One Big Lie

So, another day, another visit to the giggling bizzaroworld which is Welsh rugby. Today, Roger Lewis, Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, appeared on the channel he used to run. His aim, it would appear, was to secure the higher moral ground as a man of honour, of integrity and of dignity.

“With respect, we have not been playing this out in the public domain. The Welsh Rugby Union has kept its counsel, we’ve retained our dignity and only now this week are we discussing these matters with yourselves,” he said.

“We’ve not been issuing press releases. We’ve not been going to the press discussing these matters.

“We have always wanted to have our negotiations behind closed doors but we are where we are, and we now have to look to the future.”

And he is, of course, quite right. While Regional Rugby Wales have released some statements and taken advantage of high-profile derby games over Christmas to push their case, the Honourable Roger has resisted the temptation to get involved in a slanging match.

For instance, this is Roger not writing to all 320 member clubs on January 4th this year in response to RRWs decision not to sign a new Partnership Agreement which would have meant the same terms for 2018 as 2009 . In this non-communication, he does not criticise the Regions business model, nor does he rather weirdly suggest that they should “improve their structures and commercial synergies to build support and stability.”

He has form for this sort of non-intervention, of course. On 11th December 2013 the WRU did not issue a statement after a meeting with RRW ended without the signing of a new Participation Agreement.

Nor did Roger Lewis tell BBC Wales, on 18th November 2013, that he expected that RRW and the WRU would sign a new deal before Christmas.

On 24th October 2013 the WRU emphatically did not announce that it had offered to employ ‘leading Welsh players’ who are out of contract at the end of the 2013/14 season. 

And those who thought they’d stumbled upon an extensive interview given by Roger Lewis to Scrum V on October 6th last year were mistaken . They’d actually tuned in to Rob Brydon’s new comedy vehicle “The Secret Life of Uncle Bryn Mitty”.

Uncle Bryn talked about negotiations between the WRU and RRW and warned of an uncertain future for the regions. In fact, he went as far as to suggest that, should the regions refuse to agree to roll on the then existing Partnership Agreement,

“They would not be playing in Rabo [Pro12]. They’d not be receiving the monies off the Welsh Rugby Union, they would not have insurance off the Welsh Rugby Union for their players and they would not have any referees.” Good job that these aren’t the words of Roger Lewis, isn’t it?

This dearly held principle of conducting negotiations behind closed doors and not playing this out in the media goes back a long way. On 31st March 2013  the WRU issued a wide-ranging statement, disclosing private information and private conversations, and making direct criticism of the regions, specifically in connection with George North’s transfer from the Llanelli Scarlets.

The November before that, in 2012, he gave his solemn word to The Independent that, “We are where we are largely through past managerial incompetence at regional level,” before going on to add in the very same sentence, “I’ve kept my counsel on this until now. Why? Because a year ago, when we saw the regions heading towards the rocks, we commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce a detailed report.”

A fair bit of keeping his own counsel has been going on for quite a while. Glad we cleared that one up.

So, either the man in charge of Welsh rugby is deranged, or he’s a compulsive liar who thinks that he’s dealing with a bunch of idiots with the memories of some particularly forgetful goldfish.

Can we really do no better than this? It’s time for him to go.

20 thoughts on “One Big Lie”

  1. Welcome to the world of professional sport.

    Roger Lewis has good points to make but he is unconvincing while Gareth Davies is more convincing but with a weak argument.

    If the Regional teams were allowed into the Premiership and were relegated but the Championship teams then refused to play them because they didn’t agree with them playing the Premier clubs in the first place, where would Welsh rugby be? Any Region finding itself in this situation would be ruined.

    The Regions are in a very weak position. Wales produces some exceptional players but there aren’t enough supporters buying tickets on a regular basis to satisfy the demands of the professional game. As we can see from the current television series, the Scarlets are dependent on darts matches and football matches to keep things on an even keel. Oh, and income from a fly-on-the-wall documentary and a benevolent Chairman.

    If Wales is such a ‘Rugby Nation’ why are the gates for Regional matches so small?

    The truth is that Welsh rugby is like the Scottish Premier League some good players but sadly not enough financial strength or real support to play in the top-flight.

    Roger Lewis may be unconvincing but that doesn’t mean he is wrong on all fronts. The Regions want to be seen as the underdogs but they are privately owned organisations playing on the sympathies of Welsh rugby enthusiasts and the guns they are holding against the head of the WRU are pretty much loaded with blanks.

    Roger Lewis knows this and if he was a tougher character he would call their bluff but he is actually a very decent guy trying to do an impossible job. Commercially, the WRU is doing a very good job but the Regions …………………?

    As I said, welcome to professional sport

    1. Why don’t you ask yourself why you think the gates for regional games are so small? Perhaps it has something to do with the opposition, or the fact that we have to travel on an aeroplane for 8 out of our 11 away matches every season. Look at the games which do draw healthy gates: Welsh derbies and Heineken Cup games against the English and the French. Maybe that would give you some clue as to where the value is.

      The WRU have had a decade to get the TV money flowing in, and they’ve failed. Let the regions decide their own destiny by doing their own deals. Until then, they’re shackled by the commercial ineptitude and selfishness of Roger Lewis and his cronies at the BBC.

      1. Average attendance at Premiership matches 12,480 (source
        Average attendance Regional teams 7,708 (source BBC)

        62% higher attendance at Premiership matches.

        Best supported team is Leicester which is smaller than Cardiff. 40% of population comprises ethnic minorities. 130 languages/dialects spoken – not what you’d call a traditional rugby community but somehow, people go to the matches.

        If you support your team you go to the home games. If you are playing a strong team you hope to win, if you are playing a weaker team you hope to win by a lot. Either way you go.

        Even when Cardiff City was in the Championship, their average attendance was almost three times the average attendance of the Ospreys or the Scarlets. Now they are in the Premier League they have sell out games every week.

        Cardiff Blues had to walk away from the City Stadium because they couldn’t get enough people in to create an atmosphere. Supporters said it was ‘soul-less’.

        Maybe the Regions think that if they can get into the Rugby ‘Premiership’ they will fill their stadiums. It won’t happen. Welsh people like to talk rugby and to follow the International side but as for going to Regional matches it’s not happening. If all four Regions were playing at home against non-Welsh teams on the same day, the total attendance would probably be less than for one Cardiff or Swansea City game. Even if it was against Hull City. Real supporters don’t care that much who the opposition is. They just want their side to win.

        The WRU know the numbers. They have a massive debt to pay off for the stadium: they are making that a priority and it seems to be working. What’s more, the International side is experiencing great success. Rugby is now a business and it’s run by accountants.

        If the Regional bosses can get more people through the turnstiles then the situation changes. Welsh kids will always want to play rugby. In the past it was just for the love of the game. Now there is serious money to be made – for a few.

        George North has gone to Northampton who sell an average of 5000 more tickets per game than the Scarlets. At £30+ per ticket they have a lot of spending power because of attendance.

        Where is the evidence to show that there are enough Welsh people willing to support four thriving Regional sides?

        Maybe the WRU wants new teams? Three of them. I’d say the Regions are fighting for survival and fighting the WRU is the last thing they need to do.

        1. I found this a particularly disappointing post because it comes out with some incredibly simplistic observations and comparisons.

          For example, there is some highly selective use of statistics in response to Dan – I’d be interested to know what they are for the specific games Dan refers to.

          Also, do the English statistics include the one-off games played in Twickenham, within the catchment of one of the biggest, wealthiest cities in the world? Also, there is no context – so for example we have 4 teams for a population of 3 million and England has 12 teams for 57 million people, which on top of that are based in arguably more affluent towns / cities – isn’t that to some extent going to impact on crowd sizes?

          ‘Real supporters don’t care that much who the opposition is’ – I would argue that the reality is they do, a point you acknowledge yourself when comparing crowds in the Premier League and the Championship. How many fans do you think would watch Cardiff City if they played in the conference or the Welsh Premier league? Could it also explain why Wales rarely sell out a home game against Italy?

          Why pay off the debt so quickly? Its like paying off a new house quicker by not paying for any furniture to go in it. Why not reschedule the debt and create a healthier game which as a consequence may of itself generate higher revenues and allow the debt to be paid off quicker than anticipated?

          I don’t know how good the commercial side of the WRU is but if it is that good, why were the autumn internationals not sell outs? Why gamble on playing a fourth autumn international when it impacts on your ability to progress in a world cup, with all the financial consequences that may have? And why were there no Welsh rugby shirts for sale in the run up to Christmas? How much revenue did the game lose? Even if the shirt supplier is losing interest, why don’t the WRU do something about it? And what commercial impact is the current mess having? Where is the new sponsor for the Rabo12?

          More generally, my real concern is that as rugby becomes more professional, the club game–like in virtually every other professional sport–becomes more dominant. So the WRU, and other unions, need to anticipate that and be pro-active rather than reactive to restructure the whole season to ensure that international rugby is not marginalised. At the moment, given the way the game is being run, I just can’t see that happening because we are so busy chasing our tail we can’t see whether there is a potential disaster ahead.

          So the nightmare scenario for Wales as a consequence of all this mess could be a marginalised international game and no serious professional game based in Wales, with no Welsh stars to watch week in, week out and to inspire the next generation.

        2. The regions have been struggling to maximise gate receipts due to a number of anomalies which the 2 professional premiership soccer teams do not have to worry about.

          Absence of first team (star) players on a regular basis.
          the absences due to to International call up, injuries sustained often due to excessive games player burn out due to same (Warburton says 20 games is enough take away the internationals and his club/region are not going to see much of him).
          Idiotic k.o. times to suit the tv masters.

          The Welsh soccer team does not have the winning record of it’s RU counterpart and it does not have the pressures of either subsidising the rest of Welsh soccer or paying off a national stadium debt.

          Comparing the 2 is like apples and pairs.

          Lewis has made it clear that he wants to control the regions and to further this end has starved them of the monies required to keep their stars. Do not forget that it is the regions employees who make up the international side that attracts the numbersw to the M.S, it is the regions employees who enable the WRU to sell the tv rights, (poorly at that).

          Too many anti-region posters forget that it is the regions who in the main fund the game in Wales either directly by paying the players or indirectly by leasing the same players to the WRU who capitalise on their selling power to fill the M.S. enabling the WRU to pay down their bank debt as quickly as they have done.

      2. Dan- the regions should not complain about the competition in which they play. I could stomach their rhetoric if they were winning easily but the truth is they are pants!

        Moving to the Aviva will not change that; but rather show them up for the mediocrities they are. Yes, they may win the occasional game if the Aviva still contains Worcester and Newcastle but against the rest they will just not be able to compete.

        Now the reasons for that constitute a different argument (which I am happy to have) but whingeing about the Pro12 not attracting enough support is hollow.

        1. Peter Thomas himself says the PRO12 is rubbish. So do many other fans. You’re entitled to your opinion but you’re not going to change mine.

          1. The Toulon coach thinks the Top 14 is rubbish. Judging by the results in the Heineken Cup the English premiership is rubbish. The fact is the Welsh regions have failed miserably to gain much success in either the Pro 12 (Ospreys excepted) or especially the Heineken Cup. Its a sad day when the future of Welsh rugby is in England!

  2. Really, I know in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king – but why the constant bickering/slating of the WRU. The WRU is there for the good of the game as a WHOLE not simply to look after regional fat cats or inflate the elite players salaries. Paying down debt is prudent. Good money can not always be thrown after bad. We need to tighten our belts – If some of the elite players chase the french euro so be it, it creates an opportunity for a youngster to come through.

    I love gwlad but frankly the constant snides at the WRU dont help anyone. We all need to get behind them, sort this out, attend some games so the regions generate sustainably more cash. Rather than sit around pouring vitrol from our ivory towers.

    1. Good evening, and thank-you for bringing us yet another magic table to add to our collection.

      First of all, let’s ask the WRU why they’re tightening their belts and paying off the debt quicker than they need to. This is money which could be invested in all levels of rugby in Wales. Why isn’t it?

      Secondly, the WRU are the guardians of Welsh rugby. They are responsible for all levels, not just the elite. They have signally failed to fulfil their responsibility to sustain a vibrant domestic game, both at pro and amateur level. They’re failures, and they deserve every criticism levelled at them.

      We can never hope to match the salary levels in France, but at least with the TV deal RRW have negotiated with PRL and BT, we have a decent chance of having enough money to retain our top players.

      Getting behind the WRU just means sticking with the mediocrity of the status quo. Eventually that leads to the death of rugby in our country. Is that what you want?

      1. I love these good natured debates!

        I think the point the poster was making is that the WRU have delivered unprecedented success at the level at which they operate. The Regions (actually, five “clubs” uprated by wealthy benefactors) have produced much less than the sum of their parts. Why is that? Do not the Irish Provinces consistently brush aside their Welsh regional counterparts with depleted sides – thereby allowing their first teams to dominate the HC?

        Peter Thomas – along with many other Welsh rugby fans – may well say that the Pro12 is rubbish (it is!) but their argument would be stronger if his, and their, teams were consistently challenging for honours in it.

        Furthermore, we already play in an Anglo Welsh competition – the snazzily named LVCup. Yeah…we seem to do really well there too!

        By the way, I say all this from the standpoint that I would like to see Welsh teams cream every other team in Europe – in every competition. I just don’t believe the Regions are the way forward.

        1. Huw. The WRU are responsible for all levels of rugby in Wales, not just the senior national team. Without the benefactors, there would be no professional rugby in Wales at all. They invested money when the WRU was on the brink of insolvency. The Irish provinces are successful because they receive far more investment from the IRFU, which owns them. In order for the Welsh regions to be successful, they need to be able to increase their revenue, and that comes from negotiating better TV contracts. Wake up! They’ve gone out and done exactly this with BT. What do the WRU do? Cling to the derisory deal with the BBC and Sky to televise the pathetic PRO12.

          If you don’t believe regions are the way forward, I’m all ears: tell me what your answer is.

          1. The Welsh Regions have failed to compete at Heineken cup level. They have failed to compete at the ‘pathetic ‘ Pro12 level. They have even failed to compete at the LV Cup level. What makes you think they will suddenly become competitive once they are allowed join the Premiership?

  3. I agree with Keith Williams. I strongly suspect that Mr Lewis has received training and advice on public speaking and administration management from politicians and those companies/coaches who train them- even down to the Blair/Clegg/Cameron-esque hand gestures. Unfortunately he also seems to have been told, ‘Tell them what they want to hear as they won’t remember it tomorrow’.
    However, unlike the majority of the despondent, politically brow beaten and tired public, our Welsh rugby community and fans, who pay an awful lot of their hard earned money supporting their local, regional and international team are passionate about our national sport and its future so we tend to take notice and remember what has gone on the table. Don’t treat us like fools Mr Lewis.

  4. I have been saying for a long time that Roger Lewis is to Politicised, he rubs shoulders with the AM’s and is chairman of the new committee for a new Cardiff region, he takes up this position amidst all the rugby issues, also where is David Pickering in all this after all he is the chairman of the organization, what a pair, time for them both to go, the sooner the better.

  5. First, excellent analysis. If you throw into the mix the additional inconsistencies revealed in the two sets of minutes that the supporters groups had with RRW and the WRU before Christmas, it is all rather damning. Trouble is that sites like ScrumV forum show that there are lots of people who seem think that RL’s quest to put the turbulent money-grabbing, profiteering and organisationally inept regions in their place is entirely laudable and who also thought his performance on Sunday’s programme to be top notch (rather than seeing it as consisting entirely of PR speak and being totally devoid of content). Gareth Davies’ point that, below Team Wales, every club (whether amateur of professional) is struggling under his governance is crucial. How about on on-line petition proposing a vote of no confidence? Second, is it me, or was anyone else under-awed by the statement from yesterday’s meeting at Heathrow-I was looking for a link to the full statement and could not believe that ‘The Six Nations Council had a constructive meeting today and remains committed to finding a Six Nations solution for European Rugby in the best interests of the game. The Council also reaffirmed its commitment to abide by IRB regulations’ was it! Deck chairs and Titanic come to mind.

    1. Did you actually watch programme? Roger Lewis said nothing other than empty PR spin all programme. Is that you Roger?

  6. My God – a front page!? Never catch on, though with articles like this maybe it will – congrats to all involved, good piece

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