- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
- Categories: Assembly Speeches, Latest News, Press Releases
MIKE HEDGES AM PRAISES MORRISTON RFC AT WELSH ASSEMBLY DURING DEBATE ON RUGBY.
Speaking after the debate, Local Am Mike Hedges said…. It was a huge national boost for everyone with Wales winning the grand slam, but many clubs, including some in my Swansea East Constituency are struggling for players; there are some beacons which offer hope for the future. Morriston RFC which is my local club are such an example. They have a fantastic youth set up and on the weekends groups of parents give up their time to help their youngsters play rugby – right from toddlers to older teens, the club is thriving. As I mentioned in my speech, there are challenges facing club rugby when young people get to their older teen years.
I want to pay tribute to the parents at Morriston and other local teams in Swansea who put so much time and effort into running youth rugby.
We all need to do whatever we can at every level to ensure that the drop off at the transition point from youth to senior rugby is arrested. We need to encourage adults to participate in Rugby, both as players and spectators. We need to get people supporting the local teams close to their homes. I enjoyed my afternoon at Glais RFC last week and I urge everyone to get down to their local club and support it!’
It’s always difficult when you come third to speak on one of these debates. Can I just say I agree with everything Andrew R.T. Davies and Dai Lloyd have said? That’s a good place to start.273
Can I talk about three positives of Welsh rugby? We’ve got a very successful national team and a very well-supported national team. The Millennium Stadium can sell out for all internationals, even if the autumn international tickets sometimes need to be bundled in order to sell them all. There’s huge enthusiasm and participation in mini and junior rugby. My local club, Morriston, has junior teams at under 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and mini rugby teams at 10, nine, eight, seven and rugby tots. You’d think that there’ll be 11 teams in 11 years’ time. I tell you now, they’ll be struggling to get two.274
The final success is women’s rugby that has grown both in international attendance—4,113 for Wales versus England—and in the number of women’s teams playing. Another team in my constituency, Bonymaen, have an outstanding women’s rugby team.275
Now, looking at the first problem facing Welsh rugby, using publicly available figures, the Dragons’ average crowd was 5,083 in 2015-16 and fell to 4,700 in 2017-18. The Blues’ went from 5,942 to a slight increase of 6,193. The Ospreys’ fell from 8,486 to 6,849, but still more than the other two. And Scarlets’ have gone from 7,290 to 9,256. The average attendance at two regions is going down; not one region has an average attendance above 10,000. The English rugby premiership is averaging over 12,000. Bordeaux averages over 23,900, Leinster averages over 15,500. Seventy-four and a half thousand turned up at the Millennium, and over a million watched Wales beat Ireland—as David Lloyd I think might’ve mentioned once—for Wales to win the Grand Slam. And then, only just over 8,000 turned up the following week to watch the Ospreys versus the Dragons.276
I asked someone who said they were a rugby fan who they supported, they replied, ‘Wales’. When I asked them who else they supported, the question they found absolutely bemusing and said, ‘Well, just Wales, of course.’ I was trying to get across the point that if you had that conversation with a football fan—if I asked a football fan in Swansea, ‘Who do you support?’, they’d name the team—hopefully Swansea City—and then they’d say, ‘Wales’. They seem to associate with both their club and the country. Far too many people who describe themselves as rugby fans solely associate themselves with the country.277
Again, according to published sources, the top 14 clubs in France have a tv deal worth £76 million per season. English rugby has a deal worth £38 million per season, and Welsh rugby is part of a £14 million per year contract. It’s easy to see where the problems lie. So, regional rugby suffers from low attendance, relatively poor tv income and is trying to compete with France and England for the best Welsh players. Are the regions in the right places? The Blues, Ospreys and Dragons are in the three largest population centres, whilst the Scarlets cover mid and west Wales and, theoretically, north Wales. Where else could you put them?278
Scotland has reduced to two teams. We could have a west Wales team and an east Wales team. What regional rugby has taught us is that merging two teams does not produce an attendance anywhere near the sum of the teams being merged. It’s considered a takeover by the fans of one of the teams and they find something else to do on a weekend rather than watch live rugby.279
What traditionally would have been done would have been to build a new stadium, a new playing surface, and everything would be wonderful—’We’ll get more people there.’ Well, the Ospreys and Scarlets have relatively new stadiums and they have good playing surfaces. The only way at the moment to generate more income in Welsh rugby currently is to play more internationals. That’s why we played the fourth autumn international when everybody else only plays three. We need the money.280
The second problem with Welsh rugby is, firstly, how few teams below the first division have second a team. Does any club below the first division run a third team? And the number of players who stop playing between the ages of 16 and 19—. What the Welsh Government can do is limited. What we can do is to go out and support our local teams. Last Saturday, I saw Glais versus Penlan alongside 52 other people—possibly the two worst teams playing in Welsh rugby. Glais started the match with -9 points; they’re now up to -5. And Penlan started with -1. But we need to get people out there watching rugby. The Welsh Rugby Union and others, including ourselves, need to get across the point that rugby is not internationals, it’s not winning the Grand Slam, it’s not the autumn internationals—it’s those games that are played every Saturday. Football’s got it across to people. People turn out to watch football every Saturday; people don’t with rugby. And Dai Lloyd is, unusually, an Ospreys season-ticket holder—Swansea City has very many more season-ticket holders.281
Can I just finish on this point? We have to declare what we are: I’m a season-ticket holder at both Morriston Town and at Bonymaen.