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Welsh fan psyche to blame

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'Let's face it, rugby is no longer the national game of Wales'

Sardis Road might just be the last place you would expect to bump into David Moffett.

In 2004 it was Moffett who, in his role as Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chief executive, oversaw the disbanding of the Celtic Warriors and made himself public enemy number one for rugby fans in Pontypridd. For some, the hurt of watching the team go to the wall still lingers.

But a decade on from the Warriors’ demise the Doncaster-born businessman, who was in the midst of a failed attempt to return to the WRU as chairman, took up an invitation to the famous old ground from a “died in the wool” Ponty fan who had become a friend.

“I actually went and stood in the shed,” Moffett tells RugbyPass.

“People gave me the time of day, [but] they called me all the names under the sun.

“I said, ‘fair enough, mate but you went broke’.”

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Moffett had initially arrived in Wales midway through the 2002-03 season with the domestic game at a crossroads and became the architect of regional rugby’s introduction.

He had proposed a four-team solution – which included a side based in the north – but says the threat of legal action from Cardiff and Llanelli if they were forced to merge with other clubs, forced his and the WRU’s hand.

Five Welsh regions competed in the 2003-04 Celtic League and Heineken Cup before the Warriors departed at the end of that season to leave the four that, for the time being, remain.

David Moffett, former WRU CEO

“When I first got there I suggested that there should be four teams. One from the north, east, south and west,” Moffett explains.

“But of course, and I know where I got diverted, under the loyalty agreements, Cardiff and Llanelli threatened to sue the union if we forced them into an amalgamation.

“They were the only two clubs that didn’t actually form an amalgamation with any of the other clubs, and that was because they wanted to sit on their own hands.”

Although the prospect of a region in north Wales now appears to be back on the table, Moffett believes it would be a travesty if it was the Ospreys that made way.

“Even now, for [the Cardiff Blues and Scarlets] to be rewarded with ‘super club’ status instead of the other two regions, especially, the Ospreys,” he adds. “They’ve been the best-performing region, they’ve done the right thing by regional rugby.

“It would be an utter disgrace to reward Llanelli and Cardiff as the two-plus-two option, if that’s what they’re promoting.

The Ospreys after their home loss to Worcester Warriors (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

“Can you imagine what that will do to the Ospreys supporters? They’ll just turn off and watch football. Let’s face it, rugby is no longer the national game of Wales.”

Moffett says that his biggest regret from his time at the WRU is “not understanding, to the extent that I needed to, the psyche of the Welsh rugby supporter”.

But he claims the reasons regional rugby has failed in Wales are primarily two-fold; financial mismanagement at the union under Roger Lewis and David Pickering, and the insularity of supporters in the country.

And he believes the latter could prevent a solution from being found to the current impasse.

Manu Tuilagi of Leicester Tigers is tackled by Gareth Davies (L) and Ioan Nicholas during the Champions Cup match between Leicester Tigers and Scarlets at Welford Road. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“After about four years it became fairly apparent that [the regions] just were not going to be able to break through the parochialism and stubbornness of the average Welsh rugby fan,” Moffett says.

“And unfortunately Welsh rugby fans believe that they are the only parochial rugby fans in the world, and that’s not right. They don’t have a mortgage on parochialism.

“In New Zealand there’s just as much… but they put the game first. They don’t put the game first in Wales unfortunately.

“Having 20/20 [vision] is always good in insight but nobody did anything – especially Lewis as chief executive officer – he did nothing in the time that he was there to fully understand the situation that was developing and then do something to fix it.”

Wales, seen here lining up before last November’s match versus Scotland (Getty Images)

Moffett cites social and economic changes to life in South Wales as factors in the ongoing struggles faced by the regions.

He adds: “That psyche of the Welsh rugby supporter hasn’t changed – and it won’t change.

“I can’t see how you can change it. When you’ve got guys still saying on Twitter and other places that Pontypridd should have a professional team there, then you’ve got no chance.”

Moffett believes that the WRU would have been in a better position to deal with the problems associated with regional rugby – while funding the community game – had Lewis and Pickering not made the decision to repay the union’s existing debt early.

“They could have fixed it when they were awash with cash, as Lewis said ‘Ah, we had to do something with all this cash’,” he says.

“No, they didn’t [have to]. Bloody sit on it and make it grow.”

Moffett laid out his plans to save regional rugby in his 2014 manifesto ahead of the WRU EGM he forced that year. The ‘Moffesto’ included some recommendations that have since come to fruition, including selling the Principality Stadium naming rights.

The Millenium Stadium in Cardiff

Current WRU chairman Gareth Davies was also blocked in his attempts to implement another, swapping the union’s district system for five regional boards. According to Moffett, this would put the teams at the heart of their regions and provide the “proper identity” they need to survive.

But if regional rugby in Wales is to do that, let alone prosper, then the former WRU chief executive believes the union should look beyond the PRO14.

Moffett is confident the “fortunes of Welsh rugby would be entirely different” had the clubs joined the English league system following the rebel season of 1998-99.

“Even now, were it not for the fact that the English Premiership is full of selfish and inward looking people, they would look around them and say ‘what are we doing to this game?’,” he says.

“They need to understand that unless they embrace what’s good for the game rather than themselves [rugby] is going to become an ever tightening niche sport.

Cardiff Blues star Josh Navidi. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“I can see a time coming, to be perfectly honest with you, where the only competitions worth anything and worth playing in are going to be the Top 14 and the English Premiership.”

Moffett left Wales in 2005 because he “didn’t have the inclination for another fight” but the 69-year-old hinted that he might have found a second, or third, wind.

“I’d be more than happy to go across there and help them in a very positive way,” he admits. “Last time I was there I was very negative about Welsh rugby and I did that for a reason.

“But I’d be more than happy, because nobody there has been through what I’ve been through.”

Moffett adds: “It can be solved but the one thing you can’t solve is, you can’t make people watch something they don’t want to watch.”

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'Let's face it, rugby is no longer the national game of Wales'