A very unfunny Welsh farce
June 18, 2014
David Moffett arrives for the EGM where he was, John Taylor believes, 'his own worst enemy' © Twitter
The Extraordinary General Meeting of the WRU last Sunday was a classic of its kind, veering from the funny to the farcical before, predictably, petering out like a damp squib.
David Moffett, the former CEO, was the driving force but, having got the backing of 39 clubs and the four Regions to hold the WRU Board to account, nobody knew whether or not he was going to turn-up. Suddenly, in the middle of last week he closed his Twitter account and posted a message on his website saying, "This is my last communication".
However, come Sunday morning there he was, large as life and, initially at least, definitely in combative mood. The problem was that the agenda he had set consisted of nine points so diverse that nobody could support all of them but any voting had to be on the whole package.
The new league structure was obviously of huge concern to many junior clubs and was debated long and hard but by the time we got to the restructuring of the repayment of the debt on the Millennium Stadium, an issue where Moffett clearly believed he could score heavily, most delegates were exhausted.
There was huge sympathy and laughter when one declared: "It's Father's Day and my salad's in the oven - can we move on please." Lesson 1 Mr Moffett - club secretaries wrestle with micro-economics daily but they have little understanding or appetite for the macro-economics of the game.
If the Moffett sympathisers were to stand a chance they had to land some early, telling blows against the executive, particularly chairman, David Pickering and CEO, Roger Lewis, but most club representatives had arrived with their own agendas and were determined to make their point, even if it was totally irrelevant to the paragraph being discussed, so there was never any focused thrust to the criticism.
Moffett was his own worst enemy. First he tried to score a cheap shot by asking Pickering how much cash the WRU had in the bank at the moment. When Pickering consulted the chief financial officer sitting beside him Moffett tried to ridicule him for not knowing. It backfired spectacularly.
Later, he suddenly abandoned the point being discussed to ask what was happening about the Welsh language section of the web site, justifying it by saying he had promised to raise the matter on behalf of a couple of supportive clubs from Welsh speaking areas. The implication was that the WRU could not even be trusted to look after its cultural heritage.
As a New Zealander it was always a dangerous route to go down but he quickly turned it into a car crash. He received the most comprehensive answer of the whole meeting - the new, revamped, Welsh language section will be up and running in a few weeks - and Lewis (unsurprisingly) could not resist showing-off his own credentials by making some additional comments in Welsh. Inexplicably, Moffett chose to respond in Swahili and, in scenes reminiscent of Prime Minister's Question Time, was ridiculed by the whole room.
It was probably at that point he 'sniffed the breeze' as he chose to put it and realised that neither of his motions - that the WRU have not been acting in the best interests of Welsh Rugby and in particular the 320 clubs who are members of the WRU, and that the members of the Welsh Rugby Union have no confidence in the chairman and board of the Welsh Rugby union and of Millennium Stadium PLC - stood any chance of gaining majority support so suggested abandoning the remaining points on the agenda.
Procedural niceties meant we had to go through a voting process - a show of hands produced overwhelming support for the status quo - but a passionate closing speech from my old team-mate, Gerald Davies, now a WRU representative on the IRB and a former manager and chairman of the Lions, should prevent any gloating from Pickering, Lewis and Co.
He made it clear that the unrest was very real and seeing off Moffett should not be taken as a ringing endorsement of the WRU board, pointing out that we had been down the EGM route several times before - the last time in 2007 - but had never resolved the underlying problems which was why the discontent continued to fester.
Pickering insisted the WRU was "a listening union" eight times in his opening address but it was very clear from the subsequent contributions from the floor that few others believe that to be true.
It appears that the WRU will now be forced to rethink and consult fully on the new league structure and then ballot the clubs about the implementation - something that had clearly not taken place to the satisfaction of many clubs.
There is also the thorny issue of the Participation Agreement with the regions. With his trademark smile on full power Lewis tried to reassure everybody they are close to doing a deal but it is blindingly obvious that the directors of the companies that run the regions do not trust him an inch. They have complained that there has never been a proper dialogue - his threats to disband the Regions altogether and create new ones left a big scar - and they still see him very much as the problem not the solution.
Davies's speech was pretty pessimistic and damning. It also had a valedictory tone about it. Trust and unity were the two key words and although Lewis tried to endorse the sentiments and link himself to them few in the room had any doubts that Davies believes the executive brought this upon themselves.
Moffett might be history but this was no victory and should be seen as a last chance to really listen to its constituent members. It was definitely not a vote of confidence in the policies they have been pursuing.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist
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