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.

What the WRU really wants

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Whatever the WRU say in their negotiations with the Six Pack, you can guarantee that the vested interests are stronger than the desire to improve the professional game. In the outdated structure of the game in Wales, Rhymney Rugby Club have more say over domestic competition than the Welsh coach.

The vote at the EGM will undoubtedly fail to ratify Terry Cobner’s proposal on a six team franchise for the professional level of the sport in Wales. It’s not a closed shop, and through hard work and dedication any club in Wales can become professional with guaranteed financial support from the Union.

However, the EGM on the 7th will reject this proposal – just what the Union want.

They want the club owners to withdraw from the sport – they want to take ownership of the players and dictate to the players where they should play , who their coach and team mates should be, where they should live, etc. etc. for make no mistake, this is what central contracts mean.

When the owners pull out from the sport, a number of top clubs will go bankrupt and players will become free agents. By “buying up” Neath and already holding dominant shares in Llanelli and Pontypridd, the Union will then be in a position to “own” all the top clubs in Wales. They can then impose any structure they like.

They’ve always wanted control over players’ contracts and now they will have it. Expect the establishment of a number of district teams with all players in these teams contracted solely to the Union. Players in Wales will have two choices to further their earning – either sign a Union contract and be told where to play, or leave Wales and look elsewhere for more freedom of choice.

Salaries offered by the WRU will be lower than those in England – the Union has insufficient resources to keep pumping money to all its 200-odd members and subsidise the top level of the sport.

The district teams (three in South Wales and one in North) will enter the European Cup. Shorn of the top talent in Wales, they will become the also rans of the competition.

The top Welsh players will cross the border to earn more money in England.

The Union will then be faced with a choice – pick the English based players and field a stronger team, or pick the district players and lose.

They’ll opt for the English based players (who will have a much bigger national profile.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. These players will be playing in a higher level of competition and this may well transfer itself into a winning Welsh team.

So the Union wins! They have a domestic structure which they can dominate, they have funds from the international games which mean they can still live in the fashion to which they are accustom, and they have a rock solid future of monopoly control.

What a waste for the Welsh rugby-watching public! We want to cheer our top teams to victory against the best in Europe, and the amateurs in the Union just don’t care about this. All they want is a flat domestic structure where winning their league is more important than winning in Europe. How short sighted for the game in Wales and the development of players who can travel to a country like New Zealand and win a World Cup.

How short term is this?

With domestic teams consistently failing at the highest level – Celtic League and European competition – will the young fail to be attracted to the sport?

With club rugby a poor and irrelevant cousin to the larger, better financed and better supported sport across the border, will the young still be interested?

Without their local heroes to support locally, it’s clear that Welsh domestic rugby will slide into amateurism – played and organised by dedicated individuals at a local level, with a few stars playing in England.

What are our choices?

In calling an extraordinary general meeting on the 7th April the WRU is making their contempt clear for the professional clubs at the top end of the sport in Wales. If ever there was a clear case of sticking two fingers up at the people with whom you are negotiating, this is it.

There now remain three possible scenarios for the future of the game in Wales:-

1. The private subsidisers of the sport in Wales pull their money out and the professional arm of the sport collapses.

2. The Six Pack stick two fingers up at the Union and organise their own competition next season – buying up the best players from the remaining clubs.

3. A smaller number of clubs (probably Newport and Cardiff only) stick two fingers up at the Union and try to enter the English pyramid.

An independent competition next season

Containing six teams with no European competition, played on a two home and away games a season (20 games), the Six Pack may set up their own competition next season, outside the umbrella of the amateur-controlled Union. The clubs may try to set up another club to boost the games to 24.

Marketing the games themselves, they will surely be able to do a better job than the Union of increasing sponsorship levels (particularly if Newport are involved). Who knows, we may even get a sponsor for the new professional league?

Negotiating their own contract with television – much in the same way as Cardiff and Swansea did during the rebel season – will give them a futher source of income.

Remember that the Union have only offered the clubs £900,000 next season and if they feel that they can secure more than this amount, then don’t be surprised if this is the chosen structure for next season.

It’s unlikely that they’ll be much support from across the border in England, but even a low key, reduced number, mid-week cross border knock out competition (including Gloucester, Bristol and Bath) would generate more income than playing Caerphilly or Ebbw Vale.

Joining the English pyramid system

Given European competition law, it’s be interesting to see what would happen if Newport, for example, moved their ground 20 miles east and the club suddenly found themselves in England.

Restraint of trade rules would mean that they’d be able to join the English pyramid.

Without doubt, Gloucester, Bristol and Bath would relish the opportunity of playing against Cardiff and Newport again on a regular basis.

Even if the two clubs applied to join the English system – for example – and ended up at Division 2 level against the likes of Nottingham, Plymouth and Rosslyn Park – this may well be viewed as a preferable to working with the shambolic nature of the WRU where Newport or Cardiff’s voice carries as much weight in decision making as Rhymney’s.

Given the inevitable promotions that would follow, bu 2007, Wales’ two biggest clubs would be in the Premier Division and with all the increased sponsorship and media exposure that would follow, it’s difficult to see how Uncles Peter and Uncle Tony could ignore this as a long term possibility.

Conclusion

So which of these three scenarios are the most likely to come to fruition? Well, Tony Brown and Peter Thomas have come a long way in the last few years and invested vast amounts of money into the sport in Wales. If – as now seems likely – they are unable to defeat the Neolithic union and it’s amateur-dominated structure, will they really give up now?

The players carry the real burden and have the most power in any negotiations that will take place on the game. Sadly, it seems that they are the only part with enough power to force a resolution. With a boycott of the Scottish game looking ever the more likely, and the likely selection of a Scab XV in their place, differences look to be ever wider apart.

It is possible of course that if Newport and Cardiff leave the Union, then we may be left with a mixture of one and three of our possible scenarios. The Union are able to impose their regional structure and destroy the top teams in Wales and Newport and Cardiff decide to play in the English system – all pretty similar to the football example of Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham.

And the result for the National Team? Just look at Wales’ latest football world ranking!

TWP

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In general Tasker Watkins’ Paper (TWP) report puts more stress on maintaining the fragile harmony that exists (does such a thing exist?) and maintaining the status quo rather than providing a vision for the future of the game.

It is an exclusionary document in that it makes no positive mention of the many private contributors to the sport in Wales — it reiterates the right of the WRU to dictate to clubs rather than work with clubs for the strengthening of the sport. The WRU is there to represent all its members on a one-club-one-vote basis — professional clubs should therefore not see any preferential treatment.

TWP is more significant for what it doesn’t say, rather than what it does say. There is no firm vision for the structure of the club game in Wales – the committee set no standards that clubs must achieve to flourish in the professional era. It merely reflected the lowest common denominator in the game in Wales at the moment and set that as the standard.

Who wrote TWP?

A collection of existing members of the WRU senior echelons (Dennis Gethin, Terry Cobner and Peter Owens), General Committee representatives (from the WRU) (a collection of local MPs and WRU journeymen) and three journalists (Gerald Davies, Gwyn Jones and Ken Jones) compiled TWP. So, there were no professional sportsmen on the TWP committee, no businessmen (successful or otherwise) and certainly no one with direct experience of the running of a professional sports club.

Timeline

Their first meeting was on May 2000 and they met 28 times before producing the report on December 2001. Let’s take a look at the timeline involved in the compilation of this report.

  • 1998 — the WRU set in motion efforts to produce a 10 year plan on the future of the game in Wales
  • May 2000 — TWP committee convene
  • Feb 2002 — The report of the TWP committee should have been presented to the AGM
  • 2004/5 – TWP report proposes implementation of its proposals by this season
  • 2007 — Existing contract with clubs like Ebbw Vale say at least eight teams will remain in the top echelons of the game in Wales.

So for a 10 year plan for the game, almost half of that period was spent writing the report, let alone reaching agreement!

The report states clearly that it is the role of the WRU to represent its members — all of its members — and every member club holds a single share.

The tone of the paper is, as we would expect, entirely reactionary in its context and on the whole is totally reluctant in its tone. Professionalism is described as being “imposed” on the sport (Preface). The open game is described as providing a “heavy burden“. In short, the move to professionalism is viewed with great reluctance.

Again in the preface, whilst clubs are deemed “deeply appreciative” of wealthy benefactors, there’s no mention of appreciation by the Union for these investors in the future of our support. The antagonism and mistrust is clear — money is seen as a threat to the amateur structure of the game, not as an essential part of ensuring a stable future. Professional clubs are described as “expensive” rather than as key instruments in the future of the game.

Cross Border Games

There is some mention of the rebel season in the preface — a move which “disturbed the equanimity of Welsh rugby”. This begs the question whether there has ever been “equanimity” in Welsh rugby! The committee is surely looking through rose tinted spectacles!

Change is something the union wants to avoid — harmony is the goal. It is in “everyone’s interest” that this harmony “must not be disturbed” in the future. So those who want change are clearly not being represented in this report!

Fortunately, the committee members recognise that cross border competitions are the lifeblood for the game — they are “the way ahead“. A purely domestic structure “will not provide the challenge our Clubs and the national team, need to compete at the highest level“.

Overseas Players

Overseas players are viewed as hindering the development of our own young players rather than of acting as professional role models and improving the level of competition. Can we really equate the presence of substandard Tongan professionals in the lower reaches of the leagues with the influence of players like Pieter Muller and Gary Teichmann? Surely these two individuals have obviously had a positive effect on the game in Wales?

The only reason the TWP explains that clubs look overseas for talent is to “compensate for the lack of indigenous talent“, rather than to ensure role models for the development of young players (see Jamie Robinson’s development under the tutelage of Pieter Muller. Tom Shanklin says he wanted to play at Saracens to learn from players like Tim Horan).

The report raises the question as to whether the “increasing number of overseas players deny opportunities for emerging talent“, but does not raise the question as to whether overseas players raise the level of competition at the top level of the sport and therefore force Welsh-qualifies players to improve.

What these comments betray is the “little Wales” attitude in the Union – the idea that we Welsh are somehow unique and better off isolated. Foreigners deprive local players of opportunities – they don’t act as mentors.

The days of the Welsh exporting their coaching talents overseas are long gone. Not since the days of Carwyn have we been teachers of the world of rugby. The time is to learn from “the outside” – not to pull the drawbridge up and bury our heads in the sand.

Central Contracts

Whilst the Union clearly has responsibility for the structure of the game, the working party has more concrete recommendations on club contracts, payments for players and getting Union representatives on club’s boards than on recommending a concrete structure for the top level of the sport.

The Executive of the WRU should be able to see all club contracts, according to the TWP. (There is no mention of a reciprocal agreement for clubs to view Union contracts!) “All National Team players should be contracted to the Union” — but the report does not go on to explain why?

“What we want to avoid is some kind of market place where relatively few well-off Clubs are able to attract players to the detriment of other clubs.” Wake up WRU! This is already happening! It’s called professionalism! The cream will always rise to the top! This King Canute approach to managing the game is resulting in millions of pounds being poured into poorly managed, commercially unsustainable enterprises. If the WRU wants a club structure that can compete in cross border competitions, then they need to ensure these clubs are operating under similar conditions as their French or English rivals.

Forcing players to play for clubs they may not want will surely be a huge demotivating influence.

It’s also quite clearly a huge disincentive to invest in a vibrant Youth structure, if the players a club develops can be forced to play for the competition.

And then there’s the inevitable influence of under-the-table deals and back handers to get players to come to “my club”.

Number of Clubs

The WRU exists for its members” the report proudly announces. Well, this worked well in the amateur era, but amateurs running the professional game is clearly not a recipe for the dynamic development of the game in Wales.

The committee choses not to provide any definite proposals, rather it suggests that yet another WRU committee make recommendations (i.e. take another four years to make any recommendations!).

The committee’s suggested criteria for selection of clubs at the top level are:-

  • The club must have been placed in the top six on average for the last six years (an interesting way of calculating the appropriate club. We need Statto’s help to work out why they chose this method …. Wonder who comes in at number six?
  • Existing Strong squad of players
  • Distinct location
  • Proven spectator base
  • A stadium that can hold at least 5,000

Contrast this with the RFU’s rules and you begin to see the limited aspirations of the Union.

  • Separate training facilities — both indoors and outdoors
  • Ability of obtain significant funding in addition to WRU funding

This last point says more than anything about how paralyzed the Union is to impose central control on the game, the clubs and most importantly, the players. The Union has no money – it needs private investors to keep the clubs afloat, but cannot bring itself to allow these individuals to run the clubs and contract players without their input!

All seven points are as far from controversial as possible. Furthermore, they are so subjective as to be meaningless. As for point 5, well every club in the division already reaches this standard! In other words, this report is about maintaining the status quo, rather than setting new and higher standards which clubs must achieve in order to receive central funding.For example, Tom and Phil’s would be …..

  • Clubs must be placed in the Top 4/5 in the division since professionalism began.
  • Club’s first XV and U21 teams must have also finished in the top 4/5 in their respective divisions. Clubs must also run a youth team and a community development projects.
  • Club’s stadiums must have adequate access for the paying public — either good parking or be within 15 minutes walk of a train station or bus route.
  • The average gate of the club must exceed 5,000 over the last three years.
  • The stadium must hold at least 10,000 spectators — all of whom should be able to watch the game under cover.
  • Each club must demonstrate training facilities — weights rooms, physio therapy equipment
  • Each Club must propose a viable business plan to the Union showing development plans which highlight an improvement in playing facilities, training facilities, expansion in the number of seats, development of family enclosures.

In order for clubs to remain members of the Premier Division ….

  • Certain players must be contracted to the WRU
    (why? For what reason? No explanation nor justification is made for this stance)
  • Clubs must agree that a reduction in the number overseas players would be beneficial for the game in Wales(what does “overseas” mean? The WRU can’t legislate against EU qualified players — this would be illegal and the judge (TW) and the lawyer (SS) on the committee should have recognized that!)
  • The WRU would have an input into the selection of club’s coaches and managers.
  • Clubs must agree to develop a programme for clubs and schools in their area in conjunction with the WRU.
  • The WRU must be allowed to nominate an individual who would sit on the board of directors of each of the professional clubs in the Premier Division.
    (but no reciprocal agreement that clubs would be allowed to see the Union’s financial status and rule on appointments to the professional arm of the sport)

In conclusion, the TWP says that Clubs must present a business plan which clearly sets out their ambitions and addresses the playing issues. This would then be presented to the WRU for selection to take place. Well, it that’s not a franchise system, we don’t know what is!

Structure

Sadly the report poses more questions than it answers in this area.

However, the TWP outlines clearly their view of Super Teams (based on the regional mode) — “there is surely nothing a few, so-called, Super Teams could do that” … Premiership Clubs … “could not do as well if not much better.” “We should not introduce some sort of artificial creation, establishing for example, East Wales or West Wales teams“.

On the key matter of how many clubs should be represented in the top levels of the sport, the TWP fails to offer any recommendation — “constant uncertainly and changing structures within our game have not made this possible“. With the game is in flux, now is precisely the time when we need strong leadership in order to make a clear plan for the future! Now is precisely the time when we need the Union to show some leadership — not renounce its responsibility. “We are not masters of our own destiny“, claim the committee. So what’s the point of the committee?

Whilst referring heavily to the structures of nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa, throughout the report no mention is made of either the English or French domestic structure — namely, clubs sponsored either by corporations or wealthy individuals. Whether the Union likes it or not, the French and English structure is nearest that of Wales. Their ostrich approach to planning for the future of the sport shows a failure to grasp the realities of the professional game in Wales. We can only sustain the existing structure because of the levels of investment from benefactors.

The only concrete recommendation the report makes is that there should “at least be a reduction from nine clubs to eight clubs“. Quite how this reduction should be made is not defined by the TWP. “We found it impossible to make a firm recommendation because of the continued uncertainty and fluidity surrounding the future competitive structure of our Premier Clubs.” Thus the committee failed in one of its terms of reference. If the committee deems it necessary to reach a consensus before moving forward, what hope is there of forcing change on an inherently conservative structure?

Whilst factors such as “finance“, “talent” and a “competitive structure” are highlighted as important, these are just vague comments – nothing concrete.

So, to summarize, the TWP is more revealing of the WRU’s incompetence by what it does not say, rather than what it does say.

  • No recommendations on the criteria for selection of clubs in the Premier level.
  • No recommendation on number of games our top players should play.
  • No recommendation on the number of fixtures top clubs should play.

Avoiding divisive recommendations on the top level of the sport, the TWP chooses to focus on the First division and below.

  • There should be no payment to players (from WRU funds) in the First Division and lower.
  • “Grants” would be available from the Union, but there’s no clear indication of how the Union will insist on clubs using this money. “Possible criteria” are highlighted — nothing concrete.
  • There should be play offs (no mention of home and away basis or not) to decide promotion and relegation from the Premiership and First Division.
  • There should be a two up and two down promotion
  • Lower divisions should be structure on a regional basis (but there was no explanation of how teams should cope when they are promoted from a regional based league to a country-wide league).

The question of the appropriate structure of the professional game should be “addressed speedily and dispassionately“, but evidently not by this committee.

The TWP is in favour of cross border competition with English clubs like Bristol, Bath and Gloucester however (point 44). Sadly, only for U21 teams. Quite why it is possible at U21 but not at a senior level, nobody knows.

WRU Mismanagement

Rather than break with tradition and make a create a bold new vision for the game in Wales which embraces professionalism, the TWP instead wants a structure that “suits the Welsh temperament and maximises the innate Welsh talent“. Quite what this nationalistic drivel means is not explained. So far, all the “Welsh temperament” has produced so far is reactionary conservatism and a desire to maintain the status quo.

“Don’t rock the boat, bois, and don’t upset anyone whatever you do!”

What did this season’s European Competitions bring to Welsh rugby?

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Bridgend had a truly woeful campaign and don’t deserve to qualify for Europe next season. Losing all of their games through a mixture of incompetence and naivety, one wonders how much longer Dennis John can hold on to his job.

Swansea’s performance was equally dire, though they at least can gain some satisfaction in winning two of their home games. However, it took them until the last game of the competition before they crossed the try line – a damning verdict on their ability to entertain the sparse crowds that turn up to watch them this season.

Newport were probably the only real success of this year’s competition. They played some entertaining rugby and managed an away win in England – none of the other Welsh teams managed that. They were unlucky to lose to Leinster at home following a lights failure, but there is still a question over their self belief in a tight game.

Cardiff once more flattered to deceive and the Welsh disease of getting home sick for mummy when ever teams cross the Severn Bridge has gone beyond embarrassing. No wonder some people in Wales are so frightened of cross border competition, they want to pull up the draw bridge and wave good-bye to the outside world.

As for Llanelli – wonderful heroes of Welsh rugby as the local press would have them – they were fortunate to draw a joke of an Italian team in their group and so progressed to the quarter finals. They too failed to win away in France and England, and were it not for a farcical 100 point game would not have progressed further in the competition. As with Swansea, they too showed an inability to score a try in two of their games.

As for the Shield, the competition descended into farce. Ebbw Vale allegedly only qualified for the next round because the opposition threw the game – if this is true, what a disgraceful state of affairs …. Agen should be banned from all European competition for a very long time.

Pontypridd’s qualification was only guaranteed by the Italian team in their group failing to turn up for a match!

Neath played well in two matches against Bristol, but despite a victory in France (against a very weak French team who won only one game throughout the competition) went out with a whimper against a bunch of Italian amateurs. How embarrassing!

Caerphilly’s only contribution was to embarrass Welsh club rugby further by acting as target practice for a rampant Gloucester side – another 100 pointer for the rancid cheesers!

So don’t be fooled by what the press will have us believe – this year’s European campaign has shown how far Welsh rugby is slipping behind the English and French. Our domestic structure is rotten to the core with a host of meaningless games against sub-standard competition. All this is so frustrating for the fans who when provided with high profile games are willing to turn out in their thousands to watch. Without fundamental changes at the top end of our sport, next season’s European story is likely to be a similar one – some stirring performances at home blighted by capitulation away from home and ultimate failure.

The future is not bright.

 

Give Youth a Chance

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Dear Rudy,

A Happy New Year to you!

New Year is traditionally a time for New Year’s resolutions, so here’s some ideas for you when you draw up your list for 2002.

When you arrived at Cardiff Arms Park you inherited a poorly coached and poorly motivated squad, riddled with serious injuries to important players and faced with a fixture list that allowed little time for preparation.

Pre-season, you promised us an open style of rugby with youth given a free hand and a low penalty count in every game we play.

At present our open style is based more on the limitations of the outside half – he can’t read a game and just shovels all sort of bad ball onwards. In league, this may be acceptable, but he’s still way off the mark in ensuring victory for the team. Would we have lost in Glasgow and drawn at Bridgend if Jinx had been playing?

As for giving youth a chance, sadly so far this season has been one of missed opportunities.

Our back row injuries should have been a signal for Dan MacShane to play more games for the first XV, or even Luke Tait to get a chance. However, journeymen like Mounier and Appleyard have been preferred. Whilst Appleyard’s commitment has been admirable, he’s about as effective as a chocolate teapot at openside and the progress of Sowden-Taylor has been stifled. Greg Woods is another who needs to get more games under his belt. Why not give the youngsters 20 minutes at least?

Turning to the backs, we have an excellent player in Owain Ashman who is also not getting first XV games. He is surely a better player than Henry jnr and represents the future of the club. Furthermore, Allen in the centre is so inconsistent – when will we see the Robinson brothers in tandem?

Cardiff fans have been excited by the emergence of these youngsters yet they have not been seen. Other youngsters lie waiting in the wings, yet we plead with you to give Ashman and Sowden-Taylor their chance.

Turning to the question of penalty count, there is clearly so much more to do at the club. Whilst the standard of refereeing week in week out in the Village League is no better than frustrating, players’ discipline is poor. We are giving too many unnecessary penalties away. Furthermore, unforced errors due a lack of concentration are costing us points.

Complacency is clearly our biggest threat and the signs are already there of players getting picked “automatically” and not being forced to play for their places. The basic skills in the back line – passing and kicking – are still dreadfully poor, and this surely reflects on a sloppy approach and poor discipline in training.

Whilst the squad is not yours and you have undoubtedly inherited the complacency of previous seasons, you’ve also inherited a classy squad with a good mix of youth and experience.

Please make the following resolutions for 2002 …

1. Discipline – players must not give away meaningless penalties and possession through sloppy play.

2. Increased competition – nobody gets picked on reputation …. they have to earn the right to wear the jersey.

3. Youth – give youth a chance!

4. Away wins – some of us follow the club all over Europe ….. we put in the effort away from home and we expect your players to do the same!

The Structure of the Game in Wales

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The Rugby Football Union

Founded: 1871
President: Jeff Addison
Number of clubs: 2,049
Number of players: 167,000

Welsh rugby needs to ask itself some serious questions about its future. Do we want to produce clubs that can compete with the best in Europe? Or are we happy to play out our local rivalries in some sort of vacuum – isolated from the rest of the rugby playing world? If the former is our target, we need to ensure that these clubs have world class facilities – for the development of both players and a growing spectator base. If we want our players to stay in Wales, we need to offer them packages that encourage them to do so. All this costs money. Who pays? Fortunately, we have a small number of individuals who are willing to make substantial investment in our game, but we also have a Union responsible for the game in this country.

Welsh Rugby Union

Founded: 1881
President : Sir Tasker Watkins
Number of clubs: 372
Number of players: 18,340

Caerphilly are one of the few clubs at the top end of the sport in Wales who have no rich backer and run their business on a sound financial footing. Caerphilly recently conceded almost 100 points to one of England’s top five teams.

The message is therefore clear, if we don’t limit the number of professional clubs in Wales, we cannot look forward to success for our clubs in Europe. We must therefore use Union money and private investors money to create financially stable businesses (clubs) which can provide the environment for our game to flourish.

The issue is, how many players/clubs can Wales’ limited resources support? Judging from recent cross border competition results, its clear that even those who say the figure should be as few as six will find it difficult to justify their position.

Who are the Welsh sugar daddies?
• Tony Brown (Newport)
• Leighton Samuel (Bridgend)
• Peter Thomas (Cardiff)
• Huw Evans (Llanelli)
• Marcus Russell (Ebbw Vale)
• Robert Davies (Swansea)

In this editorial we will discuss how the failure of the union to provide a coherent commercial structure at the top end of the sport is discouraging the investment we need in centres of excellence. We will look at the missed opportunities of recent years and how things seem to have gone full circle.

The top level of the sport is basically divided into two camps – those funded by individuals or groups of individuals, and those funded by the Union. Most clubs assets are their players – often subsidized by the Union. Every club in Wales is in a perilous financial state with players earning grossly inflated wages (and good luck to them) topped up by a Union insisting on the short termism of propping up a failing system by money they don’t have.

The Union is in deep financial crisis – and recently asked for more money to cope with the horrendous costs of building a new stadium. The top level of the sport remains sponsorless – individual clubs have nominal jersey sponsorship deals, but the leagues – both Welsh-Scottish and Celtic – are unsponsored. Even the domestic cup competition is unsponsored. Television deals exist with the provincial companies, but there is no access to Sky’s riches and no access to the higher viewing figures that British exposure guarantees.

There is a true spirit of jealousy and bitterness running throughout the sport – those without rich backers surviving thanks to Union investment, cry foul at the investors insisting on influence, whilst those with backers are frustrated by the wasted resources in the sport and the interference of the Union.

On the pitch, the national team is playing with a total lack of cohesion and confidence – mirroring the structure of the domestic sport. They are losing – and will continue to lose heavily in the next Six Nations. There is insufficient competition for places at the national level born out of a lack of competition for places at club level. Too many players are selected to play each week because their club sqaud is too small to force constant improvement in their performance.

Amateurism in Wales vs Professionalism in England

Inequalities in the professional sport of rugby union can be traced back to the RFU’s Sky deal – first signed over five years ago. It was the first sign for Welsh rugby of how far economically it was set to suffer at the hands of the (arrogant) administrators at the RFU – its wealthy neighbour.

The Sky deal set would pay the RFU £87.5m over five years for live coverage of all England home internationals. At the same time, Sky offered a package to the Celtic nations – reflecting the commercial worth of the sport in these countries.

How much money do clubs get from their Unions?
• Scotland – £1.8m
• Ireland – £1.8m
• England – £2.0m
• Wales – £0.5m

The Welsh were offered £40m – with clubs in Wales set to gain by £17m. The WRU declined the offer.

Two years later, the clubs in England (and a limited few in Wales) realised that to maximize revenue, they needed money fast to cope with huge wage bills which only a few years earlier didn’t exist. Repeated efforts were made by the RFU and the top echelons of the sport in England to produce a British League. Clubs in Wales were targeted to join this league based on commercial considerations such as the strength of their

What is the WRU?
Founded: 1881
Role: “Administers” 222 member clubs, its affiliated district clubs and schools and youth organizations.
President: Tasker Watkins
Chairman (and Treasurer): Glanmor Griffiths
Secretary: Denis Gethin
The Administrative Committee: made up of 32 elected members, five of whom form an executive committee
The General Committee: made up of 28 members, 16 of whom are district representatives. Five are elected nationally, along with the treasurer, while there are six officials from affiliated organizations: Welsh Districts, Welsh Youth, Welsh Schools, Anglo-Welsh and the Welsh Society of Rugby Union Referees
Recent election results …
… President Tasker Watkins was re-elected unopposed
… Glanmor Griffiths beat nearest rival by 177 votes to 33.
The national representatives’
… Alan Phillips, Howard Watkins, David Pickering, Les Williams and Sam Simon.

following, and the number of “named” players in their squads who could fill the empty stadia. This had nothing to do with the English wanting to play the best rugby playing team in Wales that season – it was purely a commercial decision.

A twenty team competition was to be organized – 14 English, 4 Welsh and 2 Scottish teams. Undoubtedly Cardiff and Swansea were to be two of the Welsh teams. A British League would have guaranteed Welsh rugby top class competition, full stadia, but most importantly access to the much larger (and richer) English market.

So how did the Union in Wales react to this offer? Well, first of all they dreamed up some spurious legal objection which had nothing to do with the proposal. Then they rejected the proposal outright – saying that eight “top” Welsh clubs (plus, by implication Cardiff and Swansea) should be allowed to join the British League. They also insisted on a long term agreement which did not take into account existing contracts. All impractical, and all rejected. Of course the Union knew that their requests would be rejected – they were out to defend the amateur administrators and their cushy benefits – they were not out to ensure a top class echelon for the game in Wales. A British League would undermine their authority and control over the game in Wales.

Let’s not forget the architect in chief of this missed opportunity and the resulting chaos that has ruined our sport in the subsequent three years – Vernon Pugh. He effectively vetoed any chance of a British League chosing to put the authority of petty officialdom ahead of the commercial future of the game in his own country. The hope remained that a British League could happen the following season – when Pugh was not around. Sadly Pugh is still around, and all prospect of a British League has almost totally disappeared.

During the 1998-99 season, Cardiff had one of their most successful seasons ever. The season started with the stuffing of the English champions, played out in front of a crowd greater that the combined attendance of all other first class games in Wales that weekend. Even more significantly, it was higher than any of the Premiership games in England. And so the season continued, with record attendances at home. And then Pugh stepped in. The “friendlies” took on less of an importance, and the English – frustrated and tired of Welsh arrogance – gave up. However, the effect at international level was certainly apparent that season. No longer in awe of their English opponents, Wales stormed to a a rebel-inspired victory over the English. How long will we have to wait to see another?

Looked at in the cold light of day, we can see that the authorities in Wales failed to take key opportunities offered to them during the last five years. Sheer conceit and a total over exaggeration of their own self worth by administrators has led to a string of missed opportunities. The Union and it’s leaders believed from day one that there should be parity in Wales with the English – that we are a strong enough rugby nation able to compete. Undoubtedly true in the amateur days, this belief is totally out of touch with professional sport. Rugby clubs are now business and their spectators are their customers – a simple and obvious fact ignored by the reactionaries in the Union. To compete in the market place, a strong commercial base is essential. Those clubs with successful businessmen at the helm soon realised this – Cardiff and Swansea in particular – but the union and the other amateurs who control the sport in Wales are still stuck with the old amateur way of thinking.

Data Accuracy

A couple of club sites had their own “official” data – Caerphilly, Cardiff and Newport being the most noticeable. Others, make no mention of attendances – notably, Bridgend, Llanelli and Swansea. But with the possible exception of Newport, the accuracy of the data is very suspect.

As for the Zurich Premiership sites, on the whole they are streets ahead in the quantity and accuracy of the data they present. Clubs seem to be much more dedicated to making their web sites work as a way of communicating with fans. Sadly, the level of professionalism in running clubs is mirrored by the professional approach to web sites.

Some in the press will have you believe they have accurate data on attendances – don’t be fooled!

Calculating crowd figures in Wales is a black art. Famously, one owner launched into a tirade against his spectators (customers) for not putting their hard earned money into his club’s coffers. A peculiar business practice that one – a bit like Richard Branson threatening to close his airline if more people didn’t use it!

Turning to allegations over artificially inflated attendances, things go from the bizarre to the ridiculous. The argument for inflation goes something along the lines of “we’re such a popular club we must be chosen to hold one of the franchises”. Although the Inland Revenue have conducted investigations into attendances in Wales, no one seems to know what their findings were. Saying you earned more (inflated figures) than you actually did, means you’d pay more tax than you really needed to. To reduce tax burden, if anything, you’d expect clubs to underestimate attendances!

Whatever the truth of the matter, the gap in the quality of data and reporting between Wales and England says much for the degree of professionalism in the way both structures are organized. Premier Rugby (the company formed by England’s top clubs) regularly publishes data on season ticket figures etc., designed to promote interest in the sport. In Wales, we’re in the dark ages – vested interest is more important than promoting the game.

Why reduce the number of professional clubs?

The sport in Wales is being bled dry by a drain of resources in brown envelopes to sub standard players in the lower leagues. This is not something new – it merely reflects the scandalous complacency of the administrators of our sport. Rewarding mediocrity at the lower levels has eroded the foundations of our sport and we are sliding down the international ratings.

The Union (and national coach) has long insisted on picking the national team from players based in Wales. Not long ago our national captain was refusing to play for Wales when at Richmond because he received less money from the Union than “locally” based players. Allan Phillips, has recently underlined this opinion by saying that Wales should refuse to pick players who chose to broaden their rugby playing experience by playing outside Wales. So who pays for keeping this talent in Wales?

Some would have you believe that the only reason for reducing the number of professional clubs at the top level in Wales is debt. Well, one way to reduce that debt would be to sell Scott Quinnell to Gloucester, Robert Howely to Leicester and good ol’ Iestyn back up north. Then we could get rid of Darren Morris to Bath, Dafydd James to Saracens …. the list goes on. A number of top names only returned to Wales thanks to the money in the sport being invested by the sugar daddies.

Those who complain about the debt in the game want to have their cake and eat it! They want top Welsh players playing in Wales every week, but – by implication – they want them to do it for wages less than they could earn in England! Players have limited careers and this naive assumption that they play in Wales because its so much better than fifty miles across the Severn is ridiculous. These are the same apologists with their prejudices firmly rooted in the amateur days – they don’t understand the professional sport.

The sport needs the sugar daddies to keep the top players in Wales and these individuals deserve a return on their investment – they deserve to have some influence.

Franchised Super-Clubs …. a new idea?

…. well, as a matter of fact, no. During the fledgling negotiations over a British League, the WRU set out its requirements.”Bidding clubs will be expected to be incorporated, to have an acceptable financial position, to have an existing reputation and profile as a quality club, and a professional, experienced accountable board of directors.” (But even then the Union gave further example of their incompetence by expecting bidders to put forward proposals for these franchises within 72 hours!)

Since the time of the rebel season, the game in Wales has staggered onwards with the club structure largely kept alive by the investment of sugar daddies. A poorly structured and deeply flawed Celtic League finally came into being, but club competitions are still unsponsored and the chaotic relationship between clubs and the Union regarding players contracts has led to divided loyalties and a disjointed international squad.

A working party was set up by the Union to look a the running of the game (one of the conditions laid down by the rebel clubs before they agreed to return to the domestic game) comprising of members of the committee and a number of leading ex-internationals. Committees seem to be the answer to all ills in Wales and when one fails, set up anther. Sure enough, stalemate in this committee led to the setting up of a subcommittee – this time shorn of the vested interests of Union members. Two of the WRU representatives on this committee resigned mysteriously on hearing the findings. That was six months ago.

What is the PRA?

• One piece of cross border cooperation has definitely come to fruition. The Professional Rugby Players Association (PRA) was established by Damien Hopley in England to look after players interests (a bit like soccer’s PFA). Players at Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Bridgend Llanelli and Pontypridd have been encouraged to sign up with this organisation.

• Significantly, a number of internationals have yet to renew their contracts with the union – which expired on 31st May this year.

Finally, in August this year, Tasker Watkins committed that the findings of the report would be submitted to the Special General Meeting (SGM) in January. But don’t hold your breathe – they would then need to be voted on by the members of the Union. Quite what incentive there would be for the “amateurs” to vote away their income stream is not clear. “Turkeys voting for Xmas”, as someone once put it! This is the fourth time in the last 12 years that a committee has tendered proposals for improving the structure of the game – the last three were not even put to the members!

Most of the previous reports into how the game should be structured have been buried, but this one finally looks like it will reach the public arena.

It seems that the committee have recommended to the Union that the money being poured into the empty hole that is rugby below the top level should be dramatically cut – and this is doing to hurt for those pigs with their noses in the trough of the game in Wales. All those free lunches could end up disappearing. Obviously the game below the top league should return to amateurism – could this really, finally happen?

What does the report propose?

• the creation of five ‘superclub’ franchises. Franchises to be awarded to clubs with the best facilities with some regional influence.

• that the General Committee of the WRU hands over the running of the game to a non-elected professional board.

There are too many professional players in Wales being paid sums of money the WRU and the clubs do not have. We need to get down to a maximum of 150 professional players competing at the highest level.

With delays on the findings of the committee being published, the premier clubs in Wales have been flexing their muscles. Ebbw Vale – who cannot claim to maintain professional rugby on the gates they claim to enjoy – are unsurprisingly opposed to any streamlining of the professional game, reliant as they are on other clubs’ supporters for their livelihood.

Although Premier Rugby Partnership of Wales (PRPW) has been established, infighting amongst clubs has further divided the sport in Wales. Woeful leadership from the Union has led to bitterness and division.

What is PREP?

• A legal partnership between the clubs and the players, and provides a hefty bargaining tool in negotiations with the WRU.

The sport has completely failed to come to terms with professionalism and the need to run a profitable business in order to maintain a professional arm to the game in Wales. Focussing on success or failure in any one season, relative success of youth teams and “poaching” from other clubs completely misses the point. Clubs are now businesses and a structure needs to be built which is based on sound business practices – not on who’s performing well that season. Stadium facilities, catchment area, sound financial plans, coherent business plans and a firm structure to the business are more important than whether this season’s outside half is a product of the youth team or was signed from Pontypridd. Too many of the vested interests in the game have failed to make the necessary adjustments to the professional game and as a result, the game itself is slipping towards bankruptcy, kept alive only by the investments of a handful of individuals.

Is this sounding all familiar? Have we really gone full circle? Four years ago the WRU were offered four clubs in a British League and they insisted on eight (plus two). How foolish is that decision now looking? The position of those at Cardiff and Swansea who led Welsh rugby to the realization that the present structure was unsustainable is now entirely vindicated. Their actions were sadly four years ahead of the rest of the game in Wales.

So how does the RFU do it?

Following the truce called between the RFU and England’s top premiership clubs, the game as a spectator sport is now booming across the border. Not only are meaningless internationals sell outs, the club game is also seeing a rapid increase in attendances and growing sponsorship deals. Television money is also being pumped into the game. The RFU turned in a record profit during the last year financial year and a new spirit of cooperation in the sport has produced winning results on the pitch. Fierce competition for places at the national level result from fierce competition for places at club level.

Present Sponsorship deals signed by Premier Rugby in England
Muller
Kay International
bio synergy
Game Face Inc.
Land Rover

The running of the game in England is basically split into two – the amateur sport is run by the RFU with the professional arm of the sport being run by England Rugby. This organisation is a partnership between the Union and Premier Rugby – the Professional Clubs and the players. Should we be surprised that this unified front has produced a unified winning international team, whilst in Wales the antagonistic attitude between the reactionaries and visionaries has produced a disjointed and disorganised defeated international team?

So what does this mean for the clubs? Well, those at the top end of the game will receive approaching two million for the next eight-years …. a joint venture agreement was signed in July this year. The resulting stability and structure this agreement has afforded has increased the money flowing into the game – whether from spectators tickets or from sponsors – and increased the exposure positive press coverage. It has also provided Gunner Woodward with a stable platform on which to build international success.

There is also a new television deal in place – one that finally takes the sport to terrestrial television. Now just sit back and watch the crowds grow and the sponsors queue up!

The Future

Marcus Russel is right about one thing – top clubs need a degree of independence from the Union, just as happened in England. The latest leak to the press says that the Union will partly own the franchised clubs – what a horrendous mistake that would be! Putting aside the legalities of such a move – some clubs may claim that the Union is creating a closed shop at the top level – they’ve already proved incapable of running the game since the advent of professionalism. Do we really wan the committeemen of the Union to ruin any chance of creating a thriving top echelon of the game in Wales?

We need to attract top businessmen as investors in the sport in order to compete. We also need to attract top commercial people to market the sport and keep it afloat financially. These two issues are clumsily overlooked by the reactionaries who are still confusing tradition with the need to run a successful business.

There are many mysteries associated with the move towards professionalism in Wales. We’ve already discussed the confusion between creating viable commercial entities and temporary success on the pitch, another even more bewildering is the talk over how many clubs there should be without deciding on what the fixture list should be!

The “perfect structure for the season” could be a model of a Celtic League followed by European Cup followed by Six Nations. 3 Scottish, 5 Welsh and 4 Irish teams would produce 22 games Celtic League – more than the Irish want. Add a European Cup which should be four groups of six (which the English don’t want) and you have a minimum of 10 European games plus the fix Six Nations games (which the WRU don’t want). Our top professionals could be playing 37 games per season.

One thing is for sure, with the desperate lack of leadership and the “need” to compromise, the likelihood is that the muddle will continue and we still won’t get a decent fixture list. We’re living on borrowed time if we want to keep our best payers in Wales. Can the WRU deliver?

Dai Young – A tribute

Published by:

This month saw the retirement from International rugby of one of the greatest scrummaging tight heads that the game has seen.

David Young has enjoyed a wonderful international career since making his International debut in the 1987 World Cup quarter-final against the Old Enemy England but the woeful performance of his team mates against Argentina this month led him to resign from the Welsh captaincy and the International game.

His leadership skills were always evident as he captained every team he played in from Wales at under 15 level through to the midweek 2001 Lions, which were known as Dai’s driftwoods. Graham Henry’s tribute was “… he is by nature a leader and a captain, a role he has played with every team he has been involved with throughout his life.”

Young first joined Cardiff RFC in 1988 and made 33 appearances for the Blue Blacks in the next two seasons.

He won 14 Union caps for Wales before, in January 1990, signing for Leeds RLFC in a £165,000 deal. He stayed in Rugby League for 6 seasons, winning 13 Welsh Rugby League caps in his time. He returned to Cardiff RFC in December 1996.

He is the only man to tour with the British Lions in three separate decades, first touring Australia in 1989 as part of a triumphant squad.

He has played over 100 games for the club and his 50 caps for Wales makes him the most-capped prop ahead of Graham Price (41).

David is club captain for a fourth successive year, emulating the feat of John Scott 20 years ago.

The time span of Young’s career is highlighted by the now Welsh team Manager Alan Phillips, who was a former playing colleague of Young and packed down at hooker in that World Cup Quarter Final against England. Phillips said: “It is sad to see a great international career come to an end, but what is pleasing is that David was ready to make the decision himself.”

In trying to explain his departure, Young said it had been a difficult decision, because playing for Wales meant so much to him. “But in the wake of recent results I felt this was a decision I had to make,” he said.

At 34 years of age, Young seemingly wilted under the intense spotlight that captaincy brings and he has admitted that he thought about quitting after the defeat by Ireland last month, but played on hoping that the team’s form would improve against Argentina.

He said: “I had considered retiring after the Irish game, but decided to carry on to try to put things right. The intense criticism that has followed our two recent defeats, allied to the high expectation that always goes with playing for Wales weighs heavily not just on me, but also my family. For too long, my family have come second to rugby in my life. Now is the time for them to be put firmly first.”

It is a shame that his International career could not be ended on a happier note.

Fact File:
1967 Born Aberdare, Mid Glamorgan, July 26
1987 After limited senior rugby experience with Swansea, plays in Wales’ quarter-final victory over England in Australia
1987 Scored his only Test-match try during Wales’ 46-0 victory over the US in Cardiff
1988 Five Nations debut in Wales’ 11-3 success against England at Twickenham – played all three games of Triple Crown success.
1989 Toured Australia with the 1989 British Lions, starting all three Tests.
1990 Turned professional by agreeing a £165,000 deal with Leeds RLFC.
1995 Wales XIII reach World Cup semi-finals and are crowned European champions.
1996 Switched back to union, joining Cardiff and reclaiming his Wales place for the 28-19 defeat by Australia.
1997 Selected for his second Lions tour, this time to South Africa, making four starts, but none in the Test side.
1999 Featured in his second rugby union World Cup, 12 years after the first, as Wales reached the quarter-finals, bowing out to Australia.
2000 Appointed as Wales captain, replacing his Cardiff team-mate Rob Howley.
2000 Overtakes Graham Price as Wales’ most-capped prop when he makes his 42nd Test appearance against England at Twickenham.
2001 Picked for a third Lions tour, filling the role of midweek captain during the 10-match trip to Australia.
2001 October – Becomes the 14th player to win 50 Welsh caps – Young’s sons are the match mascots – but Wales suffer a record 36-6 defeat against Ireland.
2001 November – Argentina beat Wales 30-16 in Cardiff. Young announces his retirement from international rugby just 48 hours later.
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