A New Hope – for Welsh Rugby

I haven’t written on this blog for six months and to be fair there’s been a whole variety of reasons for that; work, university courses and of course going on and recovering from my Scarlets trips around Europe. All pretty standard.

There has however been another reason and that’s because since I started this blog in 2012, Welsh rugby has been on a pathway that seemed hell bent on disaster. It reached a peak last season with the bitter dispute between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four regions in the shape of Pro Rugby Wales (PRW), and the call of an EGM from the clubs around Wales.

What I found though was that the issues that were presenting themselves as problems last year, 2014, were the exact same issues that I had been raising and discussing all the way back in 2012. It was genuinely to disheartening to write and keep writing about the same problems with absolutely no prospect of change or resolution in sight.

A lot has been made out about Roger Lewis, the current CEO of the WRU, being one of the main issues with the game in Wales. Whether he was acting to orders from the board or simply sticking to a vision of his own, what did become clear was that he was a figure with whom negotiation and trust was not possible. Roger Lewis and the WRU also appeared to have an unhealthy control over the media output surrounding the whole sorry state of affairs which only helped to string out the painful dispute and create a large feeling of resentment amongst those Welsh rugby fans who could see past the paper thin shield of 6 Nations trophies to the real rugby problems beneath.

On February 19, 2013 I wrote this:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again; there is more to rugby in Wales than just Team Wales, and if Roger Lewis can’t see it then maybe it’s time to bring in someone who can. 

That was over TWO years ago.

It has taken until this week for it to be announced that Mr Lewis will finally be leaving his role as CEO at the end of this year’s Rugby World Cup. Who knows what difficulties have gone on behind the scenes for newly appointed Chairman Gareth Davies who took over the roll after the clubs finally saw the light and voted out Lewis’ biggest assistant David Pickering.

It is difficult to state to those outside of Welsh rugby just how much damage was done by the Lewis and Pickering led WRU over the last two years. Their objective would have been the four professional sides in Wales go to the wall. They have overseen a huge revolt from the lower leagues over what appears to be a rushed an ill thought out league restructure. The reputation of Welsh rugby globally is at an all-time low, or certainly in rugby administrative circles it appears to be.  It will in all honesty take years for the pro tier of rugby to recover.

Yet now with this announcement of Lewis’ departure we finally, FINALLY, can start to see the seeds of hope. Gareth Davies today published an open letter to all those interested in Welsh rugby. What is heartening to see is that any new CEO that comes in will have clear aims and objectives to adhere to. Davies is promising honesty and transparency for all of the WRU’s dealings – and how refreshing will that be after years of secrecy and half-truths?

I wrote this on June 7, 2014:

Maybe I should be able to push the politics aside and focus just on the rugby on the pitch, but when I see the game I love around me being torn to pieces by a governing body that simply doesn’t seem to care, as long as those at the top can keep their status quo then I find that I simply can’t.

It seems now, at last, that the desperate change required is coming. The removal of first David Pickering and now Roger Lewis is just the beginning though. There is still a lot of work to be done for the WRU to be brought up to the required standard. Past hurts and rifts will take a considerable amount of work to heal. And let’s not forget, this is the WRU, an institution that has resisted change at the very top of the gravy train for decades.

So I’m going to take this chance to give the WRU the benefit of the doubt, the chance to turn over a new leaf as it were, and to try and put the bitterness that has surrounded the game I love for more than three years aside. That’s not to say that I won’t have learnt a lot from the whole of this debacle.

First is that I have lost near all respect for the main media outlets in Wales. BBC Wales and Wales Online are going to have to go some way to repair their reputation and for one of those parties I can’t actually see that happening, their standards have slipped so low. Secondly is that Wales at the top echelon of media and business is all about self-preservation and  the desperate attempts to maintain a status quo that whilst it might see those individuals sitting pretty on top, it destroys and undermines everything underneath.

But with Gareth Davies’ open letter hope is on the horizon. So I’m going to dust of my Welsh rugby shirt, see the national team without the shackles of the WRU gravy train clinging on to it, and enjoy international rugby anew.

Ymlaen Cymru.

(If anyone wants to read the open letter it can be found via the South Wales Argus here: http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/sport/11825240.Open_letter_from_ex_Dragons_chief__Gareth_Davies/ )