Welsh Rugby Update 03.09.20


WRU Chairman Gareth Davies has urged clubs to act now, at a pivotal moment for the game in Wales, as he steels himself for upcoming National Council Elections, plus a warm welcome for interim CEO Steve Phillips, news of the new Community Rugby Strategy and much, much more in the latest WRU Status update...

At the risk of sounding like Bob Dylan, these are changing times.

I was extremely proud to announce Steve Phillips as our new interim chief executive this week after a series of rigorous interviews and a range of excellent candidates for the position Martyn Phillips will vacate after our AGM in October.

It became clear during the recruitment process that the uncertainty currently surrounding sport was a challenge, both for candidates and the Union.

We also discussed with Steve the fact that a possible new chairperson would more than likely prefer to appoint their own chief executive, I know I would.

Steve was fully supportive of this approach and this is the reason for appointing on an interim basis. He knows our business inside out and I believe this knowledge, combined with his track record with the Union and long-established strong relationships throughout the world game, ensure he is well placed to navigate the challenges ahead.

There is no doubt that the sports industry has been significantly impacted by the current pandemic. Steve has been at the forefront of our management of this challenging period. He is entirely familiar with the business, has impressed throughout the process and as such will ‘hit the ground running’.

We have made a ‘boot room’ appointment which offers stability to Welsh rugby in transient times and on this note I am also delighted to inform member clubs that our new Community Rugby Strategy is approaching its sign-off and roll-out stage. Club workshops were integral to us reaching this stage and clubs will continue to be consulted to fine-tune the strategy further.


This strategy will bring with it changes to the community game that will safeguard our long-term future together. The document has been 16 months in the making and has included consultations with Board members, District representatives, World Rugby, Sport Wales, schools, head teachers, players, key club representatives and our executive, council and Community Board.

Representations have been taken from the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Disability Sport Wales and Street Games.

A central question the strategy seeks to answer is: what does the successful, sustainable Welsh rugby club of the future look like?

The answer, in short, is that we truly have a game for everyone and we must ensure that the resources, expertise, personnel and planning is in place at all levels to maximise the potential of this fact. One of the key aspects is about encouraging more people to play in a variety of formats, plus we will have a new training and education work force to support not only coaches and referees but all volunteers, administrators, players and supporters. This includes developing a progressive pathway and framework for the mini, junior and adult game, increasing participation numbers and ensuring the competition model is right for the community game.

There is much more detail to come on the Community Rugby Strategy and clubs will continue to be an integral part of fine-tuning. Now Community Game Board approval has been realised for the first draft, the WRU Council and Board must be formally consulted. But I wanted to let member clubs know at the earliest opportunity that significant and exciting progress has been made.

We have said that we want to ensure all member clubs survive the current pandemic intact. We have made inroads into achieving this ambition, but we have also not rested on our laurels. There are changes to come, changes for the better that have been planned and researched in a structured way. Changes that will lift spirits as well as coffers, that will improve participation, raise standards, re-invigorate facilities, welcome the new and safeguard the old. Changes that will ensure Welsh rugby swims against the current tide, which has forced some of our number to stay in their homes, shelter and ultimately withdraw. Welsh rugby must not only stay afloat in these difficult times, it must will ride all of the waves coming its way and the Community Game Board is there to ensure that clubs are best equipped at every stage to do so.


To the immediate future, one more potentially imminent change will be directly influenced by the upcoming National Council elections. It is no secret that I am seeking to stand for a third and final term as a National Council Member and I have also offered my services to continue as chairman, if called upon during these unprecedented times. It is well documented that the one can’t follow without the other and if I am not re-elected to the Council a further change at the helm is inevitable. The Council consists of elected members from our clubs and districts and its role will be highly influential whatever happens next, but first clubs will speak.

Please read the documents you have been provided on each candidate and make your choice accordingly ahead of the fast approaching deadline of Friday 11th September. Of course, I would like you to vote for me. I’m standing for continuity, consistency, strength, stability and normality at a time when evolution could quickly turn to revolution, just a step away from imbalance, disruption and potential unrest. Without the right management during these unprecedented times we could so easily be put back, but I appeal to everyone to make your views known regardless of your preferred candidate.

Now is the time to speak up and exert your own influence on the future of our game. Now is the time for member clubs to act. To vote. On that note, I leave you with Dylan: …And you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’

Yours in rugby, Gareth Davies WRU chairman

Phillips appointed CEO

WRU Group finance director, Steve Phillips, will become interim chief executive officer of the Welsh Rugby Union when incumbent Martyn Phillips leaves the role after the next Annual General Meeting in October. Phillips will assume responsibility for the day to day running of the Union from 14th September, with the transition and hand over period between the two colleagues set to reach its conclusion in advance of the AGM, scheduled for Sunday 18th October.’

The current WRU GFD joined in 2007 from a similar role with TBI, one of the largest regional airport owners in the world.

In addition to managing the financial impact of the current pandemic on Welsh rugby, he has recently represented the WRU in discussions with CVC over their investment in the PRO14 competition and overseen The Westgate Hotel project, a joint venture between the Union, Celtic Manor Resort and property firm Rightacres. The WRU’s next chief executive spent ten years at TBI, playing active roles in the acquisition of airports in Belfast, Sweden, London Luton, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Australia and North America, before moving on to tackle Welsh Rugby’s finances.

In the 13 years since he first joined the Union he has filed a succession of Annual Reports charting a significant rise in the turnover of the WRU, which reached £90.5m in the accounts for the year ending 2019 and overseen the reduction of the company’s debt from in excess of £50m when he took over to an all-time low of £6.2m. These accounts also showed the WRU re-invested a record £49.6m (2018: £42.8m) across the game in Wales.

“It is both an honour and a privilege to take on this role and I am hugely confident about what the future holds for Welsh rugby,” said Phillips.

“Sport’s governing bodies have a broad remit and I relish the challenge of balancing the needs of the community clubs that are the lifeblood of our game with the ‘business’ of professional sport.

“I very much look forward to building on the solid foundations created by Martyn during his five year tenure and working with our staff, clubs, commercial partners and our wider stakeholder community in the coming months. There are undoubtedly tough times ahead but with the right planning, resource and strategies in place Welsh rugby will be in the very best position to not only continue to build sustainability but to also thrive in spite of the unprecedented challenges we face.”

Phillips trained with KPMG and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1989. He was previously Finance Director at the Tedcastle UK Group before joining TBI as Group Financial Controller and then Group Finance Director. He played rugby for Amman Valley Comprehensive School, Imperial College London, University of London and Amman United, where he captained the first XV. He was previously on the Dragons Rugby Board and is currently on the Boards of European Professional Club Rugby, Celtic Rugby DAC & Pro Rugby Championship DAC and the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) in Wales.

National Council Elections

Clubs will be aware that valid nominations have been received for Gareth Davies, Nigel Davies and Ieuan Evans as candidates for the available National Council Member role.

We would like to remind clubs that the deadline to vote in this election is 3pm on Friday 11th September and would encourage all clubs to submit their votes as soon as possible.

The available National Council Member role is an important position within the WRU’s governance structure, and the person appointed will be committed to making a difference to Welsh Rugby.

The National Council Member elected will be appointed to the WRU Council to hold office until the close of the Annual General Meeting held in 2023 and as they will serve on the WRU Council, will be in a position to be elected to the WRU Board as the relevant Directors’ terms are completed.

Profiles describing each candidate’s relevant experience and expertise to fulfil the available National Council Member role, as referenced against the Council Member Role Specification, have already been sent to clubs. For the overall benefit of Welsh rugby, we would encourage you to make as many people as possible within your Club aware of the information contained within the candidate profiles and the requirements of the available National Council Member role.

Please be satisfied that your Club’s chosen candidate has the relevant experience and expertise to fulfil the role of a Council Member, as referenced in the documents already provided.

To ensure that your Club’s vote is validly received and counted for the ongoing election process, please return your Club’s completed ballot paper to the WRU’s Independent Electoral Scrutineers (Walter Hunter & Co Limited) by email no later than 3pm on Friday 11 September 2020.

Return to rugby

The Welsh Rugby Union has announced measures to further progress the phased return of community rugby in Wales – while still taking a safety-first approach to the resumption of the grassroots game.

In line with Welsh Government guidance, the governing body has now sanctioned the inclusion of touch rugby activities as part of fitness and skills-based training sessions at all levels of the game in Wales. This is in addition to the tag and touch rugby already sanctioned for under 7s to under 11s.

We will continue to work closely with Welsh Government and Public Health Wales over the coming weeks as we lead into the next announcement expected in mid-September.

We have also confirmed we will not be returning to competitions in October, and remain committed to providing our players a six week lead time into contact rugby.

Online player registration continues to look healthy, especially in the minis and juniors sections of rugby clubs and coaching registration is vibrant too with almost 4,000 coaches and 30,000 players already signed up. The process has been slower for senior players and referees, but we expect that this is linked to the fact that competitions are net yet on in this area – but we will keep a careful eye here and react appropriately when necessary.

The professional game has returned safely to competitive rugby with the Welsh Derbies over recent weeks which is a credit to all involved in this area of the game. And, whilst we are not featuring the in the latter stages of PRO14, we have both the Dragons and Scarlets facing their quarter-finals in the Challenge Cup against Bristol and Toulon respectively. We have undertaken 1,962 tests to date with only one positive result which was managed swiftly and in line with our protocols and Public Health Wales and Government guidelines.

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