref Premiership games than the amalgamated club games. Once more divisions between Yoda and the Bridgend bois will cause problems, and as Leighton Samuels found out, investing £4m took four years to bear fruit in Wales. In Europe and the Celtic League, the situation will be worse.

For the Blackjacks, its a case of chalk and cheese. Mr Cuddy’s happetite will mean more games at the cricket pitch at Neath, and insufficient crowds to pay for the club. If Morfa gets built quickly enough, then the attraction of a new stadium could put bums on seats and may ensure the Blackjacks future. Without Morfa, there’s simply not enough money around and the new club will pretty soon be going cap in hand to the Union.

As for the Scarlets, well they have the strongest XV on paper and could do well in Europe next season. They have an ageing team, but if they can stay free from injury, they’ve a coach who could provide the town with a winning team. Will they come and watch? Well, they haven’t done so in sufficient number in recent seasons, so will they do so in the future? If the Scarlets need 8,000 a week, what evidence is there that they can attract these sort of numbers in the future?

Finally, Cardiff are set for another tough season next year. The squad has been strengthened, but with so many new faces and an inexperienced coach, they too are set to struggle in Europe and away in the league. Of the five clubs involved next season, Cardiff have the largest number of millionaires on the board, so the club will survive whatever happens. Competition outside Wales will be a severe test on Young and his youngsters, so don’t expect any dramatic change on this season.

So in conclusion, with three out of the five clubs in financial difficulties at the end of the 2003-4 season, what will the Union do? Sell the stadium to raise money to keep the clubs alive? Take the difficult decision of forcing bankruptcy on a “no more bail outs” policy? That’s when the real tough decisions will need to be made. Will Moffett be around to make them?

The ‘X’ Files

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We’ve been crying out for a reduction in the number of paid professionals in Welsh rugby for over three years now, and at last the WRU seems to have woken up and taken some notice.

The Union will try to force through franchises for European competition next season, though it remains to be seen whether the French and English clubs will allow this to happen. If the WRU are allowed to rail road proposals over the interests of clubs, what’s to stop the French and English unions doing the same thing? And here’s the rub. Club owners in Wales may be ready to throw the towel in and give up control of their clubs, but don’t expect the French or the English to do so.

This fight isn’t over yet!

Clear conflict of interest

The press has yet to report under what criteria the WRU will select the franchise winners, and as a club they own are involved in the bidding process (Neath), it doesn’t take a genius to detect a conflict of interest.

Leighton Samuel has certainly seen that one of the best way’s to ensure selection is to ally his club with the WRU’s club. But what does this mean for Swansea? Wales’ second city should definitely hold a franchise given the economic clout of the area and the huge population. But don’t expect the WRU to respect such logic – vested interests count!

Solution – Franchise should be awarded by an independent body auditing the structure and financial plans of the franchise winners.

Selection Criteria

It’s still not clear from press reports on what criteria will be used to decide on how franchises should be awarded. For example, for the sake of a level playing field (something we don’t see in the Village League!), all franchise winners must play games in stadium they own. We’ve long asked for supporters to be put first – for example, set minimal standards on facilities – access to the ground, seating, toilets, ground capacity etc..

Solution – Clear publication in the media of what criteria will be used for selection

What do Franchise winners receive?

Again, in the muddled world of the WRU, this is also not clear at the moment, but on first sweep it would seem that they get the right to play in Europe (still not approved by ERC) and in a revised Celtic League (structure still not agreed by the IRU and the SRU). They will also receive a share of the £4m on offer from the Union – remember that £2.7m comes from the ERC. In short, franchise winners don’t get very much.

Will franchise winners be allowed to keep funds they raise through the marketing of their clubs? Unknown.

Solution – Union should concentrate on promoting the international game and the amateur game by investing in coaches and facilities at a grass roots level. Union should concentrate on getting competitions adequately sponsored. Perhaps when they can contribute money equal to that of the IRU – for example, Ulster receive £2.5m a season – then we’ll get a decent franchise structure.

Muddled Franchise ownership

Moffet has come up with a proposal for ownership of the franchise, though this too is full of holes. It is muddled and based on vested interests – far from meritocratic structure that we need. What happens if clubs bid alone? There was talk that their funding would be cut to 75% of a joint bid – so what happens to the other 25%? Back in the WRU coffers? Why should district clubs own any shares in the franchise winner? What can they bring to the party?

Solution – Union should retain 50% of share ownership of the franchise winner and commit to put in 50% of the finances. Union should adopt a passive policing role to ensure franchise performs at a standard stipulated by the franchise document. Involvement of the district clubs is farcical and an attempt at populism by the Union – nothing else.

Central Contracts

The WRU has made it clear that they want to drive all non-Welshman from Welsh clubs – despite the fact that it’s obviously illegal. As far as Cardiff are concerned, that would mean the end of Dan Baugh’s career at the club. So how many Cardiff fans would like to see him go?

With contracts held by the clubs at the moment, does the Union have the money to buy players out of their contracts? Uh …. no. So where does the money come from?

Whilst we’d welcome a new coach at Cardiff (sorry Dai), how can the Union order players between clubs? We’ve long opposed dual contracts on the evidence of union mismanagement of our game for many decades, and thankfully this is one area where the Union is destined to defeat in the law courts should it insist on this. For a measly £6.7m a season, they think they can buy up 130 contracts? Bluddy hilarious. That would make an average salary of £51K a year JUST FOR THE PLAYERS, let alone the coaches, directors of the clubs, ground maintenance, travel etc. etc.

With central control, will players be forced to play for franchises, despite their own preferences? Who makes the choices of which player should play where? Hansen? Do us a favour! The man will disappear after the world cup!

Solution – Central contracts? Forget it! Impossible and undesirable! Union can’t do what it’s supposed to do now – why give it more power?

What happens next season?

If the club owners agree to franchises, if other clubs in Europe agree to franchises, if there’s no legal row over contracts, if there’s an equitable selection process, if clubs can survive on the tiny amount of money offered by the union we’ll get four nomadic teams with no “home” fixture, no passion for the jersey, no identity and no committed fan base.

Solution – Franchise winners should be individual clubs where at all possible and not some fudged compromise. We must give preference to our major conurbations – Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.

What happens the season after?

Watch out for the breakaway!

Franchises …

What must be the structure must franchise winners?

* The winner of the franchise will hold a 50 per cent stake.

* The other “beaten” premier clubs in that area will hold 30 per cent

* District clubs hold remaining 20 per cent.

Moffit’s Franchise will be based on four areas …

* EAST WALES – (Newport, Ebbw Vale and Caerphilly?)
* CENTRAL WALES – (Cardiff and Pontypridd?)
* SOUTH WEST WALES – (Neath and Bridgend?)
* WEST WALES – (Llanelli and Swansea?)

It will cost nothing to bid, which opens the door for clubs such as Pontypool, Aberavon and Llandovery to apply too.

You won’t win anything with kids ….

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Dear Dai Young

On a day we should be all celebrating the excellent news (see The Times On Line) that Welsh teams are proposing a cross border league with our friendly clubs in England, you drop this bombshell.

Your constant selection of one or two players is now beginning to stink – is there a clique being formed? Why is the Neath game going ahead, when 6 of our bois are involved with the National team?

Let’s start with the selection of a certain Mr Rogers at loose head. Against Biarritz he was constantly last up from any ruck he bothered to get to and then stayed out in the backs without making the effort to make the next ruck.

Is that what you want from your forwards, Dai? Perhaps we could forgive you if the rucking of the Cardiff team was up to scratch, but it is not. This season we have seen how excellent our back line can be with quick ball (thank you Mr John) and how ineffective with slow ball.

Of course the back row is so important when it comes to creating quick ball and protecting what little ball we win. This season has seen woeful protection of the scrum half at rucks and how interesting it has been to see Mr Appleyard standing out in the back line as another turnover goes against us. That is, of course, if he hasn’t knocked the ball on.

Last weeek’s Man of the Match had to be the excellent McShane who showed enthusiasm and vigour when he appeared. Compare this with the apathy showed by the above mentioned players. What message does this give to Dan McShane? That no matter how well he plays, however much enthusiasm and skill he displays, he will not make even the bench for the next game? The same for Payne, who has superb effort levels and is really keen to impress – as you stated.

And then we look at the referee for this Saturday’s encounter – Mr Damage!!!! Mr Homer extraordinaire!!! The most pedantic and whistle happy Scotsman you will meet. So you pick Cardiff’s two biggest penalty machines????!?!?! Rogers and Appleyard aregood for 9 opposition points every week.

Which leads us on to Yellow Cards. We all know Mr Rogers liking for these, but how Appleyard stayed on the pitch in Ulster we will never know. Is this how the club rewards its players for misdemeanours?

Journalists in Wales harp on about how great it is to see Cardiff giving young talent and young homegrown talent a go at last. They conveniently ignore the most important part of the team – the pack! This is your responsibility Mr Young and the selections are not showing improvement.

It is rumoured that many of our backline are out of contract at the end of this season. Perhaps it will be wise for them to move on to a club where they will see the ball and all the good work done by those wishing to see an Anglo-Welsh league will be undone by the poor showing of Cardiff’s forwards.

Please prove us wrong Mr Young. Please tell us that Payne and McShane are injured and unavailable for selection, because the “official” site feed us fans no information.

Yours in Hope of a Cohesive Pack

Cardiff Squad 2002 – 2003 Celtic Super League

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The rumours are strong of a Celtic Super 12 to run next season, after the World Cup in Australia and to coincide with the European Cup and Shield. With four Irish provinces and three Scottish Districts, this makes room for only five Welsh super clubs for the tournament.

With the heavy schedule for our international players already lined up for next season, and Steve Hansen already asking for a limit of 20 club games for our players this season, the pool of players to pick from must be enlarged.

The administrators are already talking to the Union and the representatives from the clubs are also committee men of Llanelli, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Pontypridd. With Leighton Samuel having resigned from the Western Mail titled “Gang of Six” and Neath being the puppy dogs of the Rottweiler Union, it could be that the five teams are already selected and the playing squads of Neath and Bridgend will be loaned out for the competition.

If the Union and the clubs have sensible discussions (!) the possibilites of allowing the best Welsh qualified players to be exposed to the top level of club rugby in the World are good. Whilst certain playing contracts will have to be negoitiated, the extra pool of players will allow those who represented Wales in the World Cup to be properly rested before the next round of Six Nations whilst still maintaining the club base and tradition.

Neath have only three non-Welsh qualified players in their squad, yet Bridgend have comfortably more. Representatives from both Caerphilly and Ebbw Vale could be drafted in whilst the exciting young talent of the big five could be given a start.

We have pencilled in a potential Celtic 12 squad for Cardiff, with players “loaned” in from Neath and Bridgend. The depth of talent means that, for example, Lee Jarvis could fight for the number 10 spot at Llanelli or perhaps make the Newport team, whilst Shane Williams could fight for a wing spot at Cardiff.

An agreement between the parties could see the number of non-Welsh qualified players limited to two per squad. In our squad we have kept Crazy Dan and John Tait as the “overseas” players. The non qualified players in the squad could play in an expanded Village Domestic League, or be loaned out to Division One clubs to raise the standards below the professional game.

The money generated for the Union during the World Cup could part pay for the player’s contracts during this time. Should we take Jamie Robinson as an example of a player who could be out of contract at the end of this season and will be in the Welsh squad for the World Cup, then the Union can contract him from May to November. He will then be free from any club pressures during this time and be free to represent Wales and train etc under the total guidance of Steve Hansen.

His contract will then be picked up again by Cardiff in November to play in either the Celtic 12 or European Cup or both.

Of course there will be a great expense involved in this exercise and the man with the most power may well be Leighton Samuel himself. Players contracts will have to be negotiated and the fixture list will be a nightmare. Yet with the World Cup running well into the British season the potential number of games is seriously limited anyway. Nobody wants to see “top flight” rugby without the Internationals.

Full Backs
Rhys Williams, Matt James
Wingers
Craig Morgan, Liam Roberts, Nick Walne, Shane Williams
Centres
Gareth Thomas, Daffydd James, Jamie Robinson, Nicky Robinson
Outside Halves
Iestyn Harris, Nick McLeod
Scrum Halves
Ryan Powell, Richard Smith, Huw Harries
Props
Spencer John, Kenneth Fourie, Martyn Madden, Ben Evans
Hookers
Andrew Lewis, Greg Woods, Steve Jones
Second Rows
Adam Jones, Luke Tait, Andy Moore, John Tait, Chris Stamatakis
Back Row
Nathan Budgett, Martyn Williams, Robin Sowden Taylor, Nathan Bonner-Evans, Steve Tandy, Dan Baugh

Too many clubs

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Wales not only has a disproportionate number of paid players, but also a disproportionate number of professional clubs. Instead of moving to reduce the number of clubs, the Union is intent on maintaining the status quo, and like King Canute sitting on his throne is trying hard to force back the tides of professionalism. Nine clubs are not sustainable in Wales, and only through the efforts of private benefactors is the game being kept alive. Their subsidies are the only thing creating a spectacle worth watching.

Instead of cutting the weakest teams from the Welsh-Scottish League – those who consistently have failed to perform and finished at the bottom, we cut on geographical lines. This is a typical “small minded” approach based on a true village mentality and not based on creating a tough environment in which our players should compete. More games against Ebbw Vale & Caerphilly or Edinburgh & Glasgow – which is the tougher?

Country Population Total Players Paid Players Pro Teams
Wales 3m 70,000 2,000 9
New Zealand 3.3m 400,000 260 5
Australia 20m 34,700 150 3
South Africa 30m 150,000 350 4
England 47m 250,000 800 12
France 60m 500,000 960 16

Because the WRU failed to cut the number of teams at the top of the sport we lost the chance for a decent Celtic League next season. It seems we’ve now also lost the chance of two tough away games a season. The standard is therefore being gradually eroded by the WRU who are happy to let clubs like Ebbw Vale and Caerphilly dictate what is best for the full time professionals which represent our country. Ebbw Vale and Caerphilly are never going to win anything – they are merely feeder clubs. Their attendance figures render them unsustainable full time professional clubs. They are only in the league to make up the fixture list and as soon as the legal problems are out of the way, expect them to slide to the First Division where they belong.

Thomas Castaignede knows what’s wrong. “Caerphilly ….. had plenty of heart and I don’t like to single them out, but they had the look of a team who hadn’t won for a year and that was what they were. There needs to be fewer professional clubs in Wales, because the country does not have the resources. What cash is there, is spread around too thinly. They have to have properly funded professional rugby among a core of elite teams, with the remaining clubs reverting to amateur or semi-pro.”

Central Contracts

Some coaches feel that a central body should contract players and then draft them out to clubs. Well those clubs who invest in Youth would hardly get the benefit they deserve. This model increases a culture of dependency where clubs constantly go cap in hand to the central body for hand outs instead of providing their own players and their own financial viability. Why should clubs relinquish the successful nurturing of a player to a club which is unable to nurture their own players? Hardly a recipe for enhancing that players prospects, is it?

This is the same culture says that players should play every week – and not have to play for their places. Mervyn Davies famously wrote in his autobiography that he only played his best rugby when he was competing with Andy Ripley for a place in the Lions’ XV, and that he’d too often turned in substandard performances in Wales where he was picked automatically.

Has Jinx game really improved on the last three seasons or has he just been treading water? When faced with competition for his place from the excellent Paul Burke, the club mysteriously got rid of the better player. Jinx wants to play rugby every week, we are told. Well justify your place!

Ebbw Vale’s Wales prop Iestyn Thomas is a perfect example. He is joining Llanelli but will face competition for a place from Martyn Madden. Is that good for Welsh league rugby because one of them is going to miss out? Or is it excellent for Welsh rugby that competition between Madden and Thomas will force them to exceed their present performance levels in order to get a game? We don’t want a team of loafers who turn up each week and don’t have to compete for places.

But the biggest reason why central contracts won’t work is that the game just doesn’t generate enough cash for the Union to match the wages we need to keep the best players in Wales. Limiting the number of central contracts is the only way of controlling expenses – and then there’ll never be enough contracts around to subsidise clubs who’s very existence is based on a romantic assertion rather than hard business facts.

The Welsh-Scottish League

The demise of the Welsh-Scottish League was a sad reflection of the inability of either Union to make a success of cross border competition. Even Yoda could see the danger in ripping up a competition which was forcing Welsh players to play in new environments, under testing conditions. To say that the Scots brought nothing to Welsh rugby, begs the question of what exactly do teams who have finished below the Scots bring to the game? The classic view from the village was perfectly expressed by Graham Thomas – only focussing on the Scots poor performances in Wales, instead of the corresponding poor performances of Welsh teams in Scotland!

Replacing games against the Scots with more of the same against local rivals smacks of all that’s wrong with the incestuous nature of South Wales rugby. Cardiff experienced three excellent games against our close rivals Newport last season – this season, we could end up playing them four times! How is this going to improve our players abilities to think on their feet? Won’t we suffer from the same old trench warfare that encouraged Cardiff and Swansea to leave the Village in the first place? This move is based purely on money – not the aim for sporting excellence. Mismanagement in the marketing of the league rendered it sponsorless and therefore doomed.

So now we only have the unbalanced Celtic League – largely dictated by who gets the home draw, rather than the best team over the length of the competition. And even this competition is being short changed by those great conservatives of the game in Wales – the Oliver Twist of the South Wales Valleys, Ebbw Vale. As Llanelli chief executive Stuart Gallacher quite rightly said of Ray Harris description of the Celtic League as a drain on resource, “If that’s how Ebbw Vale feel they should go and play in Division One.”

“It may not be perfect, but people should consider what the alternatives to the Celtic League are – a 12 or 14 Division Welsh domestic league perhaps?”

“The English clubs don’t want to play us, although perhaps one or two Welsh teams could play in the Zurich Premiership.” Now which two would that be ……?

The Third Way

Of the many proposals for restructuring the game in recent times, one of the more interesting came from the subsidised clubs in the First Divison. The so-called “The Third Way” advocated that the top three/four Premier Division sides – having earned their places at the summit – detach themselves completely from domestic rugby and just play in the Heineken Cup and Celtic League. Tom and Phil agree with this basic premise, although we hope that five full time professional clubs are sustainable. Much of the other recommendations for the structure of the game also make perfect sense. Sadly though, where they fall down is on the sordid question of money. Clubs at the lower and professionally unsustainable level of the game, still want hand outs in order to keep their cushy perks going.

We take a look at the detailed proposals below ….

1. A three/four-strong elite of clubs to compete at Celtic League and Heineken Cup, who would be given all the money they “earn” through status won by merit on the field.

The elite idea is a good one, though we need a long term view of what we need in Wales. Money should be awarded based on franchises, not temporary success. We need investment in youth, excellent facilities and the long term – not just buy up the best players and inflate salaries.

2. A salary cap for leading players and radical alteration of funding to premier clubs.

Impractical – as has been proved in football. Inventive clubs will always find a way around salary caps. The only way to keep salaries under control is to insist that clubs invest in areas other than salaries.

3. Promotion and relegation to be enshrined in all leagues, but only guaranteed by satisfying qualification criteria (such as facilities, commercial potential etc.)

Very good point – as long as our comments on point 1 are ensured.

4. League rugby includes no play-offs and no golden parachutes for the relegated International playing contracts be altered to a performance-related system, market forces to dictate where players play and central contracts for leading players as soon as possible.

5. The league structure would also be split between professional and amateur with a semi-professional league catering for a transition between the two. Below the premiership, the WRU in conjunction with relevant agencies, local authorities and government bodies would begin a radical overhaul of all clubs.

No funding for clubs below the top elite – we can’t afford it! But certainly splitting the professional and amateur arm is the way forward.

6. The management of the game would be radically altered to cater for the proposed changes and leading under-19 players would be centrally contracted and placed with clubs in an American Football-style draft-system.

This is the more hair brained of all the proposals. Players should be allowed to play for who they like, or they’ll end up all going to Bath!

Sadly, the third way does not prioritise success in Europe – it just wants to create a structure where everyone has a right to access European competition ….. regardless of the need to equip our representatives with competitive credentials (players, coaches, stadia, etc. etc.) . The result will be a pyramid too flat to keep our best players in Wales.

Do Nothing

The Union is in meltdown mode. They are now being put under increasing pressure to sell the family jewels in order to invest in the club game.

All the money raised from the sale will be frittered away on unsustainable business ventures which will bleed the game of its heritage. This will be the death of the game in Wales. Huge debts run up by clubs like Llanelli, and the unsustainability of running a professional rugby club in Ebbw Vale mean that if the Union is allowed to continue on its present path it will continue to waste money on a series of financial suicide packages.

Clubs will become more and more in debt to the Union, with only Cardiff, Newport and Bridgend owning their own grounds, which is vital to have an asset against which to borrow in the future in order to invest. Eventually the Union with have to act, when the money runs out. If they won’t cut subsidies, then the bankers will insist they do so. Clubs will be forced to merge or die.

With debts increasing and the lack of credible teams in Europe, our players will learn the losing habit as soon as they venture outside the trench warfare that is Welsh club rugby. When our losing streak in the Six Nations continues, ticket sales will fall and the Union will be forced to sell to throw more money into the bottomless pit of unsustainable clubs. Our top clubs – starved of cash – will lose their best players to England, and the downward cycle will continue.

Why are we waiting for this scenario to develop? Without a radical overhaul of professional rugby in Wales the game will slowly die, or at best be a feeder for English rugby.

What sort of future do you want? Ten mediocre teams competing in a devalued, sponsorless, second division league, or five clubs challenging for honours in Europe producing players who are used to winning in France and England. Compete in Europe or die. To us, the choice is clear.

The Future

We’ve been saying for many years that Welsh rugby can only sustain a pool of around 120 players. Only the emergence of Leighton Samuels’ money at Bridgend has convinced us that this figure could increase slightly.

Putting aside the romantic sentimentality that ruins any clear thinking on the future of the game in Wales shows us that we need a mixture of our strong traditions with the harsh realities of running a business in a competitive environment.

It’s clear than a limit of four (or perhaps a maximum of five) professional clubs are sustainable in Wales – taking into account our relative economic strength. As our goal should be to compete in Europe against the French and English, we advocate a steeper pyramid. We are not interested in pandering to the wishes of organisation with limited ambitions and limited resources. Competing only in the Village gets us nowhere – we must win the Heineken Cup as the only way of growing the sport in Wales.

We advocate a structured season which peaks towards the Six Nations, fed by Europe in which Welsh teams have a chance of winning, honed by a competitive Celtic “Super 12” League – containing four Irish teams, three Scots and five Welsh. Our target would be to have four/five clubs playing in modern stadia with a capacity of 20,000. There is no reason why this cannot happen – the Australians manage this without a real history of Union.

Why Five?

Australian Super 12 teams contain 50 professionals – which we think is excessive. 35 full time professionals is sustainable and allows for progress from junior clubs should injuries interrupt the season. 150 professionals (plus perhaps 2 seasoned internationals from outside the EU for coaching/experience purposes) will provide a sufficient pool from which to select a squad of 30 for Welsh internationals.

Each squad must contain a specified number of U23 players as a way of guaranteeing an investment in future internationals. If the Union has less than £10m to invest in club rugby, then in order to match the central funding offered by the English, £2m a club is the only solution.

Decisions

Population
Ebbw Vale 24,422
Llanelli/Amanford 95,000
Newport 137,000
Neath/Port Talbot 138,000
Swansea 231,180
Cardiff 300,000

Other possible franchise winners could be …

1. A Gwent team – built around Pontypool, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery and Newbridge.

2. A Cynon Valley team – built around Pontypridd, Mountain Ash, Abercynon, Aberdare and Merthyr.

3. A Bridgend team – built around Bridgend, Maesteg, Porthcawl and Pyle.

4. A Llanelli team – built around Llanelli, Camarthen and Amanford.

5. A Port Talbot team – built around Neath and Aberavon.

We firmly believe that the only way to equitably decide on which clubs should receive central support and be entered in the Celtic Super 12 and European competitions is through a franchise system. Every club in Wales should have the opportunity to bid for one of the five franchises with the criteria being laid down by the Union. Given our target of clubs selling out a 20,000 seater stadium, franchise winners must demonstrate that they have business plans which include the provision of facilities to attract this sort of audience.

It’s by forgetting the importance of spectators that Welsh rugby is dying. Without the revenue from large gates (which in turn attract the attention of sponsors), we cannot compete in Europe because we will not be able to retain our top players.

Wales contains three major cities – Cardiff, Swansea and Newport – and we would hope that each could put together franchise bids which meet the criteria we’ve discussed. There are then two other franchises available. Central subsidy of unsustainable clubs for purely historical/sentimental reasons is not an option. Franchises should only be awarded to clubs who have sufficient private backing and who can meet the franchise criteria.

Awarding Franchises

In our model, no central funds will be wasted on any clubs in Wales other than the top five. The Union will separate into two arms – that governing the professional five clubs and that representing the rest of the amateur sport. It will invest any other monies available in providing facilities at grass roots level – district coaches, pitches and training facilities, school support, etc.

What factors should be used to decide on who gets the franchises? Franchise winners must show ….

  1. A sound business plan – at least £2m ready to invest in the club – funds from corporate sponsorship, private backing and ticket sales etc. etc.
  2. An investment plan which includes the running of a Youth team and various youth rugby initiatives.
  3. An investment plan which includes the running of an U21 team
  4. The provision of a stadium owned by the franchise holder with a business plan to increase that stadium’s capacity to 20,000.

In return, the Union will guarantee the award of a £2m package to the franchise holder for a three year period. At the end of the three years, franchises will be reassessed. Should poor business performance or poor performance on the pitch be failing to promote the game as the franchise holder should, other bids could result in a removal of the franchise.

A Structured Season

Players should play a maximum of 35 games per season, maybe a little high, but most players would not go on to play five games for Wales in a season.

mid-August to January Celtic Super 12 ….. 22 games on a home and away basis (18 Friday/Saturday/Sundays evening games plus 4 mid-week games)
January to March European Competitions four pools of six teams 10 pool games plus three knock out = maximum of 13 games
April & May Six Nations 5 games
June Tours Southern Hemisphere

Frankly, we see little merit in the November internationals which only disrupt a poorly structured season and are only designed to make money for the Union. If the sport was marketed and sponsored correctly, there’d be no need for the November games.

Any overseas team touring the UK would do so in June/July and vice versa – thus cutting the number of International games but having a Worldwide International Season – of course this would need the support of the SANZAR countries, or Rupert Murdoch!!! Can you imagine how happy Murdoch would be with a World Championship of Rugby in May/June/July/August, thus filling the gap in the football season.

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