Sliding doors moment #45987

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The fallout from Wales’ heavy 10-34 defeat at the hands of Ireland at the Principality Stadium on Saturday will no doubt be wide ranging and robust across the country.

For the second year in a row the national team saw any pre-Six Nations hopes of a Grand Slam blown apart by Andy Farrell’s men, leaving many supporters looking more towards the wooden spoon than the Championship trophy. It was a sobering afternoon in Cardiff.

Focus will once again be on-the-field where Ireland consigned Wales to being second best in every single area of the game. Bullied up front, quicker to and more accurate at the breakdown on both sides of the ball, better organised defensively, better drilled at the set piece, more accurate in attack, clinical in the red zone, and able to exert more pressure through the kicking game.

It all added up to a first half where the men in green were totally dominant, taking a 3-27 lead into the sheds and having four points already in the back pocket and a try bonus point within reach. However, the focus should lay far beyond the confines of the Principality Stadium pitch, it should be on the management of professional rugby in Wales generally.

Once again we have come up against an Irish side that is a product of it’s world leading development pathway, particularly focused around the Leinster province and it’s number of fee-paying schools that the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) have worked with to ensure a conveyor belt of talent is being pumped out.

Aside from that though there is also a significant investment in the academy systems of the provinces, breaking that down to the U18s, U19s, U20s and Academies generally, ensuring provinces are able to contract and work with a good number of players in world class facilities and get them good quality game time.

A rough flick through the Ireland team that won in Cardiff on Saturday shows 14 of the 18 players in the matchday squad that were educated on the Emerald Isle attended fee-paying schools. The finances that follow this show the IRFU spending around 10.8million euros on elite player development across 2021/22.

This is then backed up by professional game costs of a separate 60.5million euros, which includes national team camps, costs and matchday costs, and crucially player and management costs with all players centrally contracted either directly with the IRFU or through the provincial branches.

All-in-all it’s a total spend of around 71 millions euros in the 21/22 reporting year on professional rugby.

Meanwhile in Wales the most recent annual report of the Welsh Rugby Union reveals a total spend of around £53million on payments to the four professional sides and operational costs of the national team, including money required to covered the losses made by the Union-owned Dragons.

That’s a £20million difference in spend across that 12 months, yet there are people out there who struggle to understand why the professional clubs are struggling to be competitive in the United Rugby Championship and European competition, and the national team has become increasingly uncompetitive in the Six Nations and against southern hemisphere opposition.

Finally, this is all then compounded by the details published in recent days of the heads of terms agreement signed by the PRB for the new payment model in Wales, not a funding model as the linked piece on WalesOnline erroneously refers to it as consistently.

The WRU under Steve Phillips’ disastrous leadership aimed to reduce payments by up to £10million per year to the professional clubs, ensure the Dragons returned to private ownership, lumber the businesses with more debt under-written by private benefactors, and continually leave the pro clubs unable to produce any medium term business plans due to the variable nature of the WRU’s profit margin having a direct impact on the size of the payments received.

Were this deal to be signed simply being beaten up in 40 minutes by Ireland would be the least of the worries faced by the Wales national team. Being competitive in the Six Nations would be a distant dream, Rugby World Cup knockout stages would be long forgotten about, and the prospect of getting close to southern hemisphere sides would be unthinkable.

Professional clubs would be so far off competing for the play-offs in the URC, and as the league switches to a fully meritocratic system for Heineken Champions Cup qualification, getting a seat the top table of European rugby would become nigh on impossible.

This is the road the previous regime in Wales has set the game in the country down. With Phillips gone, and Ieuan Evans hopefully counting his days as proposals to an EGM to be held in March include an independent Chair to be voted for by a new and qualified WRU board, the next u-turn has to be taken.

Investing in the professional game, and particularly the development pathway, has to become a priority. Facilities, coaching, player contract capacity and meaningful competition are at the top of the list, followed by adequate payments to the professional clubs to ensure talent is retained and squads can become competitive, as well as widening the national team pool.

We find ourselves at yet another crossroads here in Wales. There won’t be many left before the road runs out entirely. The WRU has to take the right turn.

One comment

  1. I think your report compares 73m euro to 53m GBP which is more like a £10m GBP gap but the points on structure are valid. Also while the game here In Ireland has principally been through fee paying schools the provinces are already ahead of this on outreach across schools and clubs identifying talent from U16 with centralised training etc.


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