In the face of the threat of a rebellion and court action from lower league clubs – led by Old Illtydians Chairman John Manders – the WRU have been forced into an embarrassing climbdown and, for the second time in 3 months, have revised the SWALEC league structure for 2014/15 season.
With just 2 weeks to the start of the season, the promotion and relegation rules for the majority of clubs have been significantly altered, but many of those clubs remain unaware – due to the ambiguous nature of the way the change has been communicated (see the letter of 19th August, issued via email, which is attached).
The convoluted end-of-season play-offs for the Division 3 clubs have now been scrapped, and every Division 3 club that wins its league will be promoted.
To accommodate this new automatic promotion, more clubs will be relegated from Division 2. In fact, the number is increased by 25% from 8 to 12 (3 clubs from each flavour of Division 2, instead of 2). I wonder how some of those mid-to-lower table Division 2 clubs will feel once they work that out?
Looking in more detail, there’s a definite whiff of “them and us” between East & West.
The structures in the West are flatter than in the East, and there is no relegation from Division 3. The problem with the previous structure, that post-Christmas mid-table clubs and below in Division 3 will have nothing to play for, remains for around 33 clubs in Division 3 West & West Central.
The WRU claim that it is too complicated to make further changes in the West because of geographical issues plus an insistence that it is too late to change the fixture list.
In the East, the surgery has been more radical. There are definite winners & losers as a result, and some strange anomalies that will likely cause anger in some clubhouses.
For example, from the old League 5 South Central, Ynysowen (7th) and Ferndale (11th) have been placed in Division 3 East Central C – effectively Division 5. However, Hirwaun, who finished bottom (12th) in League 5 South Central C have been placed in the division above Ynysowen & Ferndale – Division 3 East Central B (Division 4 in all but name).
Clubs who were in League 5 South East face a similar anomaly. New Panteg suffer the indignity of being placed in Division 3 East C (aka Division 5), whilst clubs who finished below them last season, such as Taffs Well & Old Penarthians, go into Division 3 East Central A – effectively Division 3. Sully & Cardiff Saracens also finished below New Panteg, but also end up 2 divisions above in Division 3 East Central B.
From the old League 5 East, Caerleon, who finished 4th, go into Division 3 East A, whilst Machen, who finished 4th in League 5 South East, go into the Division below Caerleon (Division 3 East B – aka Division 4).
From the old League 6 East, Trinant (4th) Hollybush (5th) Aberbeeg (6th) Markham (7th) have been placed in Division 3 East C (aka Div 5). From League 6 South East, Forgeside (4th) Abersychan (5th) St Julians (6th) & West Mon (7th) have been placed a whole division below (Division 3 East D – aka Div 6)!
From the old League 6 Central, Cefn Fforest (1st) and Aberbargoed (4th) go into Division 3 East C. CIACS (2nd) and Llanrumney (3rd) have been placed effectively in a division higher (Division 3 East Central C).
Looking again at the old League 6 Central, Cathays (5th) Wick (6th) Tongwynlais (7th) & Whitchurch (8th) are in Division 3 East Central C (aka Division 4). From League 6 East, Hollybush (5th) Aberbeeg (6th) Markham (7th ) go into Division 3 East C – effectively a division below (aka Division 5). Tref y Clawdd, who finished 8th in League 6 East, end up in an even lower division – Division 3 East D (aka Division 6), despite the fact that they would have avoided relegation under the old rules.
The lottery of placement in the new league structure affects clubs in more subtle ways too. Cilfynydd and Rhymney finished 11th & 12th in the old League 3 East. Cilfynydd are placed in Division 3 East Central B, from which 1 club is promoted automatically, and there is a chance of best runner up from 22 other clubs. Rhymney are placed in Division 3 East A, from which 3 clubs are promoted. So, Rhymney have a much better chance of promotion than the club who finished above them last season.
Just getting the blazers to listen has been a tremendous achievement for Manders. He didn’t get everything he wanted, but its still a notable victory for the clubs who have now proven what a sham Pickering & Lewis’s “listening Union” claim really is. Unfortunately, in trying to make improvements, the underlying flaws in the original proposals have been further exposed.
There is a long way to go before the SWALEC league structure is fit-for-purpose. Russell Howell, District B Director and a member of the WRU working party that ‘designed’ the original restructure, may be the first to pay the price. Despite the WRU trying to stop it, he will face a Vote of No Confidence at the District B AGM in September, principally as a consequence of his deliberate policy of keeping his clubs in the dark the restructure proposals for 14 months!
By coincidence, the other District B Director, Roy Giddings, is up for re-election, and faces a challenge for his position. Giddings is King Blazer, having survived on the WRU Board for over a quarter of a century. On his watch, the WRU missed the opportunities that others seized when the game went professional, we had the rebel club season, Glanmor’s Gap, Grannygate, the WRU became technically insolvent, Ruddockgate, and now the RRW PA spat.