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Steve Phillips talks ‘sport’, loans and a long-term vision in latest ‘Update’

Steve Phillips talks ‘sport’, loans and a long-term vision in latest ‘Update’

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WRU CEO Steve Phillips looks forwards to a return to rugby for the community game, confirms how the new £20m CLBILS loan will be distributed and provides news from the Wales camp and much more in the latest WRU Status Update:

Firstly, a huge thank you to all members who attended our Annual General Meeting last week and especially to those who submitted questions and/or contributed feedback afterwards. Driven by circumstance, it was the first time we have conducted this meeting online and, whilst not a substitute for meeting in person, I felt there were hugely positive elements to the process which we hope to continue to utilise in the future. 

Thanks also to Gerald Davies, who spoke so eloquently about our national game and with the gravitas that befits his position as our President and figurehead; his interaction with Rhodri Lewis in chairing the meeting was something to behold. For anyone who missed the meeting, Gerald’s comments about how the word ‘sport’ in the Welsh language – which contains an element of enjoyment or fun in its definition – so aligns with our own vision for Welsh Rugby in general, were a real treat for all of us listening. 

Our community game has felt the brunt force of the pandemic once again during the two-week firebreak lockdown, but we are pleased to see measures set to be lifted and there is more important information on this from our Community Team below. It is our hope that soon the ‘fun’ can return and our clubs can get back to doing what they are best at, in safe environments. 

There is also extremely good news below for the regional game, with CLBILS loan money now immediately available with the direct aim of sustaining Wales’ four regional sides – Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets – through the pandemic for the 2020/21 season.  We have been engaged in healthy discussions with NatWest Cymru and ended up with a sensible solution which we are all very pleased about and very grateful to NatWest Cymru for. 

It has been the Professional Rugby Board’s (PRB) role to establish a consensus amongst our regional sides concerning the allocation of the money. The easiest thing to do would have been to split £20m four ways, but it is to everyone’s credit that we have come up with a much more appropriate solution than that.  The four regions are all at different stages and their needs differ accordingly. So, the PRB has done what it is set up to do and brokered a solution that suits all four entities.  We have ended up with fair and sensible allocation rather than equal for the sake of being able to say ‘equal’ and it is a solution for which I think all parties should be commended.

Wayne Pivac is a man with a long-term vision and it’s one that will be shared throughout Welsh Rugby.  That vision is for our nation to succeed at the Rugby World Cup in 2023. This doesn’t mean there aren’t immediate short and medium-term goals and losing matches is never on the check list.  But, having already established a top four seeding at the 2023 tournament, some of the pressure on results necessarily abates. 

During our recent regular meetings, Wayne has been open and honest in his assessment of performances on the pitch, but there has now been a “line drawn in the sand” in camp and the forthcoming Autumn Nations Cup provides new opportunity for both development and progress.  Performances may not have been as Wayne has wanted for his talented squad, nor indeed what he knows is achievable.

But there is nothing better after a setback than to be immediately presented with the opportunity to re-set and improve on what has gone before. 
Against Ireland in a fortnight’s time, Wales will kick-off a new and exciting tournament, one in which players – some new and others becoming established – will gain immeasurably from the experience and where we will be striving for significant improvements in both performances and results.  We will need to create the momentum to ensure we realise our full potential and deliver during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations campaign in the New Year. 

Stay safe. 

Steve Phillips 

Return to rugby 
Clubs, teams and Female Hubs in all local authorities can return to community rugby activity upon the lifting of the firebreak lockdown in Wales on Monday 9th November. 
They will be able to bring back skills and fitness-based activities with a touch or tag element, whilst following the same strict Covid-19 protocols and measures in place prior to the Firebreak and outside of any local lockdown temporary suspensions.  There will be no travel restrictions in place in Wales meaning that all players and coaches may participate in community rugby training providing they complete the symptom checker on the WRU Game Locker ahead of each training session and comply with all track and trace requirements. We have provided Club Operations Managers with additional support in this area and will communicate with them ahead of Monday once we have received the updated guidance document from Welsh Government. 
We are also currently working with government, our insurers and other partners to explore how our game may develop over coming months, dependent on the public health situation. 

NatWest Cymru Loan Lands for Regions
The Welsh Rugby Union has completed the agreements with the four Regions to onward lend the £20m loan Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) from NatWest Cymru. 
The WRU’s appointed banker granted final approval for CLBILS funding earlier in October and the agreements with the Regions mean this money can now be onward lent. 
The money has been sourced with the direct aim of sustaining Wales’ four regional sides – Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets – for the 2020/21 season.  
It is needed because of the negative impact the ongoing pandemic has had on the ability of each business to generate revenue in the usual way. 
The allocation of the CLBILS funds has been determined by each region, working together in the PRB and agreed collectively, what they each needed to bridge the challenges of this current season.
The £20m loan agreement is between the WRU and NatWest Cymru, with the money onward lent to each individual region with the terms of the agreements between the WRU and the regions reflecting the terms of the original loan. 
Cardiff Blues are set to receive £5.0m, the Dragons £4.5m, the Ospreys £5.0m and the Scarlets £5.5m. 
“We are extremely grateful to NatWest Cymru for supporting professional rugby in Wales with this hugely significant contribution to our sustainability for the year ahead,” said PRB chair Amanda Blanc. 
“PRB members have engaged in open discussions about the allocation of funds according to the individual and different needs of each entity. 
“This is precisely what the PRB is here to do, to manage, facilitate and enable professional rugby in Wales and to sustain all five professional entities in accordance to the needs of each at a given time. 
“For a region to accept and vote through a decision which gives themselves less funding than a neighbour, but for justifiable and entirely explicable reasons, shows the PRB working at its finest.” 
NatWest Cymru was officially appointed as banker to the WRU in March 2019, in a deal which provided a c.£40m funding package at the time, including revolving credit facilities to support earnings enhancing capital expenditure and ongoing working capital needs. 
“The global pandemic has created unprecedented economic challenges to many sectors, none more so than events and hospitality,” said Stuart Allison, who is a Director with NatWest Cymru.
“In 2019 we structured a financing arrangement designed to facilitate growth and revenue diversification. 
“In response to the immediate challenges of the pandemic we revisited that arrangement and crafted a structure that will provide additional funding and flexibility to further support the Welsh Rugby Union and, in turn, professional rugby in Wales with this loan. 
“As the game’s governing body in Wales, the WRU is working to ensure it is in the strongest position possible to build stability and success in both the professional and the community game.
“We are confident that these funds will be utilised to maximum effect to help to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic and are pleased to be able to offer our support.” 
CLBILS is a government scheme designed to facilitate access to finance for medium-sized and larger businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak.  Terms give the lender a government-backed partial guarantee (80%) against the outstanding balance of the facility, but the borrower remains fully liable for the debt.

Bobby’s fitness for all videos are online now 
The Wales squad’s (and former time British & Irish Lions’) strength and conditioning coach Paul ‘Bobby’ Stridgeon has produced a series of videos outlining training sessions for all ages and abilities with the help of international players Gareth Davies, Manon Johnes and Kayleigh Powell. 
Bobby says aerobic and anaerobic training are important factors in any training programme and a local pitch or rugby pitch are all you need to begin his sessions. 
Gareth and Manon go through his first sessions and get involved now, here: 

5.     Rugby news

New Panteg head coach Wes Cunliffe insists Welsh rugby saved him from a life of crime and believes it has a lot to offer many others in his situation.
The well-loved Premiership back, who has played for Ebbw Vale, Newport and Cross Keys and hopes to represent Swansea when rugby resumes, makes no bones about the role rugby played in turning his life around.
As a teenager growing up in the Pill and Dyffryn areas of Newport, Wes became caught up in a spiral of lawbreaking until local police officer Darren Morgan introduced him to St Joseph’s RFC and advised him to put his boundless energy and obvious athleticism to good use.
The rest as they say is history and Wesley credits the sport, and in particular the people and welcoming environments he encountered in rugby clubs throughout Gwent for providing the positive and supporting influence he needed. 
“When Ebbw Vale offered me my first contract, my grandad sat me down, told me I could be in prison or worse and this was my chance to get out of that life for good…” he said. 
“…At New Panteg, we welcome all people at the club and I think that’s the same for the vast majority of Welsh rugby clubs. It’s important to get that message out. Rugby is for all, regardless of your shape, size, race, colour or sexual orientations.” 

It’s the end of an era for the Pembroke and District Rugby Union following confirmation that Charles Davies, who has served nobly as secretary since 1984, has stepped down.
At the union’s virtual AGM last night Davies, who gave notice in late 2019 that he would only be serving for one more year, welcomed Whitland RFC stalwart Suzanne Davies in as his replacement.
She will become just the third secretary to serve since the Second World War, with Glyn Morgan serving for almost four decades himself prior to Davies doing his 36 year stint.
Steve Holmes (Chairman), Brian Davies (President), and Delyth Summons (Treasurer) will all continue in their current roles.
(With thanks to Fraser Watson at Western Telegraph): 

The Welsh Premiership has produced its fair share of Welsh internationals, but last weekend it was able to boast a third Heineken Champions Cup winner.
And having joined Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams in picking up the ultimate honour in club rugby in the northern hemisphere, Tom O’Flaherty is hoping to double up with Exeter Chiefs by adding the Gallagher Premiership title at Twickenham this weekend.
Last weekend’s European winner’s medal from the win over Racing 92 already sits alongside his two Daily Mail National U18 Schools titles, the WRU National Cup winner’s medal from 2015, when he was in the Bridgend Ravens side that beat Pontypridd at Principality Stadium, and an Anglo-Welsh Cup winner’s medal from 2018 with the Chiefs.
The 26-year-old Lambeth-born, former Cardiff University student has come a long way in a short time. It may have been a rather circuitous route to the top, but for now at least the sky seems to be the limit for the flying Chiefs wing.
From being a highly rated scrum half at Dulwich College, he played for Blackheath, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Montpellier Academy, Bridgend and the Ospreys before signing for the Chiefs in 2017. He held off the challenge of former Wales and British & Irish Lions wing Alex Cuthbert to play in the showpiece final at Ashton Gate. 
More here:  

Sam Parry is the latest Coleg Sir Gar product to graduate to full honours with Wales.
Ospreys hooker Parry made his Test debut in the friendly defeat by France last weekend, his appearance off the bench in Paris continuing Sir Gar’s proud history of producing international players. In Wayne Pivac’s current Wales squad for the 2020 autumn campaign, Gareth Davies, Samson Lee, Ryan Elias, Josh Adams and Parry have all come through the Sir Gar system.
All five were involved against France.
The college’s director of rugby Euros Evans has also helped the likes of Scott Williams and Aled Davies and in the past Adam Jones and Rob McCusker pull on the Three Feathers.
It was under the guidance of Evans that Parry made the switch from the back-row to hooker, a decision which has ultimately helped him to represent his country.
More here:

Peter Williams, who helped coach two of the most successful Welsh Schools U18 teams, died last month after a short illness.
He was the assistant coach to John Huw Williams on the tour to New Zealand in 1990, when Wales beat the young All Blacks 17-11 in Christchurch, and was head coach four years later when Gethin Watts’ side went to Australia and won 19-12.
Scott Quinnell and Andrew Lewis went on to play for Wales from the 1990 team in New Zealand, while the Class of ’94 in Australia contained future caps in Martyn Williams, Nathan Thoms, James Richards, Chris Anthony, Nick Walne, Jon Funnell and Leigh Davies.
The brother of former Llanelli, Wales and British & Irish Lions wing JJ Williams, he trained as a teacher at Caerleon College of Education after leaving Maesteg Grammar School. As well as being a good rugby player, he also won the Welsh Schools and Welsh AAA Junior Men’s triple jump titles in 1959.

6.     Finally… Gerald on JJ 
Our President Gerald Davies has followed tributes to the late JJ Williams, who passed away last week, with some carefully chosen words of his own: 
“JJ Williams was one of those rare sportsmen, rarer still in this day and age, if at all, to make a hugely successful transition from one sport to another.
From a Welsh International athlete performing in the sprints in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh (1970), to becoming a fully-fledged rugby player for Wales and the Lions. Brilliant, truly brilliant, in both. One of the very best of wingers in whom you could feel confident as a match winner.
Although, in expectation, there appears to be very little in it, in replacing spikes for the studded rugby boot, there is in fact, a significant difference. To run in straight lines on the synthetic surface, with no hindrance, is quite a different prospect to running with soil clinging to the soles of your feet, a ball in hand, looking to left and right, and chased by any number of people trying to stop you…He was comfortable in his stride. Always giving the impression of being unhurried, in control. So good to watch…
He was truly a lovely man, a great friend and companion who has left us all with a memorable legacy.” 
More from Gerald here:

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Steve Phillips talks ‘sport’, loans and a long-term vision in latest ‘Update’