Category Archives: Regions

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Welsh rugby crisis: National Assembly asks for WRU statement

A couple of weeks ago I reported with some weary cynicism on the debate in the National Assembly relating to the current crisis in Welsh rugby.  I didn’t have much hope that anything useful would come out of it. But it looks like I might have been wrong. On Monday, the Assembly Committee responsible for sport in Wales wrote to Roger Lewis and David Pickering at the WRU, asking them for a written statement explaining the WRU’s position on the issues. The transcript of the letter is below.

We await the WRU’s response with interest.

Mr Roger Lewis
Group Chief Executive
Welsh Rugby Union

Mr David Pickering
Chairman, Board of Directors
Welsh Rugby Union

27 January 2014
Dear Mr Lewis
I am writing on behalf of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee to express the Committee’s concerns about the recently reported difficulties in relation to the participation agreement between the WRU and the four regions beyond June 2014, and the possible implications of this for the game, both at a professional and national level and more widely at a club and community level.

Sport in Wales is a matter which falls within the remit of the Committee and, on this basis, I would like to invite you to submit a written statement setting out the WRU’s position with regard to:

- the issues that, in your view, have instigated the current dispute about the participation agreement;
– any action that is needed in order to ensure that such a situation does not occur again in the future;
– any views or concerns that you have about the governance and funding arrangements for rugby in Wales, and whether any improvements need to be made to ensure the game’s sustainability in the longer term.

You will wish to be aware that I will be writing in similar terms to Regional Rugby Wales as well as all WRU District Secretaries, as the Committee is keen to take the views of the clubs. The Committee will consider the responses before deciding whether to take any further action.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Yours sincerely

Christine Chapman AC / AM Cadeirydd / Chair
Cc. Mr John Williams, Head of Group Communications, Welsh Rugby Union

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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.

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A toxic relationship

There’s been an enormous amount of online discussion following last night’s BBC ScrumV Special . In fact, the “scrumv” hashtag and “Roger Lewis” were both in the top ten UK trending topics on Twitter at one point yesterday evening. As someone who was at the recording of the programme, I thought it might be useful to give my impressions of how it went in the studio, and also how it looked to people watching on TV. These two impressions are quite different.

The fact is that those of us who are interested in the current crisis in Welsh rugby (and it is a crisis, in spite of what Roger Lewis seems to believe) have been mostly living off scraps of information in the Welsh media relating to the issues. Gwladrugby is a notable exception to this, of course. Our analysis has become the one of the definitive sources in recent weeks.

Therefore, many of us were relieved last week when we heard the announcement that BBC Wales were planning a ScrumV Special, with an invited audience and a panel representing the key players in the debate. Our immediate thoughts turned to the likely composition of the panel. Would Roger Lewis or David Pickering put themselves forward? Who would represent the fans? Who would represent the regions? Would we be able to directly question the panel?

Some of these questions had been answered by the time we arrived at BBC Wales at 10am yesterday. Some, but not all. It was still unclear who the WRU representative was going to be, but we did know that former Chief Executive and self-proclaimed saviour of Welsh rugby, David Moffett would be there, albeit in the audience rather than on the panel.

In the days leading up to the recording, some information had trickled out regarding who was going to be there. We knew Dragons CEO Gareth Davies would be, and Martyn Thomas, former chief of the RFU. There were mutterings that Paul Rees, the Guardian rugby writer who has done some sterling work in uncovering the details of this sorry affair, would be on the panel. But even as the clock ticked past the planned start time of 10.30am, there was still no word on who the WRU representative would be.

Finally, at 11am, we heard the news that WRU CEO Roger Lewis had decided to attend. At this point many of us had been drinking BBC coffee for over an hour. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Bladders were close to bursting point.

Eventually at 11.15am, 45 minutes late, we were called into the studio. No reason was given for the delay, but several people were convinced that one of the panellists had only just arrived.

For those of you familiar with the BBC studios in Llandaf, the recording took place in studio C1, the former site of the Pobol y Cwm set. A fitting location for a scene from another very Welsh drama to be played out.

As we made our way to our seats, we spotted David Moffett on the front row, chewing his fingernails. Several members of the audience were being miked up, as the producers planned to come to them for comments during the debate. There were also boom mic operators standing at either side of the seating, presumably there to capture questions from the audience.

On the stage, there were five empty chairs. One for presenter Gareth Lewis, the other for the four panellists. After some sound checks and some house rules from the floor manager, the panel filed in and were introduced to the audience one by one. Three of the panellists made their way quietly to their seats on the stage. But Roger Lewis strode across the room, waving and smiling at a number of audience members. He was clutching a leather folder brimming with notes and a spiral bound document, which we were later to discover was the fabled PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report concerning Welsh rugby finances.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow description of the debate which followed. You can see most of it on BBC iPlayer. The programme was recorded “as live”, but there were several exchanges which failed to make the version which went to air.

At one point, during a particularly lively exchange between presenter Gareth Lewis (GL) and Roger Lewis (RL), GL asked RL for his reaction to Peter Thomas’ claim that Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) have “no confidence” in RL. RL’s response to this was the decidedly evasive, “I had coffee with Gareth [Davies] last Thursday.” This exchange was not broadcast.

At several points during the debate when RL was speaking, the audience reacted with jeers and cries of “answer the question!” We had been told we could express our reactions to the discussion, and so we did. At one point, after a succession of questions regarding whether he had made plans to set up new regions, RL responded that he had not. The audience erupted into loud jeers of derision. This reaction is not audible on the broadcast. There may be technical reasons for this, but the fact remains that for large parts of the debate, the audience were loudly expressing derision at much of what RL said.

Another important point to make about the programme is the involvement (or lack of it) of the audience. The show had been set up in a “Question Time” format, and we had been asked to submit questions in the days leading up to it.

When we got into the studio, it was clear that the producers had already decided who would be contributing, and these people had been miked up. These included, David Moffett, a lawyer, a representative of the four Regional Supporters Clubs, and Mark Davies, CEO of the Scarlets. In fact, the boom mic operators might as well have spent the morning at home in bed, for all the use they were. The only spontaneous intervention came from a member of Cross Keys RFC, who spoke in support of RL. At no point were the dozens of regional fans in the room invited to ask a question. Furthermore, there were several occasions where fans put their hands up in response to something one of the panel had said, and they were ignored.

You might say that I’m being naïve in expecting a full and frank debate. But that was what we were led to believe it would be. I can understand why someone who has been under siege as much as RL has would want to carefully control the question topics. However, the BBC are always banging on about balance. I would say, where were the voices of the fans on yesterday’s programme? How’s that for balance? The inclusion of Martyn Thomas was a complete waste of time. He is a largely-discredited has-been; the Nigel Farage of English rugby. As Brian Moore put it on Twitter, the only reason he could think of including Thomas was that the debate was about maladministration. Make of that what you will.

At one point GL asked RL whether he was happy with the way in which he’d conducted himself during this affair. That would’ve been the point to ask him about BBC 5 Live presenter Alastair Eykyn’s claims that RL and Warren Gatland had been badgering Alun-Wyn Jones on a “daily basis”, trying to get the Ospreys player to sign a central contract.  That’s a question I’d have liked to have asked RL, if I’d been given the chance.

I realise I’ve gone on about this quite a lot already. But before I stop, there are a couple of other impressions I took away from yesterday’s programme.

The first one is that Roger Lewis got very bad tempered when he was asked about central contracts and his plans for what happens if the regions walk away. He also waved the PWC report around a lot to make his points. If the report is so marvellous, why doesn’t he publish it?

The second clear impression which came out yesterday is that the relationship between Roger Lewis and RRW is toxic. It’s a word David Moffett used, and he’s right. There are a couple of moments where Gareth Davies visibly winces in response to the things Roger Lewis is saying. There is never going to be a deal between RRW and Roger Lewis, because the relationship is irrevocably broken. That means that this thing is going to court, and a judge will decide the future of Welsh and probably European rugby.

 

 

 

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Assembly members call for review of WRU governance

The BBC are emphasising First Minister Carwyn Jones’ offer to mediate between the WRU and the Regions in their ongoing bitter dispute over the future of our professional game.

However, the real story of today’s debate in the Senedd is that opposition AMs were united in a call for a thorough, independent review of the governance of the WRU. That piece of information, which should make very uncomfortable reading for WRU CEO Roger Lewis, is buried in the BBC piece, several paragraphs down.

Unlike the First Minister who only turned up for the last five minutes, I was in the Senedd to listen to all of today’s debate. I was horrified by the lack of knowledge of the basic issues displayed by most of the Assembly members who spoke. However, one AM had clearly done her homework.

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Bethan Jenkins of Plaid Cymru had taken the time to speak to all the parties involved: the WRU, the regions and the supporters.  She had clearly done her research and returned to her theme of governance several times during the debate.

The rest of the speakers spent most of their allocated slots either reminiscing about watching rugby, or expressing their heartfelt – albeit bleeding obvious – hope that the WRU and RRW could come to an agreement for the benefit of Welsh rugby as a whole. Blah blah blah. Other AMs, on the whole, contributed the sum total of nothing to the debate.

Mike Hedges (Labour) rambled through a confused rant against the regions, citing recent match results as reason to look at an alternative.  What Hedges and his ilk fail to recognise is that the regions have been very successful in the Celtic League and Anglo-Welsh cup. Their contribution to the last eight years of unprecedented success of the national side should be obvious to anyone who understands how professional sport works.

What is most worrying is that we allow our elected representatives to debate important issues like this without many of them appearing to have done any research whatsoever.

 

 

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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.

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Welsh rugby crisis reaches Cardiff Bay! AMs to debate Regional Row!

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Talking shop (Photo: Gavin Lewis )

Next Wednesday, 15th January, the National Assembly will be conducting a debate on the subject of the current crisis in Welsh rugby:

The full text of the motion is as follows:

NDM5397 William Graham (South Wales East)

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales

1. Notes recent Welsh international rugby successes and the importance of rugby to the culture and economy of Wales.

2. Notes the current discussions between the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales regarding the future of Welsh rugby and recognises the importance of developing and maintaining a strong grassroots and regional structure to enable the sport to develop and thrive throughout Wales.

3. Believes that a strong platform for Welsh rugby requires national and regional bodies and clubs to work together constructively to create a strong financial footing for the future well-being of the sport and hopes for a timely resolution to current negotiations.

It’s vital that we show the politicians how seriously they need to be taking this issue. We can do this by turning up for the debate and watching from the public gallery. You can book tickets for this by completing the online booking form.