All posts by Capten Synhwyrol

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Reading between the lies

So, another worrying turn in the continuing battle between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four organisations it still seems intent on bringing to heel – the professional teams represented collectively by Regional Rugby Wales (RRW). Weeks of quiet on the thorny issue of central contracts are threatening to spark into life over the WRUs apparent decision to compete with the Ospreys for the signature of tight-head prop Adam Jones. 

The four professional teams have long stated that they have agreed that,

The Regions will only play centrally contracted players on collective agreement between all four Regions – as part of a complete structural solution for the future of the game in Wales.”

Their united opposition to central contracts would remain unless the concept formed “part of a clear and proper strategy and agreed framework to achieve long-term solutions for player retention in Wales; and guard against any quick fix, ad-hoc action.”

So when Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton signed a central contract with the WRU on 25 January , on the apparent understanding that he would be placed with his home team the Cardiff Blues, it raised the odd eyebrow.

Defending his decision to put the WRU in direct competition with a Welsh region for the signature of the Welsh captain, WRU CEO Roger Lewis suggested RRW’s opposition to central contracts was nothing more than a bit of playing to the gallery.

He stated, pretty explicitly, that the four professional teams had approached him and said,

“They were unable to contract six players. They needed assistance and help with Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton. That’s where it all began and then when the participation agreement wasn’t signed by December 31st we put our minds to it… and thought how on earth can we keep players in Wales?”

Lewis claimed that his hand had been forced by Leigh Halfpenny’s decision to leave Wales altogether and sign for Toulon. Warburton’s agent, Derwyn Jones, was wheeled out to hint that the WRU hadn’t competed with Cardiff at all, but had actually saved Warburton for the nation.

Apparently, the WRU’s offer of a contract led the national captain to

Twice rejecting £700,000-a-year offers from big-spending French clubs. It’s understood he had already turned down one such bid from Stade Francais and last week he rejected another from Toulon after the European champions came back in for him.”

All very laudable, I’m sure. Much of the recent success of the national team has been built on a Partnership Agreement which has kept the bulk of Wales’ international class players at home, and provided national team coach Warren Gatland with access to these players in excess of anything afforded most of his equivalents in the northern hemisphere. Nobody would corroborate Derwyn’s story, obviously, and nobody dug too deeply into it.

Then Scott Williams, Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Priestland signed for their Regions, rejecting the WRU’s central contracts. Everything pointed to Adam Jones, the last of the six, signing for the Ospreys. Then it all went quiet. A person who is (astonishingly enough) employed by the Western Mail started talking about Jones signing a central contract and playing for the Dragons. Their coach Lyn Jones, a reliable source whenever stories of Ospreys players signing for the Dragons rear their heads, said yesterday that Adam was very close to signing a central contract as negotiations with the Ospreys had “stalled.”

Today (9 April), Adam Jones’ region, the Ospreys, spoke to the Evening Post. The region’s Chief Executive Andrew Hore accused the WRU of

“Continuing to negotiate with Adam Jones and breaking a pledge that they would not compete with them for his signature. We received email confirmation from the Welsh Rugby Union on February 12 that they would not compete with us to sign Adam.”

“We subsequently discovered they were continuing to negotiate with him and have offered him considerably more.”

So that would seem to be pretty clear. The WRU have maybe been less than honest. Perhaps. Well, who knows. I trust them implicitly, of course, but others might not.

Interestingly, and hilariously, Wales’ foremost fearless purveyor of facts (given to him by the WRU) Andy Howell has started pushing a line that I confess to having missed: Wales coach Warren Gatland paved the way for the WRU competing with the Regions last December:

“What happens to players who are not wanted by the Regions and go to France or England but who are good enough for the national team? Do you just discard them? There needs to be a separate group of people who decide on what a fair market value is for players so they aren’t taken advantage of by the Regions potentially offering them, say £100,000 less because they know that player is desperate to play for Wales and doesn’t want to leave the country because he knows he won’t be selected.”

Never one to miss out on an opportunity for a spot of shameless toadying, Howell piles in:

“Say, for example, the Ospreys were only offering Adam £100,000 a year because they knew he was intent on staying in Wales, would it be fair? Not in my opinion because he’s clearly worth much more. I agree with Gatland, an independent panel would need to be formed to decide the market value of players if Gatland’s law was to be enforced, which I believe it should.” 

If the general narrative of today’s shambles is to be believed, it looks as though that independent panel has been formed. I wonder who’s on it? Whatever, we at least know that the six players weren’t wanted by their Regions, despite three of them rejecting central contracts and, er… signing for those Regions.

So it seems that, contrary to an email sent by the WRU to the Ospreys in February, the WRU (or an independent panel, natch) have decided that it’s perfectly acceptable to muscle in and compete with Welsh Regions for players.

The question we should be asking is, “Why?”

Why is it acceptable for the WRU to compete with Welsh Regions for players? What purpose does it serve? I suppose the WRU would argue that keeps players in Wales. Except it doesn’t, really, because it seems likely that both Sam Warburton and Adam Jones would have stayed here anyway.

Does it make better use of the game’s finances? No, because the WRUs actions are driving up the cost of Welsh players, and it’s costing nobody but themselves, the Regions and the Welsh game at large. But it is a handy little wedge which can be used to annoy the Regions and maybe create a few divisions.

It is irresponsible, it is underhand, it is duplicitous. In short, it is entirely consistent with the behaviour of the WRU and Roger Lewis. We are fools for expecting anything better.

 

 

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Robert Davies lets rip at Roger

Ospreys shareholder Robert Davies was interviewed by Ian Hunt on Radio Wales last night. Here’s what he had to say.

IH:
“… before that’s we’re going to look at rugby. We touched on the Six Nations right at the top of the program, of course, and the top Wales players are nicely cocooned away from all the politics swirling around Welsh rugby right now. But the Six Nations continues against a backdrop of more discussions and debate over the future of the domestic game with meetings taking place in London today and Dublin tomorrow partly aimed at thrashing out which competitions the Welsh regions will be playing in next season. A row brewing also over the missing £800,000 the Regions’ claim they haven’t been paid for this season’s Heineken Cup. It’s emerged that they could take legal action if the European Rugby Cup decide to withhold this money. Well, last night the WRU Chief Executive Roger Lewis gave us his thoughts on this and the various issues. Earlier though I got a regional perspective from Robert Davies, speaking in a personal capacity as the major shareholder at the Ospreys. Here’s what he had to say”.

RD:
“I was quite shocked to read your report, the BBC that is, report about what Mr Lewis had said and he was saying that:
- firstly the regions are open to the idea of expanding national contracts – that’s untrue;
- both sides plan to make more deals – that’s untrue;
- we have a plan on the table that we are discussing – that’s untrue;
- the regions have engaged with that plan – that’s untrue;
- WRU has been working on the plan for several months – that’s untrue;
and
- (the) regions originally contacted the Union to keep six players in Wales – well that’s untrue

In fact, there is no relationship with the Regions and the Regions have been consistent in the view there is no system to support central contracts in Wales”

IH:
“Yes, well Regional Rugby Wales have reiterated today they stand by what they said last week about central contracts, namely that no agreement is in place to play players who are centrally contracted”

RD:
“That’s correct”

IH:
“Can you outline, you know, the issues around this and what the objections are to central contracts”

RD:
“Well, it’s not being debated. It’s just something that has been put on the table by Mr Lewis and has not been debated as to whether or not it’s good for Wales, whether it’s bad for Wales, it’s not part of a strategy, it’s not part of a plan. The PwC report which the Union commissioned actually stressed the need to increase revenues. Now, those revenues can only come from the club game in reality because the international game is saturated with fixtures. And therefore what we try to do is to increase revenues for our own benefit and for the benefit of the retention of those players in Wales and there has just been no debate about central contracts whatsoever”

IH:
“Do you not think it is a good plan, though? I mean, if we’re struggling to keep players here in Wales… we’re losing players to France and to England left, right and centre. Isn’t it a good thing if it will…”

RD:
“Well, there’s no proof that the players will stay in Wales. It’s got to be part of an overall plan. We employ 400-500 professional people. To employ one or two is not going to build the base for a professional sport in Wales, that’s not going to do it. You have to have a whole plan not just a plan that grabs headlines and says that certain marquee players are staying in Wales. We’ve got one player so far, fine, good luck to him. But the issue needs hundreds of players”.

IH:
“Can they contract anyone down at the Ospreys? I mean Alun Wyn Jones has signed with the Ospreys”.

RD:
“Well, anybody who’s out of contract with the Ospreys, yes of course they can sign, there’s no way they can’t”.

IH:
“Would you see that that happening?”

RD:
“No”.

IH:
“You don’t think any Ospreys players will end up being centrally contracted?”

RD:
“Highly unlikely…because, the players are already contracted other than one and we’re in discussions with that one. As I say, you have one or two or three players centrally contracted, it just doesn’t work. The Union tried it once before with, I think the first player to be contracted centrally strangely enough was Derwyn Jones who was Warburton’s agent, and that proved not to be successful because there was no plan to go with it. If there was a plan to increase the strength of rugby in Wales, right throughout, all the way down to the grass-roots, fine, let’s debate it. But there is no plan, or at least not one that we’re aware of”.

IH:
“Can I ask you Robert about the other issues swirling around at the moment? There are two big meetings this week to try and resolve the future of all the various competitions. There’s one today in London. Do you know what happened at that meeting?”

RD:
“I haven’t heard as yet, I’m not sure if it’s finished, but it would to be very difficult if there’s anything to come out of it as the English have stated, they stated a long time ago, eighteen months ago, that they will not participate in the European competition. And that will not change. So therefore I cannot see how anything can come out of that meeting today. But I haven’t heard”

IH:
“There’s a big meeting in Dublin tomorrow, ERC meeting, which the Regions have been invited to attend. Do you know whether they’ll be sending someone to that?”

RD:
“We won’t be.”

IH:
“Why not?”

RD:
“Because there’s no point. Look, this is the ERC, this goes to the root of the differences between us. The ERC is run by the Unions and they, this week, have decided not to pay the Regions in Wales £800,000 which is due to them. Nobody had the decency to tell anybody. This was to enable the Regions to pay the players wages. The WRU’s FD Steve Phillips attended the meeting when they decided not to make the payment. He did not inform the Regions and the Regions had to make arrangements to pay the wages themselves. We’re not going to turn out there as one vote out of many and just be like nodding donkey. There’s just no point. There’s nothing we can contribute and nothing they want us to contribute.”

IH:
“But surely its in your interests to attend to fight your corner, isn’t it?”

RD:
“We have written to them today voicing our concerns, but one vote out of many, there’s just no point in being there because we know this is just a kangaroo court”

IH:
“That sounds like a defeatist attitude though doesn’t it? I mean, if you’ve got a seat on the board…”

RD:
“No, no, we’ve written to them today and we expect them to honour the agreements they’ve committed to”.

IH:
“How tough has it been, Robert, for the Regions to, you know, to bridge the gap with this money missing? How tough has that been? As you’ve alluded to already you have had to scrabble around to pay the wages, haven’t you?”

RD:
“Well it’s no different to any other business if, suddenly, you’re confronted with somebody who’s promised to pay you – and they don’t – a large sum of money and you have to make alternative arrangements to cover the shortfall. And that’s what we did last Friday and we covered it to enable the wages to be paid. But it’s no way to run a business. We’ve got no relationship, any meaningful or trustworthy relationship, with the Union. It’s no way to conduct any business let alone one like the WRU which is really a public body. It’s disgraceful”.

IH:
“If this money isn’t paid, what’s the worst case scenario? Could this send one of the regions out of business?”

RD:
“Well, at the end the day, we are owed a lot of lot of money, and maybe it’s a way of the Union threatening us again. There is a history of threatening and using the big stick. That’s one of the reasons why we no longer wish to be party to an organisation that’s run by the Unions. We would rather be dealing with proper business people who act in good faith. And the outcome? Who knows? If they continue not to pay us we will have to make alternative arrangements, and that could be legal or financial”

IH:
“Better in terms of alternative cup competitions for next season? Are you as Regions determined to pursue an alternative European competition that isn’t run by the ERC?”

RD:
“Well, at the moment there is no alternative competition. The ERC has had notice for over 18 months that this is going to happen. We’ve warned them. We’ve repeatedly asked them ‘what are you going to do?’. Our own agreement has come to an end. We’re left just wondering where we’re going to play? There is no Rabo for next year, there’s no European for next year. We’re expected to commit to a payroll and pay players costing us £4-5 million per year and it’s very unfair. We don’t know what income we’re going to have. So, to answer your question, unless the Union comes up and tells us well there is a Europe we can participate in meaningfully, and by that I mean financially meaningful, then I can’t see us agreeing anything other than an Anglo-Welsh”.

IH:
“I was going to say, if the Union sort of meet you halfway, if you find some middle ground on the European Cup issue, would you drop plans to join an Anglo-Welsh league?

RD:
“Look, we’ve been trying to negotiate with the Union for a long, long time. It’s very, very difficult for us to have any sensible discussion with the Union. They’ve reneged on so many agreements with us, there’s no trust left”.

SG:
“These are difficult times, aren’t they Robert? I just wonder if…”

RD:
“Very difficult and it’s very sad. I’m looking forward to going to Ireland this weekend, one of 10,000 or more Welshmen. We’ve all bought our tickets paid for our hotels, paid for our beer, our own food and we enjoy ourselves, and it’s very sad that we should be going there in this atmosphere where we don’t know, next year, what the game is going to look like. And this is a game we’ve all supported for many, many years. It’s very, very sad, and the Union board itself should be looking at itself. I don’t think that anybody comes out very well out of this, but the Union Board itself should have shown more leadership, more decisiveness, more honesty, more integrity. Everybody’s complicit in this and we need really to have a look at the way we run the game in Wales”.

IH:
“Strong words there from the Robert Davies said who’s speaking as a major shareholder at the Ospreys. Regional Rugby Wales, the umbrella organisation acting on behalf of the Regions, declined to respond to what Roger Lewis told this programme last night, apart from reiterating the stance they made last week on central contracts, namely that there is no agreement in place to play centrally contracted players at the Regions.

Back home

 

Photo by Dan, who was there.

I’m not a Cardiff RFC fan, let alone a Cardiff Blues fan. I’m not from Cardiff, although I did live in that god-forsaken chavish hellhole (initially next door to a Canton drugdealer who used to deal with domestic strife with Mrs Drugdealer by running out into the street, picking up a brick and chucking it through his own front window) for 10 years. But I had a blast in the ‘diff.

I used to go to Cardiff Arms Park regularly. I used to go even before I moved to Cardiff. I went there first to watch my village, Waunarlwydd, play in the Schweppes Cup in 1979. I was five years old, Waun got battered, but I knew I was somewhere special. I went with mates from school in about 1990 to watch another Schweppes Cup game, this time an awful effort between Cardiff and Llanelli in a monsoon. I stood at the front of the North Terrace, got soaked, and climbed over the fence to run on to the pitch at the end (I’m still washing bits of mud from between my toes now). I shouted myself hoarse watching a Nigel Walker try beat Bath in the Heineken Cup in 1997. I saw Llanelli win the last proper club league title in 2002 with a late penalty (after Peter Rogers, of all people, had scored after a lovely arcing outside break on the left wing). I used to love its location. I could take some common clobber into work, change, walk to the City Arms or the Green Parrot, have a few pints, stroll across to the game, and stroll back. Or I’d go to the clubhouse (upstairs only, cos I’m common) to watch an international when Wales were playing away. It’s a special place, and even for a Jack-born Turk, it holds special memories.

I left Cardiff before they moved out to the Cardiff City Stadium, but even from my new vantage point in Snowdonia 1890, it obviously wasn’t working. A mate who was a lifelong Cardiff supporter (just the one, I do have standards you know), bought a £20 ticket for the first game, sat way out in the corner, and spoke to people afterwards who’d sat near the halfway line having been given tickets in Asda that morning. He didn’t go back.

Today, Cardiff’s professional rugby team play their first game at their proper home for a few years. It’s Connacht, it’s a 6 Nations Friday, the venue was switched from the Lego Stadium with three days notice, and it’s a sell-out. And this has made me happier than pretty much any domestic rugby story in years.

I hope all those Cardiff Gwladers who’ve wound themselves into a frenzy all week had a cracking night back at their real home. And I hope you have many, many more nights like tonight.

Dyddiau da

Gyda Pencampwriaeth y 6 Gwlad ar fin cychwyn a gyda’n tîm cenedlaethol yn wynebu’n gwrthwynebwyr selocaf ddydd Sul, bu’n ddadlennol cofio’n ôl at ddigwyddiadau’r oes a fu. Neu, i fod yn gwbl gywir, nôl yr holl ffordd i’r Hydref diwethaf, a thaith cofiadwy Cymru trwy Seland Newydd a Chwpan Rygbi’r Byd 2011. Yn enwedig y bore eithriadol o gynnar a welodd tîm ofnadwy o ganol ffordd a gwan Iwerddon yn derbyn eu llawn haeddiant yn y rowndiau go-gynderfynol.

Efallai i’r siwrne gwpla yn nhorcalon cerdyn Sam, anafiadau Rhys ac Adam a’r anallu – gyda’r chwaraewyr ar eu gliniau dan blinder – i greu’r un cyfle tyngedfennol am driphwynt a fyddai wedi ymestyn yr antur – ond roedd hon yn bencampwriaeth i’w cofio ac i’w thrysori. Anaml iawn y gellid dweud hynny am hanes Cymru yng Nghwpan y Byd.

Wyn Gruffudd oedd prif sylwebydd S4C yn Seland Newydd, ac mae yma – yn ‘Dyddiadur Cwpan y Byd 2011’ a gyhoeddir gan Y Lolfa – ei atgofion o holl gemau Cymru. Mae yna ymweliadau â’r cynhadleddau i’r wasg cyn ac ar ôl y gemau, sgyrsiau llai ffurfiol gydag aelodau’r garfan a – diolch i rhaglen S4C a olygai mai dim ond 9 gem y bu angen i Wyn sylwebu arnynt – digon o gyfle iddo a’i gyd-deithwyr brofi lletygarwch unigryw trigolion Gwlad y Cwmwl Wen. Cawn glywed am nosweithiau allan ar y pop, am ymweliadau â thafarndai Cymraeg, am deithiau i mannu pertaf y wlad, ac obsesiwn Derwyn Jones gyda cadw’n heini…

Ceir toreth o straeon difyr ac o luniau da yma, ac edrychaf ymlaen at y rhifyn nesaf yn y gyfres, sef “Camp Lawn Wyn Gruffudd 2012”.