Legend and all-round good guy Roger Lewis this week leaves the Welsh Rugby Union for pastures new. Work experience boy and expert tea-maker Delme Halfwit here reflects, while looking forward, on a glorious chapter in Welsh rugby.
Roger Lewis was a wonderful leader of Welsh rugby. We may only come to appreciate his true greatness once he has gone, as is often the way. However, never let it be said that we at the ferociously independently-minded Western Mail ever miss out on an opportunity to blow smoke rings up his fundament, so here are 10 reasons why Roger is just ace:
- A fine operator in the smoke-filled rooms of Welsh politics, Sir Roger (he hasn’t been knighted yet – ed) allowed his then Chairman, David Pickering, to use WRU premises, staff and stationery to arrange ‘Welsh’ Labour Party events. Such forward-thinking was rewarded when members of lesser political parties pushed for a government inquiry into WRU funding. Not only did he stave off the threat of Government censure, he was given £1.7m of public money towards the cost of upgrading the pitch at the Not-the-BT-Sport Millennium Stadium and landed himself a job as Chairman of Cardiff Airport, owned by the Welsh Government.
- The veracity of Rog’s clear thinking was clear to many of his Board. His ability to crystalise key arguments in layman’s terms secured the support and backing of member clubs, as former Chairman David Pickering and various other now-retired ex-Board members attest.
Moving scenes from yesterday’s farewell party for Sir Roger at Thomson House
- Lord Roger (nor made a peer, either – ed) has proven himself a master fundraiser and brand maximiser. When BT Sport signed a four-year, £20m agreement with the Scottish Rugby Union to sponsor Murrayfield and the two professional clubs, he recognised the risk of market saturation. His decision not to pursue a deal with BT and not to yell at senior BT Wales figures reaped dividends when BT signed a deal with the four professional clubs instead. The Welsh Rugby Union were therefore free to agree a 10-year, £13m deal with Principality. Evidence that Roger had it spot on, yet again.
- The past decade has seen a period of unparalleled success for the national team. BR (Before Roger), Wales hadn’t beaten Australia for a whole year. Today, prioritisation of the National team above all else (except Barclays) means that it is just seven years since Wales last beat Australia. Furthermore, Wales had not beaten a SANZAR nation in the Rugby World Cup since 19 BR (or 1987 in old money). We still haven’t. An overall record of played 30, lost 28 is one to which none of his predecessors can lay claim.
- The national team’s record in the Six Nations is testament to his ability. BR, Wales had not won a Grand Slam for six months. In hindsight, it can be seen that the magical triumph of 2005 was due to the appointment of Mr Lewis several months later.
- Viscount Cefn Cribwr (ok, stop this now – ed) was not just a tough inventory-gathering cookie. When the failing so-called Regions brought round their begging bowl in 2013, his humanity led him to help. Some thought that threatening to take over the failing superclubs, warning that they would be shut down and thrown out of the Union may have seemed unnecessarily confrontational. However, this masterly display of reverse psychology eventually led to the four capitulating and signing the Rugby Services Agreement, gaining only greater autonomy, ownership of professional competitions and an extra £2million per year of WRU payments for their grandstanding.
Isn’t he gorgeous? I would. Definitely.
- An arch-negotiator, the new European Rugby Champions Cup, and its sister Challenge Cup, only exist thanks to Mr Lewis. He always stated that he would only countenance a European tournament being run by the Unions through ERC in Dublin, and would stand steadfast against any compromise. Just a year later, the club-run European Champions Cup is setting up base in Switzerland. Another triumph.
- His background in the media stood Rogy-wogy in good stead when a handful of malcontents, mischief makers and ultras launched a vicious, personal campaign on social media. Roger faced them down, let the facts do his talking for him, and roundly defeated the insurgents. Had he buckled, or failed to understand the influence of social media, he could easily have lost the battle with the failed superregions and/or had to pay them more for access to players, lost his chairman, lost several members of the Board and even lost his job. That he is now moving on to bigger and better things on his own terms speaks volumes for his fingeronpulseness
- Virtually a philanthropist, Saint Rog (no comment – ed) assured that he only received inventory himself if The.Whole.Of.Welsh.Rugby received goodness first. He put his own finances at risk to ensure that the massive WRU debt he inherited on his coronation would be reduced and that the goodness he received himself be related to the amount it shrunk. That’s why his salary increased by over 70% in 9 years.
- He and his team have been a pleasure to work for… I mean with. With, that’s it. They have always been prepared to help out with the drafting of key stories, always on hand to fact-check and to suggest alterations. It’s been a real privilege.
We shall not see his like again.