In what has been the craziest of years, Welsh rugby still manages to plant itself right at the top of the list of crazy outgoings, continually bashing it’s head against a wall in the hope of one day having a brainwave.
We are now just two weeks away from the Guinness Pro12/14/Rainbow Cup season coming to an end, and yet not one of the Welsh professional sides can confidently tell you what their playing budget is for next season’s Guinness Pro12/14/16 as they try to build a squad that can cut the gap on the Irish sides in the league, and the English and French sides in European competition.
That of course comes on the back of a huge cut in payments received from the Welsh Rugby Union due to the covid-19 pandemic, as well as the clubs’ own downturn in revenues, leaving all four crowded around the same begging bowl.
Being stuck in that situation is not a good place to be, but the annoying aspect to the situation is that the path out of it is a fairly obvious one. You’ve got a plethora of high quality business and sports administration experience across the four businesses and through the “independent” and non-executive members of boards who could run the professional aspect of Welsh rugby to a high level.
Between them they create a Welsh version of the English PRL; driving commercial revenue, receiving all competition income and ensuring the clubs can be as close to competitive as possible, while ensuring an agreed figure is paid to what becomes essentially a Welsh Amateur Rugby Union headed by the club men, Rob Butcher for example, from the WRU Council.
Instead of concentrating all their efforts in working together to ensure that solution becomes a reality, the four sides get far too easily distracted by in-fighting, arguing over the last biscuit in the packet while the WRU sit back and laugh as they line their pockets and watch pro rugby in Wales drive itself into the ground.
Just in the last year we’ve seen the Dragons reneging on a PRB agreement not to make any new signings last summer, then the Scarlets and Cardiff going head-to-head over the tapping up of Dwayne Peel, before “a PRB source”, that is suspiciously Ospreylian, spoke to journalist Rob Cole about a fictitious situation that the Cardiff plan to run the Rags as the Rags was somehow under threat.
There are then the constant negotiations over particularly player wage banding, with appeals after appeals going before the meetings, and then by the time that is all dealt with and the subject matter of future governance of Welsh rugby could come up, the meetings are presumably over.
With the Dragons reportedly soon to be taken into private ownership, and that hopefully being 100% private rather than the previous 50/50 arrangement that preceded the WRU buy-out, the four clubs should be even stronger on the PRB, but it will rely on them working together first, rather than battling each other at every opportunity.
The WRU, run by a Geography teacher and an accountant, should then be in the sights of top quality businessmen like David Buttress, Rob Davies and Simon Muderack, and experienced lawyer Alun Jones, in order to ensure an improvement in professional club rugby, a knock-on effect on the international game, and then a further knock-on positive impact on the women’s and community game.
Yes, there is a strength in independence in professional sport, but to get there in Welsh rugby it’s going to take a collaborative approach, not constantly going for each other in the neck.