What a difference a few weeks make! Even in the rapidly evolving world of Welsh rugby, the seismic changes at the top of the game such as those felt at this particular time are extremely rare occurrences. After the damp squib of the EGM in June, many who had called for change felt dejected, yet once the clubs had chosen to remove Chairman David Pickering in favour of Gareth Davies and Anthony Buchanan one could feel a shift in momentum was afoot. Now that Davies is the new Chairman, selected just days after joining the board, this can only mean that members are truly intent on root and branch reform, and those of us who have been pointing out this need for change for many months will feel these events vindicate our strong statements. On the opposite side however, those who have supported the Union’s stance to the hilt to this point, must be shifting uneasily as they wonder how the chips will fall.Gareth Davies is a strong leader, a man of great business acumen and a rugby man through and through. He is a true Welsh personality with striking linguistic skills and an endearing persona who called for change in both his role as Newport Gwent Dragons CEO and through the Regional Rugby Wales body, and now has the realistic potential to be the very catalyst for those changes that are so needed. In being prepared to join me on one of my IWRTV shows in May, he demonstrated his commitment to grassroots rugby, his forward thinking and above all his openness to discussion, a trait which has so obviously been lacking from the Union in recent times.Through his use of Social Media he becomes one of very few in the Welsh Rugby Union to embrace new technology and to engage with the general public on the issues surrounding the game. He has previously also used this platform to pronounce his views on the impotent Welsh media, stating that the only serious journalists are based in England. Sadly I anticipate the sucking up to Gareth Davies will have started already in the Cardiff press, but I am equally quite certain that Gareth will not be drawn in by this pitiful façade and will expose it for what it is. It will be interesting to see what alters now and whether non-mainstream media such as IWRTV, previously marginalised by the Union, will now be allowed to engage and assist with the promotion of the game, particularly at levels beneath the professional ranks.
Davies is a vociferous supporter of the grassroots of the game, understanding the importance of the junior levels in finding and nurturing the talent of the future having come through the ranks at Gwendraeth Grammar School and Tumble RFC himself. Whilst the Union has unashamedly concentrated most of its efforts on the revenue-making higher echelons of the game, those beneath have suffered from the neglect. Some clubs have withered and died, others have lost players and cut back on teams. Many have become disillusioned with the lack of support from above, especially on issues relating to the league restructuring which contributed to the call for the EGM. There are huge challenges at this level of our game, to restore the broken trust and to reverse the current trend dragging people away from the national sport of Wales, but these are challenges the new Chairman will tackle head on.
All of these matters will be however be played out in the first instance as sub-plots to the main event. The icy relationship between WRU Chief Executive Roger Lewis and Gareth Davies has just taken a dramatic twist and the end is surely nigh for the former. For all the recent on screen chummy chat, the months spent wrangling across negotiating tables or debating in television studios and all of the evasive smoke and mirrors, will not be forgotten. In short time, the regions have taken control of Welsh rugby, helping set-up their own competition, augmenting their funding and placing their own man at the helm, even in the face of countless political games and PR stunts. Now the tables have turned and the cosy Pickering-Lewis alliance has been broken, I see it as just a matter of time whilst the case builds and the noose tightens around Lewis’ neck. I am anticipating a case of “separation by mutual consent” sooner rather than later. And in my honest opinion, the sooner it happens the better.