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Review: Welsh Rugby: What Went Wrong by Seimon Williams

20 Dec 2023 4 minute read
Welsh Rugby: What Went Wrong by Seimon Williams is published by Y Lolfa

Ben Wildsmith

So much of life is in a state of permanent crisis these days that it’s hardly surprising anxiety is being reported at record levels.

At home and abroad, things seem to be falling apart in front of us, with new fissures opening more quickly than we can slap masking tape on them.


As our descent into a Mad Max-style postapocalyptic hellscape gathers pace, I feel grateful for the rigorous training I have received in such matters throughout my life.

For if anything could prepare you for full-spectrum dysfunction, it is tethering your emotional wellbeing to the operational efficiency of the Welsh Rugby Union.

Here, in Seimon Williams’ chastening book, we are presented with a timeline of events that concludes, this year, with the game in Wales facing its most perilous crisis yet.

WRU woes

It’s tempting to blame the WRU’s woes on changes of environment to which it struggled to adapt. Was it the decline of industrial Wales, perhaps, or the rigours of professionalism, or failure to anticipate the emergence of the women’s game?

That is to underestimate the union’s unique facility to make a pig’s ear of any situation it finds itself in.

Exploitable assets

Towards the end of this fine book, we are reminded that shortly before funding of the professional game was slashed and players threatened to strike, the WRU had received a near £90m windfall from private equity firm CVC.

Now, I know to the layman, or someone who might dabble in business, it might seem that retaining the only exploitable asset you have, professional players, might have been a good use for that money. Hush now, there’s a city centre hotel and zipwire attraction to build!

Personal toxicity

There’s a good range of interviewees in the book and from them we get a sense of the personal toxicity that often accompanied the litany of incompetence related in its pages.

A female employee has to wait outside a meeting and have it whispered to her through the door because she isn’t allowed in; the Wales men’s squad, at a meeting to hear their wages are being slashed, are told they ‘probably won’t have the brain’ to understand the situation; players are charged for coffees in their room during international weekends, whilst committee members enjoy a free bar.

The sheer wrongness of much that has gone on is both farcical and depressing. There are new insights here, but much of the actualities are known. What’s shocking is their presentation as a sequential narrative.

This decision allows Williams to drive home the remorseless commitment of some leading figures never to learn from their mistakes nor allow for meaningful change.


There is a pleasing raised-eyebrow tone on here. Williams has been, through the Gwladrugby website, a committed voice for Welsh rugby fans for many years.

That experience has won him a detached irony that is a credit to his resilience and a spoonful of sugar for the reader as we are led through a story that contains echoes of ignorance, cruelty, and absurdity that you’d more readily expect from a war memoir.


The book concludes with our game perched on a fulcrum, its future vulnerable to any pressure. We now know that legal action over brain injuries sustained by dozens of players is incoming.

Nothing described in this fine volume suggests that the WRU is equipped to cope with the financial and moral demands that this will bring.

Welsh Rugby: What Went Wrong by Seimon Williams is published by Y Lolfa. It is available from all good bookshops.

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