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Opinion

Wales needs a unity of rugby purpose today more than at any other time in its history

23 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Wales’ dejected players after the defeat against Italy in the Six Nations. Photo David Davies/PA Wire.

Roger Lewis, former WRU Group Chief Executive

The Welsh Rugby Union will next week publish a new strategy, supported by Portas Consulting, on the future of the game in Wales.

I sincerely hope that everyone in Welsh rugby will get behind the union’s new chief executive Abi Tierney and engage positively and constructively with what is being considered.

I urge that a full and proper debate ensues, both earnestly and honestly over the coming months, and in good spirit, with a real desire for positive, lasting, and sustainable change for the benefit of all the game in Wales, recognising that change will continue to develop and evolve.

Moreover, I sincerely hope that the debate is as radical and as wide ranging as people will allow, directly involving all of those who are now responsible for the day to day management and governance of Welsh rugby at all levels of the game.

Most importantly the debate must be about the future, not the past, and to fight the battles in front of the game and not those behind it.

I believe there is a real appetite for change for the game in Wales, and we must encourage those in charge to seize this moment.

Mutual respect

I have not met Abi and I am not aware of any of the documents contents, but I passionately believe that everyone who truly cares about the game in Wales should enter the debate with a mutual respect and tolerance for the views and opinions of all who are actively involved in its future, and behave in the most professional and constructive manner possible to drive through positive change.

The challenges facing the game are known to many, but that does not make them any easier to fix.

The context of the debate revolves around fundamental sporting and business questions, agreeing upon what the rugby priorities for the game in Wales are and for world rugby going forward, from participation levels in schools and clubs, for both boys and girls, to the question of how many players are needed to compete and succeed professionally today at club and international level.

And alongside this sits the question of how the game creates compelling and engaging rugby events which reach out and attract and sustain players and crowds week in, week out, attractive at the professional level to media and sponsors.

Reality

Most importantly these questions are underscored by the imperative to confront the reality of how much money can Wales and for that matter UK, European and World rugby generate and sustain to fund the ambitions of all of the game, recognising that rugby is not a fully professional sport beyond ten countries around the world, which are competing against a myriad of alternative activities.

The answer to these questions will inevitably impact on the short, mid and long term rugby priorities, whilst addressing what are the most appropriate managerial systems and game structures required to maximise opportunity, and what rugby and business staff and skills are required to take the game forward.

It’s not rocket science, but Wales has not yet landed anyone on the moon.

Wales must operate within a rugby and sporting world which is inevitably unbalanced, driven by vastly different demography and national, sporting and business cultures, which creates unequal opportunities for revenue, media and sponsorship growth.

This is the brutal environment in which Welsh rugby operates.

The need for rugby to work together now at local, national and world level for the survival of the game has never been greater.

Support

This is why I passionately believe that we must alert those in Wales who have the responsibility and ability to address these critical matters, know, that they have our support, confidence, and encouragement to do the right thing.

The eyes of the sporting world will be upon Wales and this review comes at a critical time for the game well beyond our borders.

Wales needs a unity of rugby purpose today more than at any other time in its history.

As the group chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union and the then Millennium Stadium for nine years from 2006 to 2015 I was fortunate to have worked with amazing people in Welsh rugby, many of whom are still doing great work for the game in Wales today, and I respect and care about them dearly.

They deserve our trust and support.

And it is incumbent for those of us outside of the game to support those who now must deal with an ever-changing rugby world and most importantly to respect the dignity of the game in deliberations and debate.

Now is the time for those who care about Welsh rugby’s future to come together and to support and to encourage those in charge, and to give them confidence to be bold and decisive, recognising that evolution will continue.

Over the past month I have had the privilege and pleasure of witnessing close the genius of Antoine Dupont at the European Rugby Cup Final, an extraordinary Gallagher Rugby Premiership Final with my two sons at Twickenham and most significantly a deeply moving charity fundraising evening at my boyhood club, Cefn Cribwr RFC, with Warren Gatland, sitting amongst childhood friends.

These three occasions vividly reminded me of why we all care about the game so much, why it is so magical and why we care about its future.

Rugby has and continues to give us so much pleasure; it is such a very special and precious game which brings us joy, fellowship, and friendship for life.

Deeply serious crossroad

But make no mistake, the game has arrived at a critical and deeply serious crossroad, and the past few months have brought into sharp relief many of the challenges rugby is facing across the world, not just in Wales.

The demise in England of Wasps, alongside Worcester and London Irish, was shocking, and last month’s announcement by Rugby Australia to drop the Melbourne Rebels, with debts exceeding 23 million Australian dollars, from Super Rugby, continues a concerning global trend.

The fact that the RFU have been unable to secure a TV deal for the Japan v England game this weekend is sobering news for all, and the once governance world rugby leader, New Zealand, is now embroiled in a bitter dispute with its professional players.

The list of world rugby challenges grows by the day and not just in Wales.

The call of the trumpet for positive and radical action in Welsh rugby is overwhelming. The need for a unity purpose between those in charge of all aspects of Welsh rugby is undeniable.

For all of us on the touchline and in the stand, we have a duty to support and encourage those who carry the burden of responsibility, and for us all to embrace the change they propose.

It’s easy to throw insults if you are not on the field, but for those men and women who must make the hard and difficult decisions they deserve our support, and we should stand by them in this most challenging of times.


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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
21 days ago

Scrap the Regions!
A failed 20 year experiment!
The Welsh public have no interest in them & Welsh Rugby has sunk to it’s lowest ebb, because of them.

They are not inclusive, meaning that the VAST majority of Welsh Rugby fans DO NOT identify nor support them.

Anything less than scrapping them, will lead to the death of Welsh Rugby.

Glyntwin
Glyntwin
21 days ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

No offense but why make such a negative comment without proposing your better solution? That is exactly the type of attitude that has been holding Welsh rugby back for decades, and is exactly the point of the article. Everyone just wants to moan and complain that whatever is proposed by the union, is wrong. What exactly do you propose instead of the Regions? The concept of the Regions is sound. Having four pro teams, one of which everyone in Wales can feel they belong to and each club in that Region being part of the feeder system, just like the… Read more »

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  Glyntwin

The so-called regions have held welsh rugby back for decades. They do not represent most welsh rugby fans. The rest of Gwent hate the Newport-Gwent Dragons, Pontypridd & the valleys hate the cardiff Blues, Port Talbot/Aberafan and recently Neath hate the Swansea Ospreys, and then there is the one trick pony, poor old Llanelli town. We have a chance to set up proper regions 20+ years ago, that would have been the best option, but the WRU screwed it up. That bird has flown. Now the best option, is more like the Welsh football model….scrap the regions, let the best… Read more »

Glyn Williams
Glyn Williams
21 days ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

“The rest of Gwent hate the Newport-Gwent Dragons, Pontypridd & the valleys hate the cardiff Blues, Port Talbot/Aberafan and recently Neath hate the Swansea Ospreys,…’. There’s that negativity again! Why hate them, support them. One of them represents you. What would the ‘proper regions’ have been in your view? I’m sure what we ended up with could have been improved on but there were a lot of people/clubs only looking after their self interest so the WRU are not entirely to blame.. Regardless, we are where we are. So surely we have to support our region, whoever they are, and… Read more »

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  Glyn Williams

I was a life long Aberafan fan…..the ospeys have speant over 20 years trying to kill rugby in PT!! They even drover past PT to play in bridgend FFS! Never forget they were previ/ously called the neath-Swansea Ospreys! They 2 main rivals of Aberafan. No way on earth I would support them.
The regions are not regions, just super-clubs!

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  Glyntwin

P.S. I have spent the last 40 years supporting my club. That has now come to an end because they have signed to be come nothing more than an Ospreys Development team in this new, nonsense Super Rygbi Cymru league.

Riki
Riki
21 days ago

Wales is an inherently Racist and sexist place, supposedly! So why would they care to play for that shirt? The WRU did more damage than they realise and it’ll take decades to recover from. Combine that will black of Talent and we up a creek without a paddle.

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