I would like to repeat my comments that we are hugely grateful for the support Welsh Government has provided to both the community and professional game in Wales to date; From the outset, which began last May, during negotiations for a funding package which would bring our game through this coronavirus pandemic intact, discussions have been positive, but also rigorous and detailed.
In consultation with Welsh Government, we acted quickly and found a solution – with a £20m CLBILS loan from NatWest providing the Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets security in the immediate term. This was at a time when government had other priorities, a direct focus on containment and saving lives around the country. Of course, subsequent to that, the £13.5m grant for the professional game has been both welcome and timely.
We of course know we will need more help and continue our constructive conversations about addressing the challenges, with our current loans in particular, but we will continue to work together with Welsh Government to achieve our stated aim of ensuring Welsh rugby survives the pandemic intact. We can now clearly see the way ahead.
I would like to stress we have taken the approach throughout the pandemic to be good citizens, to help ourselves wherever possible and to support both Welsh Government, and the communities around Wales which our club structure supports, in all measures to combat the virus. We have utilised and benefitted from a variety of government schemes, including the furlough scheme and a range of grants and other financial packages which have been available to help clubs in the community game to survive.
A much-publicised Welsh Rugby Union strategy ringfences funding for the community game and this approach has been fundamental to maintaining community clubs to this stage. This meant, due to damage done by the pandemic, there was an adverse impact on funding for our professional game. Welsh rugby joined the national campaign launched against the virus. Determined to help, not to burden, and to play whatever part we could in any solution. We provided premises with the Dragon’s Heart Hospital to be hosted at Principality Stadium, our National Squad training base at the Vale Resort was utilised in a similar way as were facilities at the Dragons, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets. Our community clubs rallied round too, not content with addressing their own struggles to survive they galvanised communities and embarked on fundraising activities and initiatives to support the NHS which made our game proud.
A final piece in the jigsaw for our professional game will now be to re-address the terms contained within the CLBILS loan. More favourable terms will allow our Regions the opportunity to not only consolidate but remain competitive when the current pandemic leaves us and create the necessary resources to ensure – our stated aim – that Welsh rugby at all levels, survives intact, is competitive and sustainable.
As to other topical matters, I have committed to keeping member clubs up to speed with all issues as and when matters progress and will attempt to address each in turn her:
· BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: we continue to explore the options available to the Lions given the obvious challenges presented by the pandemic and we hope to conclude those discussions later this month.
· SIX NATIONS: we continue to discuss with CVC the opportunity of them becoming our partners in the Six Nations and we are confident of a positive conclusion to this activity soon.
· RWC 2031: you may have read media speculation on the subject and we did explore with our colleagues in the IRFU, RFU and SRU the opportunity of a joint bid to host Rugby World Cup 2031, but this matter is not being presently progressed.
· RAINBOW CUP: the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup is an exciting prospect and will provide a ground-breaking spectacle for fans who will see international star players from north and south establish new rivalries in their bid for the ultimate Test selection; and we look forward to its arrival of South Africa’s four ‘Super’ teams.
· PROFESSIONAL RUGBY IN WALES: Together with our professional clubs, we are revisiting our current professional Rugby Strategy with a view to ensuring we are best placed when we emerge from the pandemic. More news on this will follow in the coming weeks.
· RECRUITMENT: we have commenced the process to fill the current vacancy for the role of Performance Director and we exploring all the options available to us
Meanwhile, I know the nation will find comfort in what they see before them this weekend – Wales kicking off their 2021 Guinness Six Nations campaign against Ireland at Principality Stadium – but of course there is still something wrong with this picture.
We had hoped our return to Principality Stadium would coincide with an improvement in circumstances on a national level in terms of the pandemic; that the transformation from Dragon’s Heart hospital back to rugby citadel would herald the return of our beloved Welsh rugby fans.
It seems we must wait longer than we had wanted or hoped, but we are thankful for what we have – the opportunity to play on. A lot of hard work has gone into ensuring we can do just that, and Wayne Pivac’s side can continue to represent the nation in this most historic of annual contests, and we are grateful to all who have contributed to putting on this spectacle.
I thank the players, coaches and staff from both sides for the dedication they have shown and the sacrifices they have made to ensure today’s match can go ahead safely. Our own staff at the WRU have of course also contributed significantly to ensuring normal service – as much as possible – can resume at Principality Stadium and I thank them too.
Also to the NHS staff, who spent more than six months on site at Principality Stadium before returning it to us as they had found it, the doctors, nurses, construction staff, administrators and, of course, the patients you will always be a part of the history of our great stadium and we like to think we may have helped to bring at least some light to some of the darkest of days.
Finally, from a CEO viewpoint, it is currently a fine balancing act between dealing with the here and now of the pandemic and looking ahead to our medium and long term objectives as a business. I would like to re-assure clubs and all stakeholders in our national game, that we are firmly focussed on both. We intend to ensure that Welsh rugby not only survives this pandemic intact, but is in a position to flourish both internationally and domestically once it is over. Enjoy the weekend of rugby ahead,
Steve Phillips WRU CEO.