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'I was a 1990's Welsh version of Simon Cowell!'

By Paul Smith
Linesman Roger Duhau gets a good grip of Llanelli's Rupert Moon (Photo by Mike Egerton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

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Professional rugby union is into its second quarter-century and looking back over that period a few key off-field figures have spearheaded the transition from amateur sport to commercially-minded business.

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Unquestionably in Wales this list includes a former international and Llanelli Scarlets scrum half who since hanging up his boots in 2002 has held three of the biggest jobs in Welsh rugby.

Rupert Henry St John Barker Moon played nearly 300 games for his club plus 24 for his country in a storied career that spanned the amateur and professional eras.

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And since swapping scarlet for pinstripes he has gone on to head the WRU and Millenium Stadium’s commercial team, being a driving force in the Scarlets’ transition from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets and set up RGC – the regional rugby team based in North Wales.

Moon’s training for the business world was somewhat unusual, however, since any spare time during his playing days was filled not by study or work experience but – in his own words – “by being a 1990’s Welsh version of Simon Cowell!”

“When I became captain of Llanelli I was thrust into doing after-match interviews,” he explains.

“Through that connection I was asked if I fancied doing some TV work. Looking back, it was probably because I looked a bit like Jimmy Nail and had a funny surname!

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“It was all a bit surreal as it wasn’t about sport; instead I did an hour-long live quiz programme on ITV Wales. I was in a TV studio from 8am on a Sunday morning for make-up and hair, then doing rehearsals before the show was filmed in front of a live audience.

“It was completely bizarre as with no training whatsoever I was doing live TV but it was a great initiation as after that you don’t fear anything.

“It led me on to other media jobs. I worked for Radio Wales and also did a TV talent show called Moon and Stars which led on to Over the Moon and the Moon and the Stars.

“I had a good run but eventually I think they ran out of show name puns!”

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Welsh rugby’s professional era has brought a number of big-name Southern Hemisphere figures to the helm of the national team and Moon says he was fortunate to work for the first of these.

“Graham Henry brought me back into the Wales squad in 1999 and 2001 when Rob Howley had a few injuries and Granny Gate was going on,” he recalls.

“I built a really good relationship with him, and when the time arrived to hand the baton on to Dwayne Peel and Mike Phillips he asked me to stay on and work with him and Steve Hanson.

“Graham and Steve were very much ahead of their time and wanted to understand players outside the rugby environment. They thought knowing about their backgrounds and what they did and didn’t like would help bring the best out of them on matchday.

“I was the guy who had to get to know everyone, help the coaches understand the individuals and also help the players look to their future lives after rugby.

“I really enjoyed working with Graham and Steve. Along with Andrew Hoare and Scott Johnson they changed the face of Welsh rugby by dreaming bigger and giving everyone huge amounts of confidence.”

After a four-year spell working for the WRU in a joint role encompassing the commercial side of the Millenium Stadium Moon was advised by then CEO Roger Lewis to get some experience outside rugby which he achieved in the insurance sector.

But rugby was never far from his thoughts and in 2009 Moon returned to his roots.

“I had a very blunt call from the Scarlets telling me they needed me to help them develop Parc y Scarlets into their new home,” he recalls.

“I’d previously helped the Chief Exec when we were leaving Stradey Park by going door-to-door with him in the evenings explaining to the local people who weren’t thrilled about the ground becoming a new housing estate why we were leaving.

“The Scarlets were losing lots of millions and we mobilised a group of people to develop young talent on and off the field as we couldn’t afford any other way of doing it.

“After a few years we had the debt under £1 million and with professional rugby being a loss leader that was as good as we could hope for.

“That was when Roger Lewis called me again and asked me to help with the challenge of growing rugby in North Wales.

“It meant spending loads of time away from home, but it was an incredible life experience to try and mobilise a third of the population behind a team which we literally started with nothing other than the coaches – Phil Davies then Mark Jones – who were fantastic.

“We literally did everything from sweeping the dressing rooms onwards but so much talent has since come from there – Sean Lonsdale, James Laing, Olly Cracknell to name a few – it has been really satisfying.”

Moon returned to West Wales and a career away from rugby in 2016. His involvement with a range of charities punctuates our conversation – with roles as a Patron of Tenovus Cancer Care and the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust prominent – but it is his passion for rugby, Llanelli and Wales that leaves the strongest impression.

He says: “I still meet Gareth Jenkins every couple of weeks – he’s like my adopted father! We have a coffee and chew the fat and he’s a great friend to me.

“I also speak to a core of other guys including Phil and Nigel Davies and my godson Billy McBride, whose Dad Robin is one of my best mates, plays as does my son. My involvement with his junior rugby means I’ve now been involved at every level of the game and still really love every aspect of it and what it brings.”

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'I was a 1990's Welsh version of Simon Cowell!'

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