What to do, Roger?

The professional game is at a crossroads in this country as Roger Lewis’ own policies are beginning to bite him on the backside. For years he has underpaid for the access Team Wales (his team) have to the assets of the four professional teams and this slow starvation has caused them to be unable to offer the wages players can command in the European market. He compounded that starvation with an insistance on employment of Welsh qualified players, regardless of their ability or likelihood to play for Team Wales. This insistance increased wages as the talent pool meant a shortage of supply and a seller’s market.

Whilst doing this, Roger saturated the fixture list with Team Wales fixtures to the point where these games were in competition with the four teams which supplied the bulk of the players. Despite the WRU being shareholders in the Celtic League, we still had inter-Region games on weekends Team Wales were playing. Despite the WRU being shareholders in ERC, Lewis still drew up a fixture list for Team Wales that prevented the four from having six weeks worth of access to their players before Rounds 3 and 4 of the ERC competitions.

On top of this, he now has to lower ticket prices in order to get bums on seats to watch the Golden Goose.

And yet some still wonder why the four aren’t as good as is the expectation of them!

It’s obviously possible to write in real depth on this subject so I’ve tried to condense my thoughts into a few bullet points:

  • WRU contribution up to £8m pa from £6m pa. This is a long way from the RFU’s payment of a minimum of £102m over 8 years, but it’s a start. This payment would lead to guaranteed access for 20 weeks per annum – 6 weeks Autumn, 8 weeks 6N, 6 weeks Summer Tour, plus the maintenance of existing access for player training, fitness and medical tests
  •  The present £9.1m earned through competition and broadcast revenues should continue to be shared equally amongst the four but the payment of £8m must be made by player supply to Team Wales.
  • £7m to be paid for the top 35 players named by the Team Wales Head Coach on August 1st (after Summer Tour) = £200k each
  • £1m for 40 top players at u20 level = £25k each
  •  Players not playing in Wales see their £200k put into a reserve pot
  • Each player outside of top 35 who is called up earns his club £10k a week (which also provides an incentive to promote from u20 level to senior squad) at senior level
  • Any surplus at end of the Summer Tour (i.e. before the next year’s squad is announced) is split four equal ways
  •  From 2014-15, no player playing outside of Wales will play for Wales unless in existing contract
  •  Minimum wage spend per squad is £500k on top of Competition & WRU money for top 38 ERC registered players for year after, to be heavily audited
  • No one player can earn more than 15% of total salary spend
  •  NWQ limit to be 8 players including time servers in registered squad of 38 players
  •  All four “encouraged” to open up a percentage of the business to be supporter owned through Supporters’ Trusts. A minimum of 5% and one board seat to be in place by 2015.
  •  Coaching positions should be the choice of the four with encouragement for at least one member of the coaching team to have coached in a different league. This will encourage ideas to come into the system from outside, rather than becoming stale and insular.

 On top of all of that, I’d look to put into place an U23 competition for only Welsh qualified players, played on a home and away basis with the top two entering into a Grand Final. This would look to provide something of a stepping stone after u20 international rugby.

  • Will guarantee 6 u23 games per season, to be played outside of the IRB windows (possibly HEC group game weekends to ensure BBC coverage on TV)
  • Should be a highlight / showpiece for best u23 players not playing in HEC
  • Two over 23 players allowed per match day squad
  • Aim to play FIRA National teams on designated weekends as Wales u23 v Spain, or Portugal etc.
  •  Aim to play other Pro 12 and / or AP “A” teams on additional weekends outside of IRB window
  •  Aim for 12 u23 fixtures per season with, in effect, the u23 team entering the LV= Cup

All of which involves the top end of the tree and rather ignores the roots. So:

Welsh Premiership & BIC

  •  WP should be cut to 8 teams and all to play in the BIC
  • Newport, Swansea, Llanelli and Cardiff should step out of WP and concentrate on u23 rugby
  • WP should be based on promotion / relegation of best 8 semi pro teams in Wales, regardless of geography
  • “Regional PA” should be scrapped in favour of individual loan deals with WP clubs when u23 players become available / return from injury
  • 4 pro teams should be focussed on developing players within their own system from 16 to first team through pathway of representative rugby and allow clubs their independence
  • There should be no “developmental” responsibility or pressure on WP clubs. They should simply aim to be the best they can.
  • Strict audit function put in place to ensure that books balance, including wage cap at 65% of turnover (promised turnover, excluding any WRU payment) or £650k (whichever is greater)
  • WRU grants of up to £75k available per team to be spent on infrastructure only and not wages (including travel, training facilities, hospitality facilities to become centre of local community etc)
  • Clubs must be encouraged to own their own ground and be community owned
  • A WRU gift of £50k per annum can be spent on player wages.
  • Any u20 players not involved in the u23 rugby should play WP rugby with wages covered by the four on Academy terms (a set wage agreed across all four for parity reasons) at teams best suited to their circumstances (geography, coaching, positional requirement, availability). Host WP team pays nothing, so owning club also covers WP club standard win bonus / appearance fee.
  • In the BIC, the Irish teams will be encouraged to remove their A teams and play top club sides by offering fixtures of their A teams versus Welsh four u23 teams

 

The removal of the handcuffs of “regional responsibility” on the WP teams and the enforcement of their independence leads to the thought of “what happens with regionalism”? Well, here goes:

Regional Responsibility

The main responsibility must be the growth of the game at u18 and schools level, in order to create the conveyor belt into recreational, club and professional rugby. This must be in partnership with the WRU as the game itself benefits more than will the four professional teams.

  •  Ratio: 1 Development Officer per x schools and clubs? Equal funded?
  •  Monthly coaching master classes to be run to train the coaches of junior clubs within the region
  •  Regional Clubs Liaison Officer to be a standard employee for each of the four, to work on closer links to assist with coaching development, junior rugby and grant applications for infrastructure
  •  Players encouraged to take coaching badges and work with clubs at age grade level and senior level.

 

Conclusion:

That’s a lot to take in but I think that it is a blueprint which could work, and should offer more than just a basic document for discussion purposes. The funding model is designed to reward the professional teams who develop talent for the international game AND is designed to reward the amateur clubs who become the hub of their communities. Those are the key aims for both games.

There is enough in the finance model for the pro game to provide strong HEC teams, especially when you think that all of those Team Wales player bonus payments won’t be made available to those not playing in Wales. A player can earn tens of thousands per season playing for Wales, meaning that the more lucrative contract outside of Wales is just that little bit less lucrative……

 

30 thoughts on “What to do, Roger?

Add yours

  1. A great blog Phil, some excellent points in there and probably more sensible than most of the guff that floats around the WRU.

  2. Excellent post Phil. The diagnosis of the problem is spot on, and while there’s no such thing as a perfect solution your proposals are as good as any I’ve seen. I’d only quibble with the selection policy part – I think it does players good to experience other rugby cultures and to be playing for and against the best sides on a regular basis. On those grounds I wouldn’t have an outright ban selection of players playing outside of Wales for the Welsh team, but I would insist that those who want to be considered for selection negotiate clauses in their contracts that allow full availability for the national side. As you say, if your proposals are implemented then they will have the opportunity to earn plenty in Wales anyway, making the French option less appealing, and insisting on this kind of clause would probably make the decision to go abroad even less appealing. So you’d hope the majority would choose to stay in Wales.

    1. Interesting option, undone only by the key part of the agreement being the access to players for medical and fitness tests etc. during the season. There’s no way that the WRU could be on top of, say, a USAP’s player’s fitness as they could be of a player in Newport. I thought about the benefit of rugby elsewhere and I agree with the obvious benefits it can bring but the bigger picture could be undone by the penny and bun approach. My solution, I had thought, would see players leaving for two years after a RWC and then returning for the jamboree.

  3. Great read, cheers. how about, instead of a blanket ban on foreign based players playing for Wales, a significant reduction of their financial benefits, with the club benefits you mentioned also going back in the regional pot if they choose to move away? This would make the dilemma of whether to go abroad or not leven less about money and more about experience (which can be positive). It would still allow those who want to experience it to do so (Roberts) while not ‘forcing’ those who would rather not but can’t turn down the wages (Lydiate?). Players would earn similar in both situations (maybe) but won’t be prevented from developing their game elsewhere or experiencing another way of life if they so wish. It would also smooth out the doldrums years inbetween RWCs where every top player goes walkabout and therefore the changes to the national side would be less abrupt and disruptive.

  4. On Irish teams in the BIC, the clubs here probably couldn’t afford stepping into the shoes of the provincial A teams; a lot of them are barely keeping their noses above water with intra-island travel costs as is. I can certainly see the argument, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t think it can happen on a practical level.

    That’s a pretty minor cavil, mind; the rest all sounds eminently sensible and certainly makes a lot of sense as a blueprint. Nice work, Phil.

      1. Tricky. In practice, that could end up as an unintentional subsidy for some clubs, leading to an oligarchical effect emerging. I’m quite sympathetic to the idea of giving club rugby a shot in the arm, and there’s agreement here it would do no harm at all; but it’s how is the question. When the IRFU are cutting back themselves, penny-packet stuff to clubs risks reducing the bang when every buck counts. Maybe one way would be not clubs from here, but our Academy teams playing U-23 in Wales?

  5. Suspect the Irish provincial coaches would love to have more A or U-23 games but don’t think the Irish clubs would be competitive enough to enter the BIC. The English sides would far too strong as would the likes of Pontypridd.

    Some interesting ideas for the regional and international teams. How realistic is it to restrict selection to Welsh-based players only? I’d also say that 8 NWQ players per squad is too many if you’re restricting selection for the international side to the four regional teams.

    1. The selection process is easy as they are invitational teams. The English do it.

      8 is too many? Not when you lose potentially 20 players or so for 20 weeks of the year

      1. The issue with 32 NWQ’s across the four sides arises when there’s a weakness across the board in one or two positions. What’s to stop the four sides each having a NWQ 10 as an example?

        I realise that the example of Irish rugby doesn’t apply all that often to Welsh rugby but think the experience of non-eligible players may be one case where it does. You don’t want an equivalent of the current tight-head prop issue that Ireland has.

      2. Ours is an independent system, so there is nothing to stop all four having the same kind of nWq player. Thankfully.

        Other than, of course, the u23 team being Welsh qualified only and the fact that match day 23s and losing players for 20 weeks of the year means that WQ players will always get game time.

    1. I’d say £2m a year, which they could comfortably afford when you consider how quickly they have wiped down the debt and how much they spent refurbishing the Hospitality boxes.

  6. Some sound financial and structural suggestions here, I very much like most of this.

    However, a key issue for me is the lack of any real meaningful competition below Team Wales.
    * I love the Heineken Cup and even like it’s “best two losers” format (which ensures a far higher proportion of games are meaningful an don’t become “dead rubbers”), but it’s spread far too thinly thoughout the season.
    * The Celtic League is just awful – no real incentive to do well and the teams are often far from the best available for selection. If the teams themselves aren’t that interested in the competition, do they think supporters will be? I no longer watch any of it. Which has had a knock-on effect of me not watching so much of the HEC (admittedly, on TV).
    * Anglo-Welsh Cup – no comment.

    Clearly this wasn’t the aim of this particular article, but I’d be interested to see your suggestion (if you think any is required) for competition and league structure – both ‘blue sky’ (ie if we could guarantee to get the other countries to play) and perhaps more realistically (ie assuming the French, English etc are happy enough with their current lot).

    Not that I intend to detract from this article though – well written, pitched at a nice level and some really sound suggestions. Enjoyed reading it.

  7. I agree with most of that and have long thought that there needs to be seperation between professional and semi-professional rugby in Wales. I agree with the idea of of U23 teams being introduced and feel that a midweek competition with the Irish and Scots could even be a possibility. I also agree that the WP should be an entirely semi-pro set up, though I would advocate each team in the WP being allowed 1 professional (similar to local league cricket). Away from playing, the job of the professional would be to go out and coach in the local community (schools, clubs etc) and in the club’s youth set up. That way it would benefit the local community and provide a pathway for players into coaching.

    1. My tip prem clubs go back to old ways and shown on bbc /s4c regions go play in england ..shown on sky .more money . Better comp and ful stadium’s

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