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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.

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