Which Roger Lewis do we believe?

In November 2012, Roger Lewis said:

“I personally negotiated a television deal for them in respect of the Celtic League, or the RaboDirect Pro12 as it is now. Together with the money from European tournaments – and I’ve spent six years on the European Rugby Cup board ensuring income is maximised – that realises £9m a year. ”

Or last Monday, from the minutes of the supporters’ meeting with Roger Lewis and the WRU:

“RL went on to say that the latest RRW statement (regarding, amongst others, the TV revenues) was, at a minimum, misleading. and contained confidential information which should not have been disclosed. He stated that it was not the WRU or himself that negotiated TV deals but Celtic League Ltd and ERC Ltd, of which the Regions had been party to.”


Two sides to every story

You’re probably bored to death with me moaning about the current crisis in Welsh rugby. “Leave it Dan! It’s not worth it! Get a life!”

Unfortunately I’m a glutton for punishment, so instead of retreating to the pub to watch Cardiff City and drink a few festive pints of ale, I’ve been sitting at home reading about, er, Welsh rugby.

pooler1On the face of it, a book about the Ospreys and a book about Pontypool RFC might not seem to have that much in common. The Ospreys came into being in 2003, long after Pooler’s final glorious flourish in the late 1980s had finished. But in fact the stories of these two famous rugby teams are intertwined, and they tell us all we need to know about the current malaise which is afflicting domestic rugby in Wales.

The Pontypool front row of the 1970s are still the stuff of legend. The reputations of Bobby Windsor and Graham Price in particular stretch all over the globe to this day. These were men who made the All Blacks’ front row look like schoolboys. Not many Welshmen can claim that accolade.

The Pooler style was considered to be the antithesis of the flair exhibited by the likes of Carwyn James’ Llanelli and John Dawes’ London Welsh in the 1970s. It was deeply unfashionable, but it worked. The same could be said of  Warren Gatland’s brand of rugby. But it worked too, and it still does. Sometimes.

Ray Prosser’s name may not be as well-known as Carwyn James’, but Pross was the man who shaped Pontypool in his image and invented the hard-nosed and hard-booted brand of rugby which enabled the boys from the playing fields of West Monmouthshire Grammar to punch (often literally) above their weight.

What’s this got to do with the Ospreys? Well, the cynics among us might say that this is the story of the death of one kind of rugby and the birth of another. The decline of a community-based, ostensibly amateur game and the rise of a corporate, professional one.

10yrsospreysOver the past decade the Ospreys have provided Team Wales with a large proportion of their firepower, often at the expense of the region’s own progress. There have been a lot of trophies: Celtic League and Anglo-Welsh. But still no Heineken Cup. The “one true region” is still a work in progress.

The conclusion we are drawn towards in reading both these books is that Welsh regional rugby has been caught between the two stools of Team Wales and club rugby. Team Wales has flourished in the past decade, whereas club rugby has withered on the vine. In the middle we have the regions, the perennial also-rans whenever they venture outside the narrow confines of the Celtic League.

So what’s the answer? To find that I think we need to look at the Pooler story. When they were at their strongest, they were fearsome and teams from all over Wales and beyond were afraid to play against them. Can we say that about any of our regions or clubs?

Where did that reputation come from? It came from competitiveness. The environment where our top teams were playing against teams which challenged them and excited their supporters. Opposition that put boots on the pitch, bums on seats and feet on the terraces. The problem we have today is that a lot of our domestic rugby isn’t competitive, challenging or exciting.

On a positive note, tickets for the seasonal derby fixtures between our four regions are selling like hot cakes. These fixtures draw on the traditional competitiveness of near neighbours. Games which mean something.

If you need a couple of primers in the background to the current situation in Welsh rugby, you should read both of these books. They tell you all you need to know about the past, present and future of our game.

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – the Rise and Fall of Pontypool RFC” is available now.

“Ten Years of the Ospreys” is published by Y Lolfa.

Field of Reames

These days, the word “dapper” has been soiled by its wrongful association with the hipster movement. But to those of us of a certain age, it has honorable origins. For this child of the 70s, the word is synonymous with one person, Thomas Gerald Reames Davies CBE MA (Cantab).

But Gerald Davies (for it is he) is far more than a man of letters with a very good tailor. He is a legend of world rugby. And a very fine wordsmith.

I’ve been a fan of Gerald’s writing in The Times for many years, and it’s always a tremendous pleasure to sit and read his prose. In “The Greatest Welsh Tries Ever”, TGR Davies has a bountiful treasure of material to describe in his lyrical terms. This volume is also blessed with some smashing illustrations; literally, when it comes to the tackles. Did you see what I did there?

But I digress. Over the festive period, many of us long for a few snatched moments of peace and quiet  in the midst of the yuletide throng. For a rugby fan, I can think of no better book to take with me to that quiet corner, to engorge oneself with TGR Davies’ rhapsodic nuggets and anecdotes from the rich history of rugby football.

Ever modest, Gerald has refused to consider any of his own spectacular tries for Wales, the Lions, the Barbarians or London Welsh in his list of 15 top touchdowns. My own favourites are the hat-trick of tries from that fleeting season of Welsh glory in 1988, when we snatched a Triple Crown with a mixture of guile, controlled aggression and athleticism. Give me Ieuan Evans, Jonathan Davies or Adrian Hadley’s tries from that season;  when described by the pen of TGR Davies, they’re all winners for me.

“The Greatest Welsh Tries Ever” by TGR Davies is published by Gomer.

WRU Proves There is No God – Dawkins

The world’s leading atheist and Chairman of the Keep Britain Happy campaign, Professor Richard Dawkins has stated that the existence of the WRU proves that there is no god. “The WRU appears to have such a complex structure, that any superior being would have to spend all their time just trying to understand what was going on. That would then mean they wouldn’t be able to concentrate on other things, like how badgers work.” claimed the 2013 winner of the Steve Hansen Award for Misery.

Dawkins, who spends December 25th watching ITV3 so that he can pretend Christmas isn’t happening, did have a crumb of comfort for theists everywhere. “While the WRU show there’s no god, I won’t rule out the work of the Devil.”

Max Boyce Signed by Toulon

In a big money move away from Welsh rugby, songster, comedian and ex-Dallas Cowboys replacement kicker, Max Boyce has signed in a big money deal to Toulon. Local media have reported the move with the headline “Max Pour Toulon: 100 Millions” however the exact sum is shrouded in mystery.

Roger Lewis, was interviewed in his secret underground, volcanic ninja-training base, stated that this was a great opportunity for Welsh rugby and just underlines how vital it is that we play Australia a further three more times next year, during the half time intervals of the Six Nations matches. The news is a further blow to supporters of the 4 ‘Regions’ as they have so far this year, already lost Ioan Gryffydd, Gareth Bale, Gelert and Kylie Minogue to foreign based clubs.

From the archives: A Gwlad Christmas Carol

By Big Dai Ap Dickensbigdai

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it provide a salutary reminder for those who have forgotten their true roots and the real meaning of Christmas.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, B.D.A.D.

Chapter 1: Christmas Eve, Wapping

letache1Ebenezer Jones was the meanest, mealiest mouthed rugby correspondent in the world.
A tighter fisted wordsmith never had been. It was Christmas Eve, and Ebenezer was where he had spent the last ten Christmas Eves, in his cold, miserable office in the Docklands of London.

The office has long since been deserted, fellow journalists having departed many hours ago to get home to wives and loved ones. Only poor old Johnny D. Cratchit, faithful clerk to Ebenezer, was left in the office.

“Mr Jones?” squeaked poor Johnny

“What is it, Cratchit?” snapped Ebenezer “I pay you to type, not to speak.”

“Yes Mr Jones, but I’ve finished typing up your article.”

“Article? Article? Which article? My tirade against Welsh regional rugby?”

“No Mr Jones, I finished that one earlier.”

“My sycophantic grovelling article about the Aviva Premiership?”

“No Mr Jones, that was finished yesterday.”

“Which article then, damn you, which article?” Ebenezer demanded.

“Your profile on Clive Woodward – you know, the one where you say you want his babies.”

“It’s Sir Clive, Cratchit, Sir Clive……….”

For a very short moment, Ebenezer looked as though he was almost happy.

“Yes Sir, of course sir…….Um…”

“What is it Cratchit?”

“Well Mr Jones, it’s Christmas Eve and I was hoping I could, you know, pack up and go take my boy, Tiny Tim, home to see his physio. His wrist is awful baaaad……..”jiffhowley

“I pay you to work , Cratchit, not to go home…………Oh, bah humbug, be off with you, you villainous layabout. But don’t expect a Christmas bonus from me!”

Johnny D Cratchit got up to leave, and as he passed through the door shouted, “Thank you, Mr Jones. God Bless you Mr Jones.”

Moments later he re-emerged with Tiny Tim on his shoulder.

“Yes, what is it Cratchit?”

“It’s Tiny Tim, sir, he was waiting for me outside. He has something he wants to say to you Mr Jones.”

Johnny D Cratchit prompted Tiny Tim.

“Have a Merry Welsh Christmas Mr Jones,” whispered Tiny Tim, in between coughing up half his lung, “God Bless you and your family.”

“F**k off home, you little scrote” replied Ebenezer. “I don’t believe in Welsh Christmases. I don’t have a family, and the only God I need is now coaching the Lions! Be off with you both!”

But by this stage his words were lost as Johnny D. Cratchit side stepped through the doorway and was gone. Bang! There’s no beating pace.

Chapter 2: The First of the Three Spirits

carwynIt was 11.30pm and Ebenezer Jones had finally made it home to his penthouse suite in Twickenham, South-West London. He poured himself a small bowl of lumpy gruel and settled down in front of his 62 inch plasma screen TV, putting on his favourite DVD, ‘Laurence Dallaglio: Balls and Mauls’, a complimentary copy given to Ebenezer by the great man himself. Within five minutes Ebenezer had begun to drift off to sleep. He was awoken with a start by a voice booming from his TV.

“Filth, utter filth. Ebenezer, I cannot believe you are watching this filth.”

Ebenezer looked at his screen.

“Jesus Christ, it’s Carwyn James! On my screen!” yelped Ebenezer, “I thought you were dead!?”

“I am not Carwyn James,” intoned Carwyn James from Ebenezer’s TV, “I am the Ghost of Wales Past. And I am not dead, just resting between internationals before the Dragon awakens once more.

“I have come back to remind you, Ebenezer, of the past that you have so readily forgotten…A past when you were happy to call yourself a Welshman…Come with me, Ebenezer, come with me.”

The Ghost of Wales Past beckoned Ebenezer towards the TV screen. There was a flash of light, and suddenly Ebenezer found himself in a small room with a radio on the table and a young boy sat at the table, staring intently at the radio.

“Who is that boy?” asked Ebenezer.

“That is you Ebenezer, how you were before you are now.”

“God, I had a moustache even back then….What am I doing, Ghost of Wales Past?”

“You are listening to the radio, you stupid boy, what does it look like?” admonished the Ghost of Wales Past.

“What am I listening to so intently?” asked Ebenezer, straining forward, and then he caught it, the crackling intonations of the sports results on BBC Radio Wales. The announcers voice rang out:

“South Wales Police 3, Glamorgan Wanderers 3.”

“My God,” cried Ebenezer, “It’s the old Merit Table! Oh, how I loved that merit table.”

“Newport RFC 7, Penarth 0.”

“I remember that game, I remember that game! My god, I was happy then, Ghost of Wales Past! I was so happy. What has happened to me since those happy, heady days of my youth?”

“You have sold out,” replied the Ghost of Wales Past, “Sold out to the English media, to Planet Rugby, to Rupert Murdoch. You have forgotten your past, Ebenezer, forgotten where your ‘tache came from.”

“No!” cried Ebenezer, “You have to help me Ghost of Wales Past, you have to help me remember my past. I don’t want to be a sell out.”

But the Ghost of Wales Past had gone, and Ebenezer was left alone in the room with the boy with the strange moustache. Ebenezer fell on his knees as all around him faded to black and began to cry, just like a little girl, before eventually passing out.

Chapter 3: The Second of the Three Spirits

butlertacheEbenezer awoke in a sweat, finding himself wrapped up tight in his bed clutching his teddy bear, Sir Clive.

“Blimey, Sir Clive, that was a worrisome dream. Thankfully I’m now back safe and sound in my bed in South West London.”

“Don’t be too sure, Ebenezer” thundered a deep North Monmouthshire voice from the corner of the room. “I am the ghost of Wales Present and if the Ghost of Wales Past scared you then what I’ve got to show you is going to turn your tache white.”

A lumbering ghost from Gwent with a child frighteningly large head then stepped out of the shadows and the room began to spin. Ebenezer became quite dizzy and began to regret that nightcap of Lucozade Sport he’d shared with Sir Clive before bedtime. The room spun faster and faster until Ebenezer quite lost his grasp on reality and all he could see were Black and Amber stripes streaking past his eyes. Gradually that grotesque vision melted away and Ebenezer found himself standing on a concrete terrace at a sorry rugby ground.

“Remember this place, Ebenezer?” said the Ghost of Wales Present.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been here before.”

“It’s Rodney Parade, you great pillock. I admit not the most memorable place. Personally I can’t stand it but that’s by the by. The fact is Ebenezer you used to spend great amounts of time here enjoying yourself with your moustachioed, overweight friends watching rugby and talking bollocks. In short you used to come here and be Welsh. Now look at you. You support England against Wales. Criticise Wales and praise England when any Welshman should criticise absolutely everything including Wales but save up a special bit of bile for the English. And frankly that tache has become a bit of a disgrace.”

“But England’s so much nicer. They occasionally win things. And the players are all very tall and good looking.”

“Bloody hell!” replied the Ghost of Wales Present. “You really have lost the plot haven’t you? Tall, good looking, win things? Since when has that been something a Welshman wants? I give up. I’m taking you back to Twickenham.”

With that the Ghost of Wales Present smacked Ebenezer over the head with a love spoon and knocked him out. Ebenezer awoke back in his bedroom in Twickenham with a throbbing headache and the Ghost of Wales Present looming over him.

“I’m going to leave you now, Ebenezer, but you shall have one more visitor this night. An apparition more terrifying than any you can possibly imagine.”

The Ghost of Wales Present then vanished in a puff of red, black and white smoke leaving Ebenezer nursing a sore head and an uncontrollable fear that he was about to be visited by a creature that was half-Wallaby half-Kiwi bird and was intent on rogering him to death.

Chapter 4: The Third of the Three Spirits

Ebenezer lay huddled up in bed, fearing to move lest a new apparition appear before him. The temperature in the room had dropped by twenty degrees, and frost was forming on the edge of Ebenezer’s moustache. Worse than that, his bladder had kicked into overdrive, and he had to take a slash. He held on for as long as he could until it all became too much before, committing himself to dash off to the en-suite sink in his room. Just as he was about to move he was met by the most terrifying apparition of the night, a death like figure towering above him, scythe in one hand, skull in the other.

“Who the bloody hell are you?” screamed Ebenezer, all thoughts of his bladder long gone.

moffo“Mate, I am the Ghost of Wales Future,” drawled a whiney nasal Australian voice. “I have come to show you what your future holds if you continue to write that tedious crap for the English broadsheets. Grab your coat, we’re going for a ride.”

With that, the windows of the penthouse flew open, and Ebenezer found himself flying through the air next to the Ghost. The ground below him began to blur as they sped up. He recognised the Severn Bridge as they flew overhead, until finally he saw a desolate wasteland below him.

“My God, cried Ebenezer, what has happened below? What terrible industrial accident has befallen this God forsaken land?”

“Mate,” replied the Ghost of Wales Future “That’s Newport town centre. It hasn’t changed at all in the last thirty years. It’s not that I want to show you, it’s this.”

Ebenezer and the Ghost of Wales Future swooped down over the outskirts of Cardiff. As they drew ever closer to the centre of the city Ebenezer began to hear tuneless murmuring echoing over the houses. It was a familiar sound yet felt strangely out of place and discordant. The murmuring grew and grew until the soulless reverberations were making Ebenezer’s St George flag cufflinks vibrate.

“We’ve reached our destination, Ebenezer. Cast your eyes over what the future holds for Wales,” announced the Ghost of Wales Future and with a wide sweep of his scythe pointed directly down below.

They were over the Millennium Stadium where there was a game of rugby in progress. Except neither of the sides was wearing the red shirt of Wales. One team was kitted out in white, the other in green. Suddenly the appalling murmuring became distinct:

“Swing low, sweet chariot…..”

“For Jonny’s sake,” cried Ebenezer.

“What has happened? I know that I’ve written some things that I didn’t really mean. Some nasty things about Wales and some lovely things about England. But I don’t understand what’s happening. And what’s it to do with me anyway?”

“The Poms now play all their fixtures at the Millennium Stadium,” replied the Ghost. “They’d never lost there. Wales had run out of money since all the crowds had stopped coming. So the Poms bought the whole place up. They’ve replaced the statue of that fellow Edwards in the shopping centre with one of Gareth Chilcott. St David’s Day’s been banned. Although to be fair that’s been quite a popular development. It’s illegal to own a red shirt. Tiny Tim’s started coaching Cardiff. And all the rugby clubs have to play in the English divisions.”

“Ah well I’ve always said that they should be playing in the English divisions.”

“The English West Country Fifth Division, Ebenezer. That’s where you’ll now find all the clubs including your own Black and Ambers. And it’s all your bloody fault, you big galah. The people in Wales kept on reading that nonsense you peddle, lost their pride, and stopped bothering to turn up to games because they weren’t going to be as good as they used to be or weren’t going to be as good as the games are in England. You’ve single handedly destroyed any hope there was in Wales.”

“Oh Lord, what have I done?” cried Ebenezer.

“And please stop this terrible singing. It’s making my yurs bleed.”

“Ah, Ebenezer. That’s more like it, mate. Only a Welshman could have bleeding yurs. I think you may just have saved yourself.”

The Ghost of Wales Future then raised his scythe and brought it crashing down on a screaming Ebenezer Jones.

Chapter 5 – The End of it

Ebenezer eventually opened his eyes, tentatively touching his neck, fearing that his head had been separated from his body. With great relief he realised that he was back in the familiar surroundings of his Twickenham bedroom with his head firmly intact. But something was different. Where once there had been an autographed baseball cap on the bureau there was now a Grogg of Dai Watkins. A vase of freshly blooming daffodils stood proudly on the mantelpiece. A Welsh flag towel was draped over the back of his armchair. Ebenezer looked down at himself in surprise. Where before there had been only pristine white flesh there was now an assortment of tattoos ranging from the mundane three feathers to a graphic and anatomically quite remarkable three-dimensional representation of a fire breathing dragon.

A broad grin broke out below Ebenezer’s now luxuriant black moustache. He strode to the window and flung it open. A young lad was walking below.

“You, boy!”

“Yes, sir?”

“What day is this?”

“Why it’s Christmas Day, Mr Jones!”

“And you are a young Englishman are you not? A lover of rugger, a fan of Wilko and Johnno, an admirer of Sir Clive?”

“Indeed I am, Mr Jones!”

“Well stay there a second, boy, I have something for you.”

And as the young urchin looked optimistically upwards in the hope of a RWC trinket or two, Ebenezer, our Ebenezer, relieved himself onto the pavement below while singing Calon Lan.

God Bless Us One and All.