Soon, the WRU will have a new chairman, and a new Chief Executive. It’s the end of a selection process begun during the fallout from BBC Wales’s documentary exploring the moribund, toxic culture endemic within the WRU.
But it also has to be the start of something.
A recurring theme over the past decade or so of Welsh rugby’s decline, has been the WRU’s indifference toward professional (and semi professional) club rugby within it’s own borders. It’s a remarkable state of affairs but the Union under the stewardship of Roger Lewis and later his protege Steve Phillips seemed to regard the professional game outside the national side as a cost that must be minimised, rather than an asset which can enrich the whole Welsh game. The results of this failure of leadership are plain for all to see. It’s also plain to see that the damage done by the WRU has finally impacted on the national side. As the players brought through during a period of stability and progress have left the scene, the torch has been passed to a generation of talent brought through in an atmosphere of constant off field drama and instability. Welsh professional teams have been unable to plan more than a season ahead since even before covid struck. After every “project reset” has come a moment when the WRU decide to reset their own reset with Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets left with the task of picking up the pieces. You reap what you sow.
Results at URC or European cup level are treated with indifference. Other unions may be doing their best to help hype up URC as a growing league. At the WRU, the attitude appears to still be that the Welsh teams competing in URC are at best a necessary evil. The four teams are there to keep Welsh professional players contracted and matchfit, and to operate academies which contract young Welsh players. The compensation for performing this service of contracting highly paid, high status players who rarely play for the teams they’re contracted to is to be minimised. Any requirement the four might have beyond that role is to be dismissed. In contrast, any whim of the union must be accomodated without question by the four teams.
It has been an approach which the WRU’s own interim Chief executive described as a “teacher pupil” relationship.
It has to change. The past fifteen years of the union’s short term thinking and apathy toward pro and semi pro club rugby needs to be seen as an embarrassing, self sabotaging mistake made by previous regimes. A shining example of how not to do things. Something to be quickly moved away from.
This weekend we have learned that the WRU will seek to play an extra match against the Barbarians, on the same weekend as the Scarlets vs Cardiff derby. There is also a plan to play an English West Country derby in Cardiff. In the short term, of course selling tickets to the former and receiving a six figure fee for allowing the latter will bring extra funds into the game. In the longer term, once more devaluing a professional club match does nothing to restore faith in and interest in the pro game. Say nothing for the optics if the West Country clash is played on the same weekend as a Cardiff home match.
Perhaps the current administration at the WRU are comfortable with encouraging support and sponsors to look over the border in return for a rental fee. We suspect other sporting bodies would see their role in helping facilitate a thriving domestic game differently.
The WRU have said that they expect the four Welsh teams to try and drive up their own matchday and sponsorship revenue. This was a common demand rolled out throughout the endless discussions between the clubs and WRU which led to this year’s crisis. Yet these decisions seem to fly in the face of that aim. It is to be remembered that in the URC there are now only nine home matches. In Europe, there are now only two home matches. Part of the logic to this is, supposedly, to allow each match to gain more importance and allow the competing teams to play their strongest team more often. The WRU seem to have already forgotten about this in the name of their trademarked short term thinking. We finally have a long term (well, six years...) plan for the game’s finances. But still there is apparently no wider strategy for the Welsh pro game beyond finding new ways to squeeze every last drop of income from the Principality Stadium, regardless of the long term costs.
We’ve no ill will toward our friends at Bristol and Gloucester. Far from it. We are glad they have the freedom and independence with which to explore every avenue toward improving their finances. We only wish our own clubs were able to operate in the same way. And we wish we could see them more often at the Arms Park.
To the new WRU chairman Richard Collier-Keywood, and the still to be named new Chief Executive, we offer congratulations. And we hope they bring change that is profound and long lasting.
It is sorely needed.
A very good article and hits the nail on the head. I was flabbergasted to hear that there may be a West Country derby at the Millenium. You really couldn’t dream it up. The URC is a non workable business model and we should have joined the English Premiership way back - visiting supporters adding to the Cardiff economy as well as CRFC, better atmosphere more matches!