The following letter was written by former Newbridge, Newport and Wales fly-half – and one-time coach of the Newport Gwent Dragons – Paul Turner. It was published in yesterday’s Rugby Paper. and reproduced on Turner’s own facebook page. It seems to neatly encapsulate the shambles of the past few years in Welsh rugby, so we thought we’d paste it here.
The coating of Teflon is starting to melt away from the top echelons of Welsh rugby. The charade played out in the Welsh media that the ruling parties could do no wrong came to an abrupt end last week with the deselection of Chairman David Pickering from the board of the Welsh Rugby Union.
Ever since 2009, during my tenure as Head Coach of the Gwent Dragons, I, and many others in similar positions to myself, felt that the Participation Agreement signed by the Welsh Regions at that time would leave the game in dire straits. My own prediction of major troubles over the following three to four years came true as events transpired. The Regions really only had themselves to blame for getting into this mess back then, but all credit to them for having the courage to stand up to the threats and posturing of the Union this time around. Despite those at the top of Welsh rugby threatening them with extinction, the Regions hung on to their principles and formed a close alliance with clubs in England, negotiating an ultimately favourable settlement on their own terms. Although the damage caused by the long-winded discussions will take time to repair – possibly many years, at least the Regions have assured their own future and can begin the healing process.
I can’t pretend that last Friday’s result wasn’t a surprise to me, as it genuinely came as a shock to hear of Pickering’s downfall. Not because I didn’t feel he deserved to be replaced but because I worried the WRU had become an unstoppable force in Welsh rugby, and yet another opportunity for change would be lost, just as it had been at the EGM in June. I cannot express just how pleased I am to be proven wrong on this occasion, and how proud I personally am of the clubs who voted for this change. David Pickering had a made a rod for his own back in failing to stand up to a power-hungry CEO and the clubs have punished him for this. Now they expect the whole house to come tumbling down, and should not rest until Roger Lewis is gone. In every company the World over, the CEO is employed by and accountable to his board. In the case of the WRU this simply has not happened, although maybe things are about to change.
Enough is enough, and despite assurances of “dignity” from a “listening Union” acting “for the good of Welsh rugby”, issues at all levels of the game have compounded one on top of another with no positive resolution. Not that you would know it of course from the Cardiff media, who only seem to report what they are told and never probe beneath the surface to ask difficult questions of those in power. There are some journalists and players turned pundits who really must struggle to look themselves in the mirror these days, and have potentially compromised their reputations and integrity irrevocably.
The whole rotten saga has however bolstered the reputations of some. Men like Paul Rees and Peter Jackson deserve a medal for persistently asking the salient questions and not succumbing to pressure placed upon them. In the same vein, I helped to form Inside Welsh Rugby, an online show which not only gave the grassroots of Welsh rugby a voice, but also gave a platform to open debate that simply wasn’t available elsewhere. Guests like Andrew Hore (Ospreys CEO), Stephen Jones (Sunday Times Rugby Correspondent) Gareth Davies (Newport Gwent Dragons CEO) and Peter Jackson himself joined me to voice concerns about the hierarchy of the Welsh game. As the show evolved, we found ourselves prevented from using game footage by the WRU and their broadcast partners, despite clubs showing the very same matches themselves on YouTube. We were told to first apply to the BBC for the rights, paying a fee (of “approximately £200,000”) and documenting our editorial stance. Quite why they needed information pertaining to our editorial stance was incredibly concerning and bore more resemblance to life behind the Iron Curtain than a democratic civilisation such as 21st century Britain. Either way, we were never able to afford the fees demanded and so curtailed production far sooner than we would have hoped. These programmes however remain relevant to the current state of affairs and can still be watched at www.YouTube.com/IWRTV. One thing for sure though is that if Welsh rugby ends up in a better position as a result of these travails, then we are very glad to have played a small part ourselves.
However, perhaps the person who deserves the greatest plaudits of all is the man who started the ball rolling down this path, a certain David Moffett. Sometimes audacious, often vociferous and always on the button with his analysis, Moffett came back to Wales to gain election as Chairman of the Union himself. He might not ultimately have succeeded in that specific aim, but few could possibly argue that his re-emergence onto the scene has been anything than a success. After all, it was he, along with his “Twitter Twenty” that gathered support, wrote a comprehensive manifesto and forced the June EGM which began the process culminating in last week’s result.
And what of the two board members who did win favour with the clubs? Both live and breathe the sport, and have been involved at Regional as well as club level. Gareth Davies, in particular, has an impressive CV, with experience gained not just within rugby but also in a wider business context. Davies also has all the demeanour, poise and intelligence of a natural leader, plus the strength and courage to remain steadfastly on course when required. To me, he is the natural successor as Chairman, a man who can galvanise support, stand up to Lewis and restore the dignity in Welsh rugby, in exactly the way Gerald Davies implored the clubs to at the EGM. Thank goodness they have finally heeded his words.