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A Wall of Silence

It’s been two months since BBC Wales broadcast their “Scrum V Special“, a supposed “debate” about the current crisis in Welsh rugby. A group of us who were at the recording wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC expressing our concern about editorial bias in the programme.

The BBC eventually responded:

Thank you for your letter regarding our special Scrum V debate. We are sorry to hear your concerns about alleged editorial bias, the editing process and the interactivity of the debate.

 In your complaint, you raise concerns about the billing of the programme. I’d like to clarify that the programme was never billed  as a “Question Time” style debate. It was planned largely as a panel debate with some contributions from the floor.  The audience was asked if they had any questions they wanted to raise and a number of contributors sent their questions in beforehand. Our presenter saw these questions and he highlighted a few people he could turn to during the debate. As there was a wide range of issues to cover during the course of the 45 minute programme, we could not turn to every individual that wished to ask a question. However, we are satisfied that most of the key issues were raised during the course of the programme.

The audience was selected by the programme team and our aim was to reflect a broad editorial balance of those with a relevant opinion about Welsh rugby. We featured contributions from a regional and grass roots supporters group, a player representative, a legal expert, Paul Thorburn, supporters of Irish and English clubs, Mark Davies and former WRU and Regional Rugby Wales Chief Executive David Moffett. As well as the regional supporter groups, over 180 Welsh clubs were invited to send representatives to be in the audience and those who attended came from Cross Keys, Neath, Canton, Newtown, Penarth and Llanelli. A volunteer referee and people involved in Women’s rugby also attended.

Prior to the recording of the programme, members of the audience were asked to raise their hands, clap and show its reaction politely, but they were not encouraged to boo the contributions of others. The audience was clearly told, both by the floor manager and the presenter, to show respect for speakers and not to shout or barrack.  The reaction and interaction from the audience was important to this debate and we feel it was fairly reflected. The programme was pre-recorded and and it is not unusual that the recording overruns and the programme is edited to time. Some elements of the debate were dropped from the final edit because they weren’t deemed to be as editorially relevant when considered against the programme as a whole. I am satisfied, however, the programme was fairly edited and was impartial, accurate and balanced. 

We weren’t satisfied with the BBC’s response. So we wrote to them again. At the time of writing, we still haven’t received a response. Here’s what we had to say about their response to our complaint:

Thank-you for your response about the BBC Scrum V Special programme broadcast and recorded on 19th January 2014.

We believe your response contains a number of inaccuracies regarding the programme and fails to adequately address a number of the concerns in our original complaint.

For these reasons we are copying the BBC Trust Unit in our reply here.

We must stress that several of us were present at the recording of the programme.

Firstly, you state that the programme was not billed as a “Question Time” style debate. That is not true. I quote from the invitation email from a member of the production team, Cathy Williams:

“The programme is presented by experienced journalist Gareth Lewis (former Scrum V Presenter), speaking to a panel of 4 guests. There will be a chance for the audience to ask questions if they wish, or just listen and enjoy the debate!”

We can confirm that no audience members were allowed to ask questions during the recording of the programme. This is clear from the broadcast version.

Secondly, you state that the key issues were raised during the course of the programme. Whilst it may be true that a number of issues were raised during the RECORDING of the programme, quite a few of the important points raised did not make it to the edited version which was broadcast. For example, at one point, the presenter directly asked Roger Lewis for his view on the comments of Cardiff Blues Chairman Peter Thomas (for clarity, Thomas is on record in the Rugby Paper as saying that the Welsh Regions have “no confidence” in Roger Lewis). Mr Lewis repeatedly avoided answering that question. Most of the exchange on this topic was edited out of the broadcast version of the programme.

You claim the pieces that were cut from the programme were not deemed to be “editorially relevant.” We would strongly contest this view: what we had was a statement from one of the key protagonists in the issue, expressing his lack of confidence in one of the other key protagonists. This kind of statement is clearly relevant to the debate.

Thirdly, you list the various “contributors” in the audience. These included supporters of Irish and English rugby clubs. We were very disappointed that the Irish and English supporters were given more time to speak than the Welsh supporters, when the programme was supposed to be about Welsh rugby, broadcast to a Welsh audience.

Fourthly, you describe the encouragement audience members were given to show their reaction to what was being said in the debate. We can confirm that the floor manager, the bald gentleman with a headset, definitely told the audience that they could audibly show their appreciation or lack of appreciation of what was being said, in whatever manner they liked, and this included booing. He even made a booing gesture with his mouth to illustrate this. The only caveat he used was that we were to show respect and not use any offensive language.

At several points during the recording, the audience loudly expressed their displeasure and derision at the inability of Roger Lewis to give a straight answer to a simple question. However in the broadcast version, the audience’s reaction was only audible on one occasion, when Roger Lewis repeatedly tried to avoid answering a question. Technical shortcomings cannot be used as an excuse, as applause at the beginning and end of the programme was quite clearly recorded.

Finally, you have failed to address our original question about the presence of the WRU’s legal representatives at the TV studios on the day of the recording. We are still very concerned that their presence had a detrimental effect on the partiality of the editing process, and indeed, the entire format of the programme.

In our view, based on the evidence described above, the programme was not impartial and did not address the issues in a manner which was fair to all the participants. Unfortunately, this is only one example of the BBC’s consistently poor and unbalanced reporting of what is the most serious issue to affect Welsh rugby in the professional era. For example, when Regional Rugby Wales recently issued a very detailed critique of the WRU’s negotiation tactics in a letter to the National Assembly (see the RRW website, http://www.regionalrugbywales.com/2014/02/28/response-questions-raised-chair-communities/) this was almost completely ignored by BBC Wales television and radio.

We would appreciate a full and frank response to our concerns this time, and we would be happy to meet the production team to discuss these matters further.

 

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Welsh rugby crisis: fans state their case to the National Assembly

Back in January, the National Assembly held a debate about the current crisis in Welsh rugby. Following the debate, the Chair of the National Assembly Committee responsible for Welsh sport wrote to the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), asking them to respond to a number of concerns which had been raised during the debate.

The WRU and RRW have responded already. Now it’s time for the fans’ response. Today we have sent this letter to the Chair of the Committee.

RE: The Welsh Rugby Union and Regional Rugby Wales

We have seen the reply sent by the WRU to your recent letter seeking information about the crisis affecting Welsh rugby. We note that the WRU stated that its intention was to give you some background to allow you to take ‘a fully formed view’ of the situation, and we would share that very proper concern.

Therefore we, the undersigned who have come together through the gwladrugby.com website, believe that, as concerned followers of the sport that we love, we should take the opportunity to also place our views concerning the reply on record, and in your hands. We have also taken the liberty of grouping our response under a series of headings.

‘The good of Welsh Rugby’

In any document emanating from the WRU, or in the frequent interviews that they give to the media, there is regular reference to ‘working for the good of the game’ or ‘working for the good of rugby in Wales’. Indeed the statements are chanted like some kind of mantra. This begs the question – how does one define ‘rugby in Wales’?  To Mr Roger Lewis it has a single, defined meaning – it means ‘working for the good of ‘Team Wales’. His entire focus is built around the need to project the national team as a brand and to promote it. It is our contention that there are other ways of ‘working for the good of rugby in Wales’ and they range from the people who give up their free time on a Sunday morning to run junior squads, those who turn up to support their local team on a Saturday in bad weather, to the backers of the professional teams who have to put their hands in their pockets from time to time.

The concern is exacerbated by the fact that recent statistics have shown that, while the income from the international matches have gone up, the number attending them have actually gone down! So the formula is to take more and more from fewer, more affluent spectators and corporate clients – a sustainable model we wonder? However this rich breadth of activity that we depict is not a part of his perception as it does not contribute, in his view, to the greater good of Team Wales. We suggest, therefore, that you should be wary of Mr Lewis’s frequent and gushing references to the WRU taking steps for ‘the good of Welsh rugby’ – those steps may actually be at variance with the ‘good of Welsh rugby’ in its proper context.

The WRU’s approach to “negotiations”

Throughout the response from the WRU words such as ‘negotiation’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘discussion’ occur regularly – indeed they, or their derivatives, occur more than 12 times. However the rhetoric is not necessarily matched by what is seen by many as the reality of the situation. A ‘Participation Agreement’ would suggest that it is agreeable to both partners.

Equally any extension of such an agreement would presuppose debate, discussion and agreement. The suggested readiness to negotiate does not reconcile easily with the statement of one regional CEO at a recent meeting with the WRU, who stated that the regional representatives were told that the Participation Agreement document was on the table for agreement only and not discussion. This is, in our view, a curious form of negotiation.

As stated the PA was not agreed on the last day of the year and the WRU suggest that 6 months of potential negotiation were lost – a curious form of negotiation. The WRU suggestion at the time was that it was all over, however seven days later a new, and very lengthy, document suddenly appeared.

Governance versus Control

The WRU’s view of its role and status bears some examination in terms of its implications. The need for appropriate governance arises from developments in the business world which necessitate better controls in businesses, particularly in businesses where ownership is disparate, as is the case with WRU.

Those in charge at the WRU were respected in the sphere of amateur rugby where they had great experience in the field. However the world of rugby changed radically with the emergence of the professional game that operates in a demanding business environment. But has the WRU changed?  The change in the status of the game clearly emphasized the need for a different relationship to be developed – and quickly.

However at the WRU the same people are still there on the new Board of Directors. Yet they have moved rapidly towards a new definition of relationships – the new perception is not one of governance, but of control. The WRU, it would appear, wants complete commercial control of the game in Wales. Here we enter a completely different context as the control position proposed is considerably more than simply governance of the sport. Here the personalities involved become key to the value and indeed the validity of the proposed change.

The current Directors of the WRU are a Chairman who, it is claimed, has extensive business experience, two National representatives – one with business experience and the other a respected former player who has had involvement in business and public bodies, the other directors – the majority – are representatives of the clubs at District level and many have been there since the amateur days. It is now intended that they, through their officers, should have complete commercial control of the game as well.

In contrast the regions are led by business men who have wide, successful experience in business – within Wales – and who have put their own money into the game that they love. Surely this is also acting ‘in the best interest of Welsh rugby’ – something apparently prized by the WRU? The directors of the WRU were eminently suited to the governance of the game in its amateur era, however they have little or no business experience of the type that can decide strategy with big contracts.

Fitness for purpose

The WRU is a private association. It has a business arm to deal with necessary business that forms a part of its activity brief. We take the view that, given the WRU’s size, income, assets and market value, there would be a completely different group of directors with a markedly different skill-set. In a world where there is the ownership of a massive stadium with its mortgage to manage and TV contracts involving millions of pounds to negotiate, is it not unreasonable to question the fitness for purpose of the present board of the WRU?

There is a dearth of appropriate experience in the business field which severely limits the Directors’ contribution in many situations and, at the same time, enlarges the power vacuum to be filled by officers. Perhaps the greatest indictment of the WRU is that it didn’t change when the game changed.

As a result of the inertia that accompanied the failure of the WRU to recognise the change in the climate of the operation that followed professionalisation, there is no representative of the professional game in Wales at Board level. Thus there is no representative at board level of the organisations that employ over 600 professionals working in rugby, and manage the academies that are key to the future and produce the stream of players needed by Team Wales. In the circumstances it is ludicrous that the WRU wants to control their activities without even allowing them a voice. The WRU will point no doubt to the panel set up to deal with the professional game, but will neglect to observe that they have also effectively emasculated it.

While the WRU is a private company and a business, it also performs a public function, given its permeating role in Welsh society.  It is perhaps best viewed as a quasi-public body.  As such, the decisions taken by its board should be subject to greater scrutiny and accountability in the same way that public bodies are.

In our view it is the duty and function of government bodies and, if appropriate, the judiciary, to provide such scrutiny.  We fail to see how the current board could possibly stand up to the even the slightest scrutiny: the board is wholly deficient in terms of appropriate qualifications and business experience.  Such deficiencies are manifest in the board’s abject failure to prevent its CEO from pursuing the single-minded assault on the regions – the issue which sits at the heart of the current crisis.

Central Contracts 

Much is made by the WRU of central contracts as though it is a single concept. Manifestly it is not, as there are as many different types of central contract arrangements as there are organisations that use them. It is not a single identifiable concept, but a handy term that is used as a short hand description of a variety of styles of operation.

The implementation of central contracts requires proper planning and the agreement of all involved in order to be effectively implemented. It will only work if it involves the whole squad of international players and will be a disaster if it only applies to a favoured few. When all that is agreed and there is adequate funding to bring it into operation, then the arrangement becomes one of the various forms of viable operation. However without those pre-conditions there is no situation in which it will be either acceptable or effective. The present proposal – to offer it to a limited number of players – screams out for answers to some key questions –

  • Will the centrally contracted players be given precedence in selection to justify the expense?
  • What will happen if a centrally contracted player has a loss of form? Will he still be selected anyway?
  • Is the WRU actually bidding against its own regions for players?
  • Where is the money coming from?
  • What message does the arrangement send out to the current rugby internationals of Wales? Does it tell them that they may be good enough to play for their country, but not good enough to be considered worthy of a central contract?
  • Where will they play their ‘club’ rugby if an agreement is not concluded with the regions for them to be loaned back to regions in Wales – will they have to be loaned out to England or France?

When a new situation leaves you with more questions than answers, you do not have a policy or a strategy – you have a knee jerk reaction that is designed to capture media attention and a clear sign that those responsible may be making it up as they go along. There is a major concern for the sport in all this – many have legitimate fears that the proposal is divisive within the playing squad and that is bad news – especially for Team Wales.

Conclusion

At the moment what we need is cool appraisal of what ‘is best for Welsh rugby’ – defined in the widest sense and we would respectfully suggest that such concern is not limited to the WRU. What we do not need now is reckless brinkmanship and the use of the media to spin biased points of view to the public. I am sure that the irony of the occasion was not lost on you, when the CEO of the WRU stated that the WRU was not negotiating through the media and actually stated it in an interview the radio! We also do not need an attempt to starve the regions into submission by denying them the money due to them by contract. Sadly, it was a tactic that we know only too well in Wales – it was much loved by the colliery owners who wanted to starve their workers into submission.

The relationship between the game of rugby and the people of Wales is unique. The relationship changed, in some ways, with the advent of the professional game. The current actions of the WRU will further distance the game from the people of Wales and that should be a matter of concern for yourselves at the Assembly.

We have seen it as important that you should know that there are two sides to this debate and we believe that it is important to make you aware of that fact for another reason.  It may have been brought to your notice already that the only evidence in the media that there is any coherence in the regions’ contentions, and that there is a different point of view to that of Mr Lewis, comes from the media outside Wales – a fact that, in our view, deserves to be properly noted and pointed out to you. In a country that prides itself on its democracy, it is less than acceptable that its people are dependent on the media in England for a fair case to be made. The media inside Wales, in all its guises, only seems to report what they are told by the WRU and we find that both sad and regrettable on the one hand and a palpable lack of an even handed approach on the other.

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The view from across the bridge

Following back-to-back Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam, and that 30-3 hammering handed out in Cardiff last year and 10 Welshmen in the triumphant Lions series-winning side in Sydney it’s easy for Welsh rugby supporters to be dismissive of England’s chances in – not to mention Austin Healey’s comments about – Sunday’s match at Twickenham. However, Welsh fans don’t seem to know the capabilities of the players that will don the white jersey at HQ, and after watching top-flight English rugby for the past 18 seasons and commentating for 11 of those, I think I’m just about qualified to highlight some players who might cause some problems in the big clash on the Cabbage Patch.

Missing from Stuart Lancaster’s plans are the Leicester Lions Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole. Both will be missed and their replacements will, naturally, be targeted by Wales as potential weak links. Outside centre Luther Burrell isn’t very well known outside England, but his direct running, strength and off-loading game for Northampton has catapulted him into a deserved starting place. For me, I think he has more of a footballing brain than Tuilagi, who can go and has gone AWOL in defence at times. If Burrell was Welsh, he would be the ideal understudy to Jamie Roberts as Gatland prefers to play the bigger centre at 12, rather than Stuart Lancaster’s favourite 13. Burrell can cause problems; Jonathan Davies will have his hands full.

There is a chink of light at tight head in Cole’s absence as Davey Wilson, like the aforementioned Davies, is only just returning after injury. The Bath prop’s scrummaging prowess is not in doubt, and he stood up well against Ireland last time out, but his speed around the park and overall fitness might be something Wales can exploit, especially when he’s defending.

The rest of the three-quarter line is also inexperienced and unproven. Jack Nowell has been fast-tracked into the England squad following injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade, allied to Chris Ashton being out of favour with the England coaches. Nowell can, with ball in hand, be dangerous, despite his dismal try scoring record for the Exeter Chiefs.  The Gloucester pair of Billy Twelvetrees and Jonny May are the choices of a man with very little choice at all. Both play for a Gloucester team that has been dismal under the stewardship of Nigel Davies. May has a step, Twelvetrees a boot, and that’s about it. If there is deadlock elsewhere, the Welsh boys can take advantage here if their opponents’ defence is found wanting.

It all sounds easy, doesn’t it? Believe me, it’s not. The spine of the team is very strong and the historical suspect temperament of all the players there seems to be a thing of the past. Perennial bad boy Dylan Hartley has, after a quiet word down the pub with Lancaster, got his head down and turned into the Lions hooker he could have been.

Ben Morgan is given a chance in the absence of Billy Vunipola and despite a rotten season with Gloucester, he has done well when playing for his country; he’ll be a key ball carrier and Dan Lydiate will have his hands full keeping him behind the gain line.

Danny Care – crappy haircut and all – is the best player in the whole team at the moment. Quick as a cat, the Yorkshireman sees and exploits gaps much better than Rhys Webb and his support play is akin to Shaun Edwards in his Wigan pomp. Speaking of Wigan, Owen Farrell is hardly a clone of Phil Bennett, but when the chips are down, his kicking both from hand and from the tee can give England the edge, plus he is a solid defender and decent distributor of the ball. Wales cannot afford to concede too many penalties or Farrell will punish them with territory or points.

The last man in the spine is the last man in defence: fullback Mike Brown. The niggly nugget from Harlequins is playing superbly and in doing so is keeping the likes of Alex Goode and Ben Foden (although he’s been injured until very recently) out of the 15 shirt. Fearless in defence, most secure under the high ball and another great support runner, he’s another who could cause trouble, including in counter-attack.

Austin Healey will be proven to be a genius if his 6/10 for Adam Jones versus 8/10 for his opposite number in the scrum, Harlequins’ spiky loosehead Joe Marler, is proven. Marler can carry a bit, can scrum a bit and can niggle a lot. If Bomb is on his game in the tight, then Marler could be wound up and look as stupid as his hair, but it won’t be a pushover.

The second rows are inseparable, in my view. AWJ is back with Luke Charteris, but England pair Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes are both supreme athletes. They both play like extra flankers who can carry and defend as well as any international 6 in the northern hemisphere, plus they give plenty of lineout options. Good as they are, the Welsh boys will meet their match in the boiler room for certain.

I’ll level with you. Apart from one superb game against New Zealand I can’t see the attraction of Tom Wood, but he must be doing something right to keep being picked at 6 or 8. So we, and Wales, will need to watch closely to see what he does that’s so good. Is the next Richard Hill? England seem to think so.

Ben Morgan has already been mentioned and we all know about Toby Faletau, so I will conclude with what most Wales fans see as the most one-sided individual match-up between open sides and captains Sam Warburton and Chris Robshaw. “Six-and-a-half!” say some. “There because there’s nobody else” say others. Er, no. The England skipper is a lot better than we Taffs think. Robshaw gives everything for the cause, even against more celebrated players. Commitment and leadership are two attributes that the Quins 7 has in spades. Dismiss him at your peril. England should cherish him.

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It only takes a minute

Throughout the recent debacle in Welsh rugby, I’ve been very impressed with the work of the regions’ respective supporters’ clubs. They’ve been to meetings with the WRU and RRW, and have published an honest account of proceedings.

Recently, I was part of a group of supporters’ club representatives who wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC about the farcical ScrumV “Special” programme which was recorded in January. A programme all of us who were there know was heavily edited to favour the position of Roger Lewis. The response we received from the BBC could be best described as inadequate, and we are now going to raise this with the BBC Trust.

On Monday 17th February, representatives from the supporters’ clubs met RRW to discuss the ongoing crisis once again. The minutes of this meeting have now been published, with the approval of RRW. You can read them here.

The minutes of this latest meeting are disappointing for many reasons.

Firstly, it’s not clear who was in attendance.

Secondly, the minutes have no structure and the discussion points are not organised in a way which makes it simple to understand the various issues which were discussed.

Thirdly, there are basic grammatical errors which make the document difficult to read. In addition to this, the minutes are not written in an objective way. In fact at several points the writer adds emotive punctuation, such as exclamation marks, which makes it seem like a rant rather than a serious account of a meeting.

I’m all in favour of people venting their spleen about something which they clearly feel very passionate about, but these minutes have been approved by RRW’s public relations representative, and are now in the public domain. Is this really the standard of document RRW should be putting their name to?

We all know that the WRU are never shy in putting their position forward in the media, while RRW have preferred to keep their own counsel, as Roger Lewis might put it.

If this is the best RRW can do, maybe it’s better they keep quiet. These minutes are a mess.

Let me try and summarise the key points, because some of them are worth noting:

1. The WRU’s proposal for a new PA

It appears the terms of this are even more in favour of the WRU than the original PA. Central contracts are the order of the day, and the regions will have to release players for internationals outside the IRB window at their own expense, with no compensation from the WRU.

2.  The new European Cup

The WRU have finally agreed to a new competition, not run by the ERC. But we already knew that.

Stuart Gallacher (RRW CEO) resigned from ERC once RRW had stated they supported the new Rugby Champions Cup, to avoid any conflict of interest. If Roger Lewis is involved in negotiations on a new European Cup, surely he should follow suit and resign from ERC to avoid a similar conflict of interest?

3. The outstanding ERC payments

The WRU Finance department assured RRW in an email back in January that the payments would be made as expected. The ERC board were supposed to meet before January to decide on whether the payment would be made, but that meeting never took place.

4. The TV position

Sky and BT have met, but there is no agreement

5.  WRU accounts

A thorough review of  WRU financial position is needed, in light of the surplus highlighted by David Moffett.

6. WRU governance

Are the WRU board holding CEO Roger Lewis to account? An independent inquiry is needed.

7. WRU Director of Rugby

Josh Lewsey was appointed by a one-man interview panel. What qualities make him suitable for this role?

8. Central contracts

Why is the WRU pursuing this unilateral policy when it is obvious they are not the solution?

9. Celtic League

There has been no progress in planning for the future, for example sponsorship, TV contracts and composition. What are the Irish and the Scots doing to help keep this league going? The Italians have already said they are ready to leave.

10.  WRU “loans” to the regions

These have to be paid back by 31st March, even though it is not clear whether the money will ever be paid by ERC.

11. The Anglo Welsh League

This is still an option. The English clubs are also anxious to have a competition to help them sell season tickets.

In summary:

None of this information is a surprise to those of us who have been following the issues. What is of most concern is that RRW don’t seem to be able to speak for themselves, and instead seem happy to rely on well-meaning but incoherent information from meetings with supporters.

If RRW want to achieve their goals, they need to adopt a far more professional approach to communication. The WRU are already miles ahead of them in the PR race. RRW are falling further and further behind by the day. This is too important a matter to ignore.

 

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The sun always shines on WRU TV

The Welsh Rugby Union have launched a set of pan-Wales touch rugby leagues which will start this summer. Touch rugby is great fun, a good way of keeping fit and a safe introduction to the full game. It also helps to develop some of the key skills needed to play the game.

So what’s the problem?

Rugby clubs. Or the lack of them.  The WRU announcement makes no mention of rugby clubs whatsoever. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the WRU was a Union of Welsh rugby clubs (hence the name).

It would seem to make sense to someone who isn’t living in the crazy parallel universe inhabited by the people who run our national game, that rugby clubs should be involved in a development initiative like this.

But instead, the WRU have set up their own project, diverting more funds away from the grass roots and into another pet project run from the Vale of Glamorgan “Centre of Excellence.”

This is happening against the backdrop of a crisis in our club game. Local clubs are being starved of funds, threatening their very existence.

Rugby clubs are already there, with volunteers and facilities to support these new initiatives. Get kids and grown-ups down to your local club in the summer to play touch, and they may return in the Autumn to play the full game. At the same time supporting the grass roots game which is the life blood of our national game and our communities.

Yet again the WRU has sacrificed the greater good of all Welsh rugby just to gain a few minutes of headlines.

It would be interesting to hear the views of other rugby clubs’ members, coaches and volunteers.

Irish President Snubs Wales

Irish Head of State Michael Higgins has announced he will not take part in the excruciatingly drawn-out 25 minutes of official pre-match bollocks planned for the forthcoming Ireland vs. Wales rugby international, having given his ticket to diminutive white-haired lookalike Bernie Ecclestone in exchange for 3lbs of gout ointment and a minor percentage of Ireland’s national debt.

President Higgins is among a minority of Dublin intellectuals who oppose the overindulgent traditions associated with every home Ireland game, as well as the rain: “An umbrella is never enough, and I find neither is three glasses of Bushmills,” quipped the political powerhouse and part-time Mr Magoo impersonator.  “I’d rather be watching the fecking game than wandering about making small talk with a bunch of overweight coal miners, country bumpkins and sheep shaggers.  And I don’t care very much for those Welsh players either!”

The Higgins snub comes at the optimum time to stoke up pre-match tensions already reaching fever pitch on the back of “Dropping O’Driscoll-gate” and today: “Ireland’s Call-gate”.

Anyone not paying attention to international news events may have overlooked the shocking revelation that the acclaimed Calon Lan will not be played on Saturday as Wales’s ‘second anthem’, though the IRFU-commissioned ‘Ireland’s Call’ – and its charmingly sophisticated harmonic refrain – will.  Indeed, extra consignments of bright-green Guinness-sponsored vuvuzelas are being shipped in to Dublin to hammer home the point.

In other news, the Welsh training camp has been boosted by rumours that ace Irish second-row Devin Toner is running low.  Unwieldy, single-purpose and presenting a minor health risk when broken, Ireland’s Toner is extra large.  “We’d fookin love to see to him run out on Saturday,” quipped enamel-coated Welsh coach Shaun Edwards.

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