I’m going to write a list, of sorts, of some hopes / dreams / never will come trues for professional rugby in Wales in 2017 and beyond. There are major issues within the game, at all levels, so here are some ideas for going some way to curing them:
Split The Pro & Community Games – properly
In fairness to Martyn Phillips, he’s started this process by replacing Lewsey with Jones and John but – as ever with the WRU – they’ve got it half arsed so, by result, have got it wrong. I’ve banged this drum to the point of boredom but it’s obvious that the Community game needs its own executive, with its own rolling and long term budget (paid out of proceeds to the professional game) in order to properly meet its needs and demands. Whilst Ryan Jones is no doubt a great cheerleader and figure point to encourage participation, he needs an Executive behind him to run that exercise as a full and proper business. Clubs need help beyond participation and into facilities, business links, school links, set ups and more. A small Executive board, reporting back to the WRU board, will see Community clubs properly catered for and properly funded by the Pro Game. It will also stop the ludicrous idea of Community clubs having a say over the professional game, which is key. The two elements of the game are now very separate.
Ben Jeffreys of Pontypool RFC has some tremendous ideas on this and you should all follow him on Twitter.
The break between the Pro and Community game should be easy to define: the Welsh Premiership should be the top of the Community game and should not be influenced by the Professional game at all. No professional players should play in the WP. And by that I mean players paid by the professional clubs, not by their own employers at Merthyr….
The Professional Game & A Teams
Of course, removing the Academy players from the WP will mean that they will need to play somewhere. At present, the BIC is offering them a huge step up from the standard of the WP but that is only a minimum of 6 games a year. There should also be a PRW A team league, offering another 6 games a year. Add in 3 Anglo-Welsh Cup games and we’re up to 15. A few well timed friendlies with the English clubs and, if some money can be found, more games against the Irish A teams and we have enough games for the season (especially when you consider how many of these kind of players will be involved in Wales age grade teams).
At present, the WRU pays pretty much the same for the services it receives as does the RFU if you take it on a per team basis. In effect, it works out (on average) at about £2.3m per year per team by the team you add on national qualified player payments etc. However, there are three times as many English teams as there are Welsh, so it’s quite obvious that PRW teams are working three times as hard for the same payment. During the international breaks, the Os lose over a dozen players and that has an obvious knock on effect on results, attendances, sponsorship and income. In short, the WRU do not compensate enough for the services they receive.
Why? Here’s the truth: because Lewis accelerated payments to Barclays and the WRU are tied in to his contracts, despite him having had the boot a year ago. He tied the game in with Barclays, with Gatland, with UA, with Principality, with the BBC. He’s given Phillips nothing to work on.
Those who try to tell you the money is to do with ‘structures’ or ‘models’ or whatever are just lying to you, by the way.
The comparison above is with the RFU. It gets worse when you look at the SRU. They spent enough for Glasgow to have a squad containing 37 international players (thanks to the sum of money from BT as sponsorship during the EPRC negotiations. If only Roger Lewis had been able to conclude such a deal, eh?). The IRFU spend more per team again. Some will say it’s because those Unions own their pro teams. The less ignorant will point out its because those Unions have more disposable income so spend it wisely.
Where will the money come from?
If the WRU can’t earn enough to pay its fair way then it should not ask for so much in return. We can’t go to Harrods and offer £500 for a £50,000 TV, yet that’s in effect what the WRU are doing. If they can’t pay enough, they should cut some slack to PRW.
Maybe they should follow the example of the RFU, again, and allow PRW to negotiate their own competitions and broadcast deals. After all, the major income streams in professional rugby are (in order): broadcast deals, competition deals, Union payments.
In all of this, however, it should be noted that the above mentioned payment to the community game would be guaranteed and ring fenced before any though of money increasing within the professional game.
Well, here is the biggest white elephant in Welsh rugby. It was formed to battle against Roger Lewis and, if we are being honest, has done nothing since then. It should be a pressure group, it should be well funded, it should be leading the way, it should be pushing forward professional rugby in Wales. Instead, it sends out a couple of tweets and has helped to arrange an insurance deal that, seemingly, one of its members is having difficulty keeping up with.
If the four members of PRW want to push forward their businesses then they have to act now and push on. They have to publish the details of what ‘Regional Rugby’ actually is (and it has never been representative rugby, despite how some try to rewrite history to make it so) and how EXACTLY similar it is to the English Club Academy system. Ridding Welsh rugby of the real toxic work – Regional – will be a huge step forward alongside splitting the Pro and Community management.
PRW then has to push forward with what it believes is the best league for its teams to play in that will maximise their income. PRW know that the PrO’12 is an inferior league for broadcasters because it is so skewed, so unequal and not the main priority for half of its entrants. However, when have PRW ever publicly stated this? They haven’t. They are accepting second rate nonsense by their own silence.
PRW need to stop being carried by PRL and start becoming the organisation that it should be. It should be a collective, it should be pretty much harmonious and it should be professional. It should be leading the marketing of the professional game in Wales, it should be seen, be vibrant and be in the public eye. At the moment it is none of those things, it is just a shambles.
It’ll be nice to finally see the plans for the Etihad Superdome that CAP may well soon become. If done properly, it should see the club well financed for years to come and should hopefully see it run as a business instead of at the whim of a Chairman who can’t always decide which leg his trousers should go on first.