Category Archives: Rugby

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.

Violin Section

Fiddling while Rome burns: WRU proposing more changes to league structure

A couple of weeks ago, the WRU sent this letter outlining more planned changes to the structure of the middle and lower leagues in Wales.

There are several problems with the proposal:

  • They need an extra 24 refs for the new Div 1 and 2 – these will be drawn from Level 2 refs currently reffing Youth/2nd team rugby
  • Teams currently in Div 6 will play teams from current Div 3/4 next season. These means a lot of mismatches and dilution of quality of the games
  • Has this been agreed by the WRU Head of Rugby and Head of Refs? If it hasn’t, what does that say about the way the WRU is behaving?

This will undoubtedly lead to a lot of smaller clubs getting pissed off with having beatings dished out to them by much better teams on a regular basis. Many of these clubs and their players may just give up. This doesn’t seem to be a very sensible approach for the WRU to be adopting at a time when they need to bolster their support at grassroots level instead of alienating it.

To all Referee Society Secretaries and P.B. Executive

Following on from last Friday nights Parent Body meeting where we discussed next years league and fee structures I have listed below a number of bullet points for further discussion with your members, which we discussed at the meeting.

  1. As stated on Friday, next season (2014-15) we have a potential increase of games from 126 this season to 155 next season
  2. The number of officials at Level 3 will increase from approx. 150 to 180 in order to service the increase
  3. The lowest league proposed for next season is Division 3 which will be regionalised
  4. Divisions 1 & 2 will become 4 divisions within each. Currently these are 1E & W and 2E & W.
  5. There will be obvious dilution in the quality of games within these two leagues
  6. A third division being created in North Wales will add extra cost. When you consider it costs the department approximately 200/230 pounds to send a referee to NW or vice versa to SW.
  7. We will need an extra 24 referees to referee at Div 1 & 2 next season
  8. Our development pathway will be eroded in as much as Level 2 referees will now move straight from Youth/Second team rugby to Division 3
  9. If the fee structure were to stay the same (up to Dev 3 which will be the lowest league next season) there is a potential budget increase of £41880.00. This will be in match fees only. This does not account for mileage which is somewhat of an uncontrollable
  10. With the proposal that I have put forward which I believe is a fair and responsible one we will still have an increase of £21110.00
  11. There will be an obvious number of mismatches next season when Div 6 teams come up against teams from Div 3 / Div 4

Just to put you in the picture for those who are not familiar with next year’s league structure and how it will look I have outlined below.

Season 2014/15

Premiership – no structural change

Championship – no structural change

Division 1 – 4 leagues of 12 clubs, which will consist of the current 24 clubs in Division 1 plus the 24 clubs in Division 2 (league based on geography)

Division 2 – 4 leagues of 12 clubs, which will consist of the current 48 clubs from Division 3 (League based on geography)

Division 3 – There will be 13 Divisions consisting of the 48 clubs from Division 4, the 60 clubs from Division 5 and the 39 clubs from Division 6 (the 147 clubs will be assigned a league dependant on geography)

Division 1 N – 12 clubs

Division 2 N – 10 clubs

Division 3 N – 10 clubs

I hope the above gives you a bit more of an insight into the challenges that lie ahead and as always if there are any queries please do not hesitate to call me. As stated I have to factor in the dilution of the system and quality of the rugby that will be played in certain leagues next season.

I look forward to your response in early February as outlined in the meeting. By then we can hopefully work together and move this amended structure forward.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

The sum total of desperation

A statement was recently released by the WRU purporting to outline its philosophy and success with debt. I’m no accountant but I do have an MBA which makes me very good at spotting a bullshitter.

Here is their statement in full:-

WRU Bulletin to clubs – bank debt

The Welsh Rugby Union, in response to questions from its member clubs, has decided to address recent comment about its debt management policies since 2006, suggesting they are hindering re-investment into the game. This is not the case as this note clearly outlines.

Through negotiation with the bank since 2006 the WRU has:

- reduced its interest rates by 58% from 6.5% to 4.1%

– kept its cash repayments at exactly the same levels
- achieved a course to become debt free by 2021
– boosted reinvestment into rugby by 86% from £11.8m to £22m a year

The negotiated drop in interest rates has, between 2006 and 2013, reduced the interest costs by £1.8m which is now available to plough back into Welsh rugby year on year.

By sound financial management and ensuring compliance with the banking terms, the WRU wishes to avoid the conditions of repayment of the original £10m loan being met.

Since 2006 the WRU has carried out two successful renegotiations with Barclays Bank plc which have allowed the governing body to make its banking arrangement far more flexible and to reduce its interest costs. The overall bank debt stood at just below £19.5m in 2013 down from its 2006 level of £39.1m.

It is important to note that the fundamental priority of the WRU is not to become debt free but to manage its loans in an efficient and flexible manner to drive down its interest costs to promote further re-investment in the game.

If the WRU were to seek to renegotiate its current debt structure the interest rate of 4.1% would probably rise meaning that money currently invested in the game would be paid in interest instead each year and the term of the arrangement would reduce.

In simple terms the current debt repayment structure is a valuable business asset in that it helps us invest more money into the game year on year.

The successful bank negotiations mean that the vastly improved loan terms have been achieved without a penny increase in the annual cash repayments since 2006.

One core reason why the banks now have renewed confidence in the WRU is that since 2006 our turnover has gone up by 32% from £46.1m to £61m.

The increased turnover and revised banking arrangements have helped the reinvestment into the game since 2006 rise 102% into the Regional game, 50% into the Premiership Division and 48% into the community game. The revised banking arrangements have very much aided the re-investment and not hindered it.

In figures those increases are:

- from £8.3m to £16.8m for the Regions
– from £0.8m to £1.2m for the Premiership
– and from £2.7m to £4.0m for the community game

The WRU wants to put on record its gratitude to Barclays Bank for the confidence it shows in the governing body and continued support.

ENDS

So, do they want to be debt free or not? They think they are some kind of financial wizard ‘negotiating’ with Barclays Bank but have only managed to do this twice in 8 years!

The genius of the maths is the reduction in interest rates. The WRU think moving interest from 6.5% to 4.1% is a 58% reduction. I may have an MBA but my 12 year old will put them right on this, it’s actually 37%.

This begs the question, are they competent enough to manage a business turning over £61 million? Or are they being smart, thinking they can kid every one with their bluster?

So the WRU don’t know if they want to be debt free or not, don’t know how to calculate simple percentages and can only manage bank negotiations every four years. And why do they still think they are “investing” £16.8 million in the regional game when > more than 10 million is just broadcasting money which is passed straight through to the regions.

Either, the WRU are fools OR they think we are. Unfortunately I think it’s both.

Flock of sheep

Central Contracts: the differences and similarities between NZ and Welsh Rugby

There is currently a lot of interest in the differences between the NZ and Welsh Rugby structures. Having been CEO of both organisations and delivering Pro Rugby in NZ and Regional Rugby in Wales I might have some knowledge to impart of how each country works. In the table below I set out the current structure in both countries. There are obvious differences; however I do propose a structure for Wales at the end.

New Zealand

Wales

The 600 clubs (Wikipedia/IRB) are the owners of the game in NZ. The 330 clubs (WRU) are the owners of the game in Wales.
The clubs are distributed around NZ and are formally part of one of 26 Provinces. The clubs are distributed around Wales and are formally part of 9 Districts.
The clubs elect a board to their Provincial Governing body. The clubs elect a board to their District body.
The PGB’s elect members to a 9 man NZ Board, which does not include the CEO. The Districts elect 13 members to a 17 man WRU Board which includes the CEO.
The NZRU owns the 5 Super Rugby Franchises, although they have recently decided to sell shares to PGB’s and individuals. The Union still Centrally Contract all pro players and control most sources of revenue. TV, commercial etc. The SRF’s keep all gate receipts and some commercial revenue. The 4 Professional teams in Wales – referred to as Regions are privately owned. They are funded by TV Revenue which is negotiated by the Union, some additional WRU funding and additional income from gate receipts and commercial activities. They are responsible for contracting their elite squad. They provide the players for Wales at a level higher than IRB requirements.
The Union sets policy and maintains control of Inter provincial competitions at all age groups. They also provide high level support for the development of the game. They provide direct funding to PGB’s who in turn are responsible for the Provincial Teams, clubs, schools, juniors, girls and women and Maori teams. This support involves some funding and grass roots development The Union controls all aspects of the game in Wales, including development of players and all income. The Regions are barred from having any involvement in the development of the game. The Union controls all levels of club competition in Wales. They have recently introduced Central Contracts and have succeeded in signing 1 player on a contract that makes it impossible for their own Regions to compete with them.

 

There are 3 glaring difference between the 2 systems:

  1. The NZRU owns the Professional Franchises and centrally contracts all professional players.
  2. The NZRU has a much more mature and evolving approach to the ownership of the franchises.
  3. The NZRU (clubs) trust their PGB’s work in their best interests and be a fundamental part of the development of the game. This includes opportunities to raise funds.

So, what is the solution for Wales?

Once an agreement has been reached on the way forward for the pro game in Wales, it is my view that the critical next step is to address the issue of governance. This does not need a long drawn out study at huge cost. It needs to be discussed by the owners (clubs), agreed then acted upon.

This is an option that I favour, would be easy to introduce and would be easy to implement. It would approximate the NZ model whilst still recognising the history of Welsh Rugby.

The key to any governance change to ease the tension between the Pro and Community game is to give fans a reason to buy in. New history and tradition has to start somewhere. It is a matter of record that the WRU, in particular and the Regions have not evolved the Regional structure. This shows a genuine lack of leadership.

  1. Maintain ownership and control with the clubs.
  2. Disband 9 Districts and replace with 4 Rugby Provinces and 1 Development Province.
  3. Clubs in each Province would elect a Provincial Rugby Board.
  4. Each PRB would elect 2 Board members to the WRU. There would be 3 Independent board members elected at the AGM by all clubs. The CEO would not be a board member = 11 member board.
  5. Provinces given meaningful and historical names that are easy to say and remember i.e. Gwent
  6. The Pro Team represents the Province and is called say Gwent Dragons. There is no mention of any existing team in the names i.e. Newport. There should be a rep from the PRB on the pro team.
  7. The Provinces are given devolved rights such as the development of the game in their Province according to protocols set down by the Board of WRU. There would be other devolved powers operating under WRU protocols.
  8. The marketing and branding of the province is a joint initiative with WRU. Every team in the province would be encouraged to have a provincial badge on their kit.
  9. Not only would this encourage a sense of belonging but loyalty as well. The threat of football needs to be taken seriously in all this debate as more and more kids follow Swansea and Cardiff.

Many people will say they favour splitting the Pro and Community game. NZ does not do that and they are the most cohesive, well run Rugby Union in the history of the game.

These are my thoughts and I will be seeking to raise them at the forthcoming Rugby Debates on the future of Welsh Rugby.

pinocchio-nose-new

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.

lapdogs3

The Curious Incident of the Lapdogs in the Night-time

The continued media silence in Wales over the Alastair Eykyn story about the WRU’s undermining of Alun-Wyn Jones’ status with the Ospreys and ongoing ‘harassment’ of a RRW employee on an ‘almost daily’ basis would, in ordinary circumstances, be one of the most curious developments in an extremely curious affair. However, when it comes to the Western Mail and BBC Wales, it seems less like the curious incident of the dog in the night time and more like the curious incident of the lapdog.

The first time I had a decidedly ominous feeling about the rigour and fullness of Welsh media coverage of the dispute came last year when, in the coverage of a RRW press conference criticising the frustration of the PRGB, regional ire was directed at Westgate Street. “I sum it up with the words power, control, divide, conquer, wipe-out,” said Peter Thomas. “That is the agenda for certain people across the way.”

Now, the first inkling for consumers of Welsh media that these incendiary sentiments existed would have occurred on the twelfth of never. These remarks were simply unreported, despite the fact that these were easily the most headline-friendly comments in the whole press conference. They were reported in the Guardian and were found nestled in an unedited youtube clip of the press conference available on regional websites but, ultimately, the Welsh media declined to report them, let alone lead with them.

Of course, one instance can be attributed to editorial prerogative as to what is newsworthy or journalistic incompetence, with the latter in no short supply in the Welsh media. However, since then, a pattern of omission has emerged which means that it is no longer feasible to construe missing the power-control-divide-conquer-wipeout story as the isolated missing of an open goal.

Thomas was at it again in the Rugby Paper from the 5th January, in which he ventured the opinion that: “There is a desire within the regions to work with the WRU but there is no appetite from the regions to work with Roger Lewis. We have no confidence in him.”

Again, perhaps the most headline-friendly and incendiary comment of the entire affair went unreported. In light of this, perhaps it was unsurprising that the Welsh media would also decline to publish the other claims in the report, namely that the WRU has been conspiring to centrally contract Welsh players and play them in England.

But hey, perhaps they didn’t get the Rugby Paper delivered that week. And perhaps it’s a co-incidence that renowned Welsh rugby expert and intellectual giant Jeff Probyn was invited to air his views on Radio Wales a day after espousing pro-WRU sentiments in that very same edition of the Rugby Paper.

Unfortunately, it seems that the reticence epidemic is spreading. The WRU declined to invite any members of the press to their pre-6N squad naming today, preferring to retreat behind the inviolability of an email to the media corps.

Given the furious criticism the regions received from luminaries of the Welsh media (such as Andy Howell, the man who looks like Alexander Pope but doesn’t write like Alexander Pope) for having the temerity not to include their superstar players in a pre-Christmas joint press conference, the decision of the WRU to soft-sell the upcoming Six Nations with a letter from the table of the Politburo will surely attract the most frightful savaging in the Welsh media. Right?

Or, ‘food for thought?’ as per the parlance of Welsh media’s most fearless little lapdog.