Pwyllgor Diwylliant, Cyfathrebu, y Gymraeg, Chwaraeon, a Chysylltiadau Rhyngwladol

Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Delyth Jewell Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Hefin David
Llyr Gruffydd
Mike Hedges Dirprwyo ar ran Alun Davies
Substitute for Alun Davies
Tom Giffard

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Abi Tierney Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Welsh Rugby Union
Nigel Walker Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Welsh Rugby Union
Richard Collier-Keywood Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Welsh Rugby Union

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Haidee James Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhea James Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Robin Wilkinson Ymchwilydd

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:29.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:29.

2. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
2. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Hoffwn i groesawu'r Aelodau i'r cyfarfod hwn o'r Pwyllgor Diwylliant, Cyfathrebu, y Gymraeg, Chwaraeon, a Chysylltiadau Rhyngwladol. Oes gan unrhyw Aelodau fuddiannau i'w datgan? 

Good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to this meeting of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee. Do Members have any declarations of interest? 

I'm a member of Morriston rugby club. But, for those people who see my tie, I'm also a supporter of other rugby clubs in the area, which are Bonymaen, Birchgrove, Glais—whose tie I'm wearing today—and Penlan.

Diolch, Mike. Dŷn ni wedi derbyn ymddiheuriadau gan Alun Davies, a hoffwn i groesawu Mike Hedges a fydd yn mynychu yn ei le.

Thank you, Mike. We have received apologies from Alun Davies, and I would like to welcome Mike Hedges who will be attending in his place today.

3. Honiadau yn ymwneud ag Undeb Rygbi Cymru: sesiwn dystiolaeth gydag Undeb Rygbi Cymru
3. Allegations surrounding the Welsh Rugby Union: evidence session with the Welsh Rugby Union

Fe wnawn ni symud yn syth ymlaen at eitem 3, sef honiadau yn ymwneud ag Undeb Rygbi Cymru, sesiwn dystiolaeth gydag Undeb Rygbi Cymru.

We will move immediately to item 3, allegations surrounding the Welsh Rugby Union, an evidence session with the Welsh Rugby Union.

I'm going to ask our witnesses to introduce themselves for the record. I'll go from left to right. So, I'll go to Abi first.


Thank you. I'm Abi Tierney, and I'm the chief executive of Welsh Rugby Union. This is my thirteenth day in post, but I'm delighted to be here and it's lovely to meet you all. 

You're very welcome. Thank you so much. And Richard.

Good morning, everybody. My name's Richard Collier-Keywood, and I'm the chair of the WRU. I've been in post for just over six months. We find we do count the days. [Laughter.]

Good morning. Nigel Walker, executive director of rugby.

Thank you. It's a pleasure to have you with us this morning. Thank you so much. We'll go straight into questions, if that's all right. Could you talk us through, please, the fact that the report has made it clear that there were numerous warnings about the crisis that came about at the WRU? Why, in your view, did the organisation not challenge those warnings before there had been that whistleblower? And what difference do you think this will now make within the organisation as a result of that report?

So, maybe I'll kick off and then hand it to Nigel in relation to the first part of that question. So, I think we have learnt from what we have both read in the report and what we have heard as we've talked to different members of staff and people who've experienced the WRU. And, going forward, you will see that we have now got a new board in place at the WRU, and that board was, I think, established completely as of 1 January, with the switch being to eight appointed members and four elected members. And, at some point, if you wanted me to, I'd be very happy to run through how we did that and the rationale for the people that we picked, broadly. But I suppose the important point in relation to your question is that all those members of the board are absolutely committed to seeing a new culture, both in the WRU itself and in the clubs and on the field in terms of where we play rugby.

Nigel, you might want to say a few words about the previous warnings, because that was, I think, prior to our time. 

Yes. I think when I appeared before—in fact, I know when I appeared before—I said that the union had failed to join the dots. There were a number of individual incidents, and they remained as individual incidents, and we didn't bring them together. I think some of our policies and processes were not fit for purpose, and I think the fact that we have appointed a director of people has helped in that regard. 

I think when you've had—and what happened 12 months ago was more than a warning—a television programme that lays bare the ills of an organisation all in 30 minutes, you'd be rather foolish not to take heed and to sense check the changes that had been made in the previous 12 months—some changes had already been made—just to sense check that the things that went wrong before could not happen again. And there are many things that we have done: a whistleblowing helpline, giving our staff more confidence in being able to speak up, and us demonstrating that we're prepared to listen. There is a whole raft of things, but I think, to bring it down to one thing, it was not joining the dots when there was a series of incidents—over a period of time, because they didn't all happen in three or four weeks; over a period of time—and not bringing those things together and saying, 'We've got a problem here. How can we address that problem?'

Thank you very much for your candour on that. We'll move on to Carolyn.

Good morning. Which of the review’s governance recommendations have been implemented so far?

Okay. So, let me run you through them and I'll comment on them as I go along. So, the main review recommendation was to change the nature of the board, as I said before. Previously, we had eight elected members and four appointed members. Today, thanks to the good work of Ieuan Evans and Nigel Walker—. They built a platform with the clubs, and the clubs voted for a new governance structure, which contains eight appointed members and four elected members. So, that has been put in place. And most of the appointed members are new. They include, of course, me, they include Abi. The one person who remains from the previous time is Malcolm Wall, who chairs the PRB, the professional rugby board.

So, that is the first set of—in my mind, anyway—governance changes. And then the review basically recommends that there should be a period of time when we should allow those governance changes to settle down and to look again at how they're working. And the review recommends that is two years post the review. So, we have noted that and we'll obviously have a period now of looking at how that settles down, and then we're planning, in the spring of 2025, to start that new independent review and to review how we've performed at that point in time and then think about the next layer of changes that may or may not be appropriate at that point in time.

We have already got on and appointed the chair of the oversight group. So, one of the recommendations of the report was that there should be an oversight group of three people, one of whom should actually have experience in HR/organisational reform, and we have appointed the chair of that group, Dame Anne Rafferty; we've already announced that. We asked Dame Anne for continuity purposes. You'll be aware that she chaired the previous independent review and she obviously had got a very good grip on what was happening at the WRU through that process, and therefore we thought, for continuity, she would be the best person to bring on board. She was appointed jointly by us and Sport Wales—we liaised with Sport Wales on that—and then there's a process kicked off whereby Dame Anne, Sport Wales and ourselves will choose the next two members of that oversight group. We anticipate that process, hopefully, will be completed by the end of February.

One of the processes of the governance review was that we would report against the 36 or so recommendations in the independent review on a quarterly basis, and, last Friday, some of you may have observed that we issued our first report against the review recommendations, and we have sent that to Dame Anne, as well as actually publishing it, so everybody can look at what we're doing. That published document contains the recommendation, it contains the comment of how we're dealing with that recommendation, whether it's complete or not, or indeed, whether it's in process, but it also contains, if it's not completed, a date by which we are committing to complete that. And if you read that, you'll see that the vast majority of those actions we are planning to complete by December 2024.

The governance changes—and I'll come back to the last step of that in a moment—. Sorry for a slightly long answer, but it's quite complicated.


It's fine. You're covering my second question, actually, about time frames, so that's fine.

That's good, then. So, some of the recommendations, you'll see we're going to implement at the end of the three-year period, because we need time to do the second review of how this governance change has gone down.

Then, the second area of governance reform, I would characterise it as, is looking at the current council of the WRU, which consists of 14 district members and five national members, with the ability for the current board to appoint a further six members to that council, how that interacts with the board and how it interacts also with the community game board, which consists today of the same people as also sit on the council. So, I think one of the issues you see coming out of the independent review was a bit of confusion in governance terms between, 'Is this body a body that has representative basis for the clubs, or is it a body that is about delivery of process?' And the reality is that the same people are doing two different roles in two different parts of the organisation. So, the second part of governance is to look at how we resolve that.

So, at the annual general meeting in November, I talked to the clubs and we promised a process of consultation to start that, and our plan is to have the first of those meetings in April this year to start to engage with the clubs about the recommendations in the independent review. If we are to implement some of those recommendations—one of them, for example, to reduce the elected members down from 12 to 10—then we would need the consent of the clubs in an extraordinary general meeting or an AGM in order for us to do that.

One of the things I said at the AGM and I'd just like to repeat here is that we obviously are owned by the clubs—we consider ourselves to be the union of the clubs—and although both Nigel in the past and Abi and I have committed to get out to the district meetings to meet the clubs in the groupings in which they're organised, I've also said very publicly that I don't think just meeting the clubs formally once a year is adequate for our purpose. So, this year, we're planning to meet with them at least twice, in a meeting in April and then a follow-up meeting probably at the AGM in October or December this year. But I could quite easily envisage that there will be a lot more informal contact, if I can put it that way, as we start to listen to the clubs, to hear the concerns they might have, to actually get their input for the direction of the WRU. So, there's a lot in this report on governance. I hope I've given you a reasonable summary there, Carolyn.


Yes, I think so, thank you. I'd just like to ask, do you think, now, you've got the appropriate skill set to help deliver this £100 million business, which it is now?

Yes, I do. I'm really, really pleased with the board that has been put together, and I pay tribute to the members of the council and board who went before us, who actually put this process in place. I'll let you comment on the ability of the chair in due course. That's one not for me. But in recruiting Abi, I'm absolutely delighted that Abi has joined us as chief executive and that clearly was a very important appointment for us.

We have also had Alison Thorne join, who's got experience from Sport Wales—really strong on governance and has a history in retail, which is quite important to us as well. We have Jamie Roberts, who I think probably needs no introduction from me, but we didn't want just any player on the board. Jamie actually is a qualified doctor, although I don't think he's ever practised. But he importantly came up through the whole process of Welsh rugby and therefore does understand that. And as we've seen from his contributions already, he has a much broader appreciation of Welsh rugby and it's great to actually have that around the table.

We have Jennifer Mathias, who we've recruited. She's currently the Rathbones chief financial officer and she's fantastic at finance and the broader operational things. She's already taken over the chair of the finance, audit and risk committee for us. We have Malcolm Wall, who I mentioned briefly before, who's got great commercial experience. He has experience with a club, Harlequins, in particular, but understands professional rugby. We have Amanda Bennett, who took part in the women's review previously, and has been a fly-half playing for Wales in the past, so she's got a great background in that and has more recently done quite a lot of work on equality, diversity and inclusion.

And finally, on 1 January we completed the list of the appointed members, having Andrew Williams, who was the chief executive of Halma, which is often described as the best public limited company you've never heard of. Andrew was with it for, I think, about 20 years, and played a major role in growing it from it a couple of hundred million pounds into several billion pounds of organisation. He's excellent commercially.

We also have the four, then, elected members. We have John Manders, who has a commercial background as well as being the chair of the community game board. We have Claire Donovan, who's an ex Welsh player, and again has commercial experience, and she is one of the national members today from council. And then we have Colin Wilks, and we have Chris Jones, who have got vast experience in terms of community club rugby in Wales. So, I think, when you put that lot together, we have a really, really strong, diverse, interesting and very committed board to work with, going forwards.

Thank you for all that. It sounds really impressive and very pleasing. Will there be an external report on governance as well, and if so, when would that happen? When would that be published?

Our intention is to do a skills review. We did a skills review when we, I think, got Alison and myself on board, and we were then looking at what skills did we want in the other board members. And we are planning to complete that skills review—you'll see from the document we published last Friday—by the end of March this year. That will help us just do an assessment of where we are across the board. I went through it very quickly with you, but we'll go through it a lot more scientifically. We are then intending to do a board review—which you'd normally expect us to do in terms of the effectiveness of the board—approximately a year later to that, which takes you to around about March 2025. And then there is a proposal in the independent review for us to do a full governance review, which will be published, and I'd like to do that on the back of that skills review and review of effectiveness of the board. And there's a commitment to publish that within two years of the middle of November 2023, and I think if you look at the report we published, we said we'd be publishing that in September 2025. 


As you all know, the vast majority of clubs are community clubs run by volunteers, and I declare an interest on five of them, but if we'd had other colleagues here, they'd be declaring an interest in a larger number. How will these changes benefit these community clubs?

I went to watch Caerphilly play Porthcawl on Saturday; I wanted to experience it first-hand. And what struck me—and I'm not just calling out Caerphilly on this—was that there was a really relatively small group of dedicated volunteers that make the clubs run. I'm going to ask Nigel to talk in a minute about the community department we have, because it's important you have the background on what we're currently doing. But ultimately, if we do our jobs correctly in the WRU, then there will be more money flowing into community rugby from the WRU. That is clearly one of our two main focuses, the other one being in relation to supporting our regional professional clubs, which creates the base for us to have a very successful elite team. Nigel, do you want to talk a little bit more about what we currently do in the community?

I will do. And I was at Rhiwbina versus Ynysybwl on Saturday, just for the record. I think we do some great work in the community. That doesn't mean to say that we should be complacent. We're also cognisant of the fact that it is built—our game and the union of clubs—on volunteers. So, we will be reviewing every aspect of what we do over the coming months. I've already had a conversation with our community director, Geraint John, about how we can improve what we can do, how we can make it easier for those clubs to flourish, so that the future of Welsh rugby is a strong one. 

It's not easy, and I have been in a number of meetings over the last 12 months with my counterparts from leading nations across the world. All unions across the world are seeing a real struggle to maintain the number of players playing, certainly on the male side. The female side is not as mature, so the female side in most countries seems to be going up, but the male side is under challenge. And we've got to come up with a strategy that enables those clubs to go from strength to strength.

If you asked me for the answer now, I couldn't give it to you, but we need to review every aspect of what we do. But we will continue to fund clubs. We will try and be as innovative as we possibly can be. Currently, we've got a number of clubs who populate the landscape of Wales. Is that the right number? How we can enable them to be stronger going forward?

Thank you for that. For completeness, I saw Morriston versus Tondu on Saturday. I saw my grandson play for Morriston under-sevens. That's been one of the great successes, hasn't it, in the community game, the growth of young people's rugby, from under-sixes, under-sevens, right the way up to youth. And that's something that you should be proud of. I'm not going to ask you a question on it; I just think it's something, for the record, that you should be proud of. 

My question is this: what is the time frame for delivery of the remainder of the governance recommendations, and how many of them are going to need the clubs to vote for them? 

As I tried to outline a little bit earlier, the governance recommendations are mostly being delivered by the end of this current calendar year we're in, and there is, of course, a detailed look at every governance recommendation in the document we published on Friday, which is on our website. The ones that are out there for December 2026 are ones where we require the clubs to vote for them. I think what's important for me, looking at those recommendations, is to engage with the clubs and understand how they feel about the current governance arrangements. That's No. 1. 

Secondly, and this, I think, is part of the beauty of having Dame Anne Rafferty chairing the oversight group, it's to engage with her and to understand some of the issues that they might have had with the current governance arrangements relative to the clubs that led them to make some of the recommendations that they did. So, if we can understand and do some root-cause analysis on what they were recommending, then we would like to work together with the oversight group, the new panel, Dame Anne Rafferty, the clubs, and ourselves, obviously, to try and work through exactly what would be the best governance arrangements going forwards, and we hope, obviously, to have that as a fully participative process.

So, to be very clear, if we were to reduce the number of elected members on the board from four to two, that would require a vote from the clubs, and if were to change the current arrangements whereby the board of the WRU can put six members on the council, that would also require the clubs' consent to do that.


I used to be able to, and you can tell me if I still can, go to a meeting in Morriston rugby club and make a suggestion, and that could then be fed up to a meeting of the WRU. Are those facilities still available?

Yes, absolutely, they are. And I think this goes directly to the point of what's a really important part of what we currently have. So, I'm hopeful you can go to your club, you can make your recommendation, that will be heard by your district representative, and your district representative sits on council, and council can make that representation to the WRU. And actually, preserving that is really important in whatever we end up going to in the future.

I think a bit of the confusion, certainly when I came into this role and I read the previous annual report and was trying to follow the diagrams as to how council interacted with the community game board, is the same group of people also, actually, are the volunteers and run the community game. I'm not saying whether that's the right thing or wrong thing here, but that is a source of confusion. Those people work incredibly hard to deliver the community game. I remember one of the first people I met with, literally in the first week after I was appointed, told me he'd had about 120 meetings in the previous 12 months, doing his role on council, as a volunteer, to support the community game, and I don't think he was unique. I think that would have been pretty normal.  

You've answered my question. I've got no more questions. I've got a piece of advice for you, which you may or may not want to take. Could you let the clubs know how important you think the volunteers are and how dependent you are on the volunteers, from people like Lee Shumack running the under-sevens, through to the people acting as trainers, through to the people who arrange the fixtures, through to the people who cut the grass and make sure the grounds are properly marked? I think that they would appreciate that, because there's a feeling, and you will tell me it's wrong, that everything seems to be about the four professional clubs.

Mike, I'm not telling you you're wrong. Actually, I think you make a really, really good point, and I understand that. We are looking now at how we can better make sure our volunteers feel valued, alongside the work that's done by the community staff. Nigel, you might want to add.

I was going to add one thing. We are incredibly aware of the point that you've made, which is why we've recently introduced the volunteer awards, which is a ceremony that takes place at the stadium—I'm not saying the union were wasting money, but it was quite a glam affair—so that we could celebrate the work of our volunteers. There were, I don't know, nine, 10, 11 categories of volunteers who were recognised on that evening. So, it's a point well made. 


Diolch yn fawr. Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen at Llyr. 

Thank you very much. We'll move on to Llyr. 

Bore da. How would you characterise the atmosphere among staff working at the WRU today? 

Well, do you know what? I'll give you a view on that in a moment, but I'm going to ask Abi to give you a view because she's recently joined, as she said before, and I think it would be really good just to get Abi to download what she's seen in the last couple of weeks, if that's all right. 


It's difficult, isn't it, to summarise it in a monolithic way, but if I can use a few words to describe what I've seen and felt, I think 'hope' is one of them. I think people are really hopeful that the changes that Richard has just described and the review that we've gone through will enable them to draw a line and move forward in a really positive way. So, there's a real sense of hope and looking forward. But I think that is balanced with a real sense of tiredness. They went through a lot last year, and so I think there is a sigh and, 'Come on, we've got to get going this year', but it would be unfair to say that they aren't tired, having worked really hard and kept going in really, really challenging circumstances.

But hope, optimism, positivity, looking forward, but I think we need to, as a board and as an exec team, make sure, similarly to what Mike said, as these people are so integral to what we do and I think they need to feel valued and celebrated for that, and we need to really—. And so much of the report was about how we listen to them, how we engage with them, how we make sure that they do feel valued, and that's going to be a really important part of our strategy, going forward.

Yes, because I was going to ask you about how you take the temperature within the organisation. Now, clearly, in the paper that you've supplied to us, which is your review response—the paper that we received this week—there's a target of 30 June, I think, for a number of elements of the work that you wish to complete. But in the meantime, how are you tracking morale and the atmosphere within? 

So, really interesting, and I did an all-staff call last week, and I did one before I started as well. So, a number of really good bits of work took place last year, led by Nigel and our director of people, Lydia, and you'll see it referenced in the report—the 'have a voice' piece. When I'm talking to colleagues, they say, 'Actually, what we want to do first is for you to have listened to that and make the changes that we're asking for in there'. So, that's the No. 1 priority. You know, 'We've told you what works and what we'd like to see better', so that's a really important bit of what we're doing.

We've also done the staff engagement survey at the end of the last quarter, and, as an exec team, we're doing an away-day—. Not an away-day; we're at the stadium. We're getting away from our desks to kick off the strategy work next week, and two of the really important inputs into that is the 'have a voice' piece of work, where we did lots of listening workshops and brought teams together, and gave individuals opportunities as well to say how they were feeling. And then the staff engagement survey is really important. Then, we're actually also inviting some colleagues to come and tell us how they are feeling as part of the input. So, we're going to begin the day by listening, because I think there's a risk, isn't there, you can get into a darkened room and come up with what you think are the right answers. So, those are some of the things that have already taken place that we now need to build on. 

The other thing—Nigel does a brilliant job at this—is actually just walking, isn't it? Being out and about, listening, talking to people, whether it's round the coffee machine or sometimes you have processes, but it is listening. And I have to say, in the time since I've joined but also in the time leading up to Christmas, I've been nothing but impressed by people's commitment, passion and sense of purpose, and a real determination to turn around the situation that we have found ourselves in, and build for the future.

Thank you for that. Clearly, culture change has been recognised and needs to happen on a number of levels. You've talked about the changes to the board, with big changes there, so you'd expect a new culture and a new outlook emanating from that. You touched on the staff as well. More challenging maybe, longer term, is the community level and culture change amongst the grass roots. Can you just give us a flavour of where we're going in that respect?

Do you want to talk about some of the things that we've done already, Nigel? 

Well, I think we understand that we have a responsibility for the whole of the game. We are a union of clubs, so we have to work together. One of the things we've done is launched Dysgu WRU, which is a learning platform that enables clubs to get information, to take part in seminars, to raise the standard across clubs, and we know that we need to make sure that all clubs are opening welcoming facilities for the whole of the community that they serve. You can imagine what's on the agenda in terms of those courses that are available, and we will continue to monitor and work with the clubs to make sure that the whole of the game in Wales raises its level, so that we all become welcoming places for all people who live in the community.


If I can just add to, and build on, Mike's points as well, one of the really key milestones in our response is that we're going to be developing a strategy for WRU and publishing that by the end of June. We will be working with the community game and at the grass roots to really engage and listen, and as part of that we'll be reviewing the values, and the values that we hold shouldn't just be at group level; they need to be embedded throughout. And, actually, engaging with what those values should be and what the behaviours are that underpin those values will be really important for that strategy development. So whether it's me holding it or whether it's Mike holding it, we all recognise it as being something that is part of the whole of the Welsh Rugby Union, not just what is over in the stadium.

And I don't think anybody denies that rugby, like other spheres, is beholden to many of the societal challenges that we face, but we all have a part to play, and we mustn't absolve our responsibilities in that respect.

On the transparency policy that's mentioned, I see again that, over the next six months, you say you'll engage with other bodies and institutions to establish best practice in this area and bring a policy statement or framework proposal forward to the board. Again, the target date is the end of June. You mentioned you already published a few things, maybe, that might not have appeared in the past, but are we on track for that?

Yes, I think so. We have some work to do to create that policy, but we hope we've set the tone already by doing some of the things we've done, which has been quite important, and alongside publishing this report we've also published two or three pages on the privileges, for example, which now puts out there into the public domain what they are for everybody who's involved in Welsh rugby. And I think that was important because there's a lot of misinformation, so we've been very clear that this is the position, going forward. I think you will see that my commitment is that whatever we possibly can publish, we will publish, and I say that without trying to hold anything back with the 'whatever we can' bit of that statement. Because, for us—and actually Abi and I, the three of us, were talking about this on the way over—it helps us. If there's something out there published that answers people's questions already, before they have to ask it, that will actually help us spend more of our time looking forward in terms of the jobs we have to do rather than trying to answer lots of questions that come up if we haven't published something. So, that's definitely our demeanour.

Okay. Just finally, which aspect of culture change do you think is most difficult? When you look at the list of jobs—

People. It is hard for people to change the way they operate and then, behind that, the way they think. That is a complicated process to go through, but, for me, it involves definitely role modelling from the top, being very clear around the board table, around the senior executive table, of what's acceptable, what's not acceptable, and then actually don't just talk about it, but do it. I think having a few things that you can point to that are different, which people can then start to feel are different, makes a big difference. Because if people look around and they feel like they fit in with doing something that the leadership is doing that's not right, they'll carry on doing it. So, I think changing the hearts and minds of individuals is the toughest thing. 

It's probably worth me saying, just because you asked about culture earlier and what it feels like, when I joined, back in July, I would say I was overwhelmed with the commitment and just the sheer determination of staff that had got them through from earlier in the year to that point in time. I had many, many conversations with staff over the first few months, and the vast majority of them were to come and see me and to say, 'Look, we don't recognise the culture. We love the culture here.' Now, I'm not saying that to make a statement around avoiding the past; there's no doubt in my mind that that culture was not acceptable. The point is that there were lots of good examples within the organisation of where the staff were fiercely proud of what they were achieving and what they were doing. And so, for us, it is about making sure that we harness some of the good that we found, as well as dealing with some of the bad. So, I wouldn't want that to go without mentioning.


Diolch. Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen at Hefin David.

Thank you. We will move on to Hefin David.

Can I ask about the quite significant number of recommendations regarding the women's game? Can I ask what have you implemented so far and what is still to be done?

Okay, let me hand that to Nigel, as he's been working on that.

Okay. I'll move through it quickly, not because it's unimportant, but because I think we've done quite a bit in the last 18 months in particular, from the issuing of professional contracts to our senior team for the very first time on 1 January 2022, to the number of iterations that have happened—so, we started with 12 professional contracts, we're now at over 30—to the development of two teams below the national team who are playing in the Celtic Challenge against two teams from Scotland and Ireland and so we're broadening the base and there are 60-65 additional players, to the player development centres that we've opened, to the hubs. We've done an awful lot. I've just missed a call from our head coach, Ioan Cunningham, while I've been here—

We could have had him on speaker phone; it would have been fine. [Laughter.]

The only reason I mentioned Ioan Cunningham is to say that we need to provide the support for the women's game, the girls' game, at all levels. We are very close to completing our strategy for the women's and girls' game. We've appointed—Richard has already mentioned—Amanda Bennett, who is considered to be an expert in the women's game. She won't do it alone, but an expert who will check and challenge that strategy, which will go before the board and will be integrated into our overall strategy.

We know that many nations are investing more money in the women's game. We have done likewise, but if we become complacent and we think we're investing enough today, by tomorrow—whenever we judge tomorrow; I don't mean literally tomorrow—we will have fallen behind. So, the commitment is to make the women's and the girls' game as competitive, as enjoyable, to create the environment where, if you're a six or seven-year-old girl living in Bala, living in Cardiff, living in Newport, you can pick up a ball, and if it's just to have fun with your friends, that's fine. If you want to continue having fun as you get to eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, that's equally fine, but if you've got a competitive streak in you and you want to play the performance game, you've got opportunities at under-14, under-16, under-18, under-20, right through to senior level. I said I was going to go through it quickly because I think we've done a lot. I will stop there, unless you ask a supplementary.

No, that's fine. You mentioned investment, so I just wanted to pick up on that. The review said spending on the women's and girls' game

'should be in line with other unions and with spending on men and boys and appropriate to a growth and investment phase.'

So, can you just take us through what that level of investment means for the union and how it then compares with other unions and the men's and boys' game?

So, I think, if we're talking about the girls' and boys' games, the investment is comparable. There is very little difference at the very junior level. As you go through the age groups, because the boys' game, 16, 17, 18, is larger, that's where you get the disparity. If you look at the senior level, obviously, there's a huge gulf between senior men and senior women. There is a—[Interruption.]

I was going to say there is a commitment to close those gaps over time. If we look at the men's professional game across the world, to expect that gap to close completely in two or three or four years is unrealistic. We're in the same position. But we're looking at the levels of investment required to take the women's and girls' games forward at a pace that we would be satisfied with. And let me say this—


So, how does that compare with the other six nations unions, for example?

If you compare it with England and France, we're a little bit behind England and France, but if you look at the size of their populations and the size of their games, that's not surprising. If you look at the very elite end, England women are head and shoulders above any other nation in the world. If you compare us to Scotland, Ireland and Italy, we compare favourably.

And just on the announcement of a British Lions women's team, how are preparations going for that? Will Wales be well represented as a result of the changes that you've made?

You're trying to set me up for a fall; that's a hostage to fortune situation, so I'll try and swerve that one in if I can. But what I will say is that there is recognition across Great Britain and Ireland that England are ahead in the women's game. There have been many discussions to talk about what we can introduce to make sure that there as many representatives in that British and Irish Lions team from Scotland, Ireland and Wales as we can imagine. More money is being invested in Scotland, Ireland and Wales to that end. So, I've avoided your question, because I don't know what the number is, but I'm hopeful for a number of players.

It's probably better suited to Grandstand, that kind of question, anyway. Diolch yn fawr.

Ocê. Diolch, Hefin. Gwnawn ni symud at Tom.

Okay. Thank you, Hefin. We'll move on to Tom.

Thank you very much. Can I ask about the relationship the WRU has with the Welsh Government? Have you met with the Deputy Minister for sport to discuss the independent review and its recommendations?

Yes, we have. We met with her last week, and we had sent her a pre-release copy of the report to ensure that if there were any questions, she could answer those, and we gave her the opportunity to ask us any questions about the report, which indeed she did, and her staff did as well.

Okay, and were there any outcomes from that meeting? Was there anything that was taken forward as a consequence?

It's probably better for you to talk to her and ask her for her view, but my view was that she obviously wants to hold us to account, which I totally understand, and we're definitely up for that, as we've said already, and we committed again to deliver in accordance with the document that we then set out and publicly published on Friday.

Okay. Obviously, there has been a lot of attention recently in the media about the WRU's COVID recovery loan from the Welsh Government. Obviously I understand that that tracks the Bank of England base rates, so essentially the WRU is paying quite a lot more back than perhaps when this was initially signed. Has there been any discussion about renegotiating the terms of that loan?

Yes, so when this was originally signed, I think the Bank of England base rate was 0.5 per cent, and it was 2.25 per cent, if I recall correctly, over base, making a total rate of 2.75 per cent—not that these numbers are etched on my brain at all—and now it is 3.25 per cent over a base of 5.25, giving us 8.5 per cent. That's materially different in terms of money out the door.

So, yes, we have asked the Welsh Government to reconsider its position in relation to those loans, alongside—. We've had a conversation with NatWest bank as well, because they also provide a loan to us, in terms of rescheduling that, and the rationale for that has been that we think we need a little bit of breathing space to get this new strategy in place, to get new income streams, to see the benefit of some of the commercial expertise we've now got around the board table, and will have around the executive table, to deliver a better financial outcome for the WRU, but it's really hard to do that instantly. The only way you can do that is by cutting costs in an organisation, and I think it would be a great shame to cut into some of the good things that are currently being done by the WRU. So, we have asked for some breathing space, if I can put it that way, in relation to the Welsh Government loans, and they have agreed to go away and think about that.

Okay. I'll come on to the impact of the interest rate in a second, but on the COVID recovery loan itself, your figures were slightly different to the ones I looked up. I'm not disputing yours—I'm sure mine are wrong—but I had it as 0.75 per cent as the base rate when it was signed, then a 3 per cent addition onto that. The current Bank of England base rate is 5.25, which would be around 8 per cent. So, the point is, the principle is the same, even if the numbers vary.

Now, it's interesting you say Welsh Government have gone away to think about it, because what they've said in the media is that they couldn't amend it because it would fall foul of UK Government subsidy law—state subsidy law. Is that the impression that you've got in terms of looking at this?


So, I think the sequence is important here. I think there was some media attention on this, which wasn't generated by our perspective at all. And I think they made that statement in relation to the media attention, and to make that position very clear. And that might still well be the position of the Welsh Government, but we were meeting with the Deputy Minister in relation to the independent review report, and I suppose we wanted to make it very clear that it would just be incredibly helpful for the WRU, which includes, obviously, community clubs, and the regional clubs as well, if we could have some breathing space. So, we first raised that at the meeting with the Deputy Minister—was that Thursday last week?

Thursday, it was Thursday last week. So, that was after the Welsh Government had made its position clear. And, of course, I wouldn't necessarily—. We wanted, 'Yes, of course, we'll do that for you' at the meeting, but we were not naive enough to expect that that would be the response. I think the Welsh Government wants to go away and consider its position in relation to that. 

Obviously, I understand these things aren't solved immediately, but it's interesting that the Welsh Government appeared softer in the meeting to you than the kind of hardline, 'This would be against state subsidy law.'

I wouldn't say they appeared softer. [Laughter.] That's not the impression I got. There was no cheque handed over in the middle of the meeting—

—nor commitment. But we did, I hope, make a good case as to why it should be relooked at, and I think, rightly so, they wanted to take that away without really commenting, and I think that's fine. 

I understand that. The reason I raise it is because, in the media, it seemed very firm that it could not happen; not that they did not want it to happen, but that it could not happen. And on that point about state subsidy—obviously, I'm not an expert in state subsidy law, and I'm sure you're not either, but I just gave it a quick look-up this morning—I understand the UK Government defines a state subsidy—or one of the ways it defines it—as a loan at below the market rate of interest. So, whilst the Welsh Government could not put that interest level below the base rate of 5.25 per cent, it could take that 3 per cent, or whatever it is off it. Is that your understanding of what the Government is able to do in this situation?

I think if you look at the, I think it's the 2022 subsidy Act, I think there are a number of things that could be done. There are exceptions in that Act for certain circumstances. And I also think that you have to look—. Our comparators are the other unions, so I think you also have to look at what—. Because the subsidy Act is the same in Wales as it is in England, therefore I'd expect there to be some kind of comparison and look through to what had been done elsewhere. 

Okay, thank you. And finally, can you give us a flavour of the impact that the interest rate paid on this loan is having on the regions in particular?

I think—. So, we've been briefed by the regions, so this is indirect, what I'm saying; I've not sort of audited the regions in detail. But I think it's having a very severe effect on the regions. The Welsh Government loan itself takes, basically, £1 million of interest and £1 million of repayment out of the rugby regions. So, that's £2 million a year. And if you look at the plan that was originally put in place back earlier this year—sorry, last year, in 2023—there was a sort of three-year period to get the regions to what I would call a break-even position. And part of that was required because the Welsh Rugby Union has been financing the regions from the sale of various rights in relation to the United Rugby Championship, and in relation to the six nations, and we have now sold those rights, and there is only a limited amount of that money still coming in in the future. So, the Welsh Rugby Union cannot continue to finance the regions at that same level, as we did before, unless we become commercially more successful. 

Now, we are backing ourselves to do that, but we need a bit of breathing space to be able to do that. So, in the intervening period, it would just be incredibly helpful if some of the pressure was taken off the regional clubs in terms of that extra £2 million that is being paid out. 

And if you don't get that breathing space, does that mean fewer than four regions?


If we don't get that breathing space, we will be going into plan B, as yet undefined. It's quite hard to say, 'Do we just go to three regions, or two regions?', because under the professional rugby agreement, if we go to three regions, the three regions that survive take on board the debt of the four regions as was before. So, that's not an entirely without-issue solution, if I can put it that way. So, there's a lot of work to be done in relation to that, and I suppose what we're really asking for is that bit of breathing space for three years to help us get to a stage where we can finance things as people would want them financed.

Thank you. We've come to the end of our questions. I just wanted to give you an opportunity, at the end—was there anything that you had hoped to be asked about, or any point that you had hoped to make this morning, which hasn't come up as yet?

No, nothing. Really good questions, thank you. 

No, thank you very much.

What was the result on Saturday, was it?

Or what will be the result on 3 February?

They did win the game. It was very close, though. The last 10 minutes. Sorry.

Two comments—I don't expect you to answer either of these. How are you going to get more people to go and watch the regional game? They don't publish their attendances any more. I can quite understand that, because they were 6,000, 5,000 and 4,000 something before COVID. I would guess they probably lost 2,000 each since COVID. How can we get more people to watch it?

And coming back to the community game, which I really take an interest in: you're talking about doing things—why don't you produce 25-year and 50-year certificates for people's involvement in the community game? It will generate a lot of certificates early on, but it will actually make people feel very valued.

Thank you for the second suggestion. We'll take that away. That's very interesting, I think. I absolutely agree, volunteers are, as we've said before, really, really important, and honouring them properly is vital if we're going to keep the community game thriving.

On the first point, we have started to look at the data that we hold and the data that the regional clubs hold, and I think it's fair to say that, if you went back six to nine months, there was not the best of relationships between the WRU and the regional clubs. One of the things we've been trying to do over the last six to nine months has been to improve those relationships, and not just talk about that, but actually delivering some things together, and we are very hopeful of working very closely with the regional clubs, going forwards, on joint marketing strategies, joint commercial strategies, and on strategies where we can access each other's data to better market to each other's bases, such that the regional game has a bigger attendance.

The real issue, though, is I suspect more people would go to the regional games if there were more Welsh national players playing at those regional levels, because we all want to see our heroes, don't we? We all want to see those players play locally. So, quite clearly, there's a need for an integrated strategy on improving the longevity of Welsh players playing in Wales. That, of course, is circular to what we just talked about in relation to the finances of the regions and the Welsh Government loans, because one of the things that's harming us, in relation to that, is our current position on salary caps. So, you can see there's a bit of a virtuous circle that we hope to get into here as opposed to a negative commercial spiral, which we're trying to rescue ourselves out of just at the moment. But the short answer is we want to work very closely with regions going forward to deliver better crowds there and better crowds in the Principality.

Diolch. Thank you very much. A transcript of what's been said will be sent to you so that you can check that it's a fair reflection of everything that's been said this morning. But thank you all. Diolch yn fawr iawn. We really appreciate you taking the time, particularly when you're so new in the post. So, thank you. It's been a pleasure. I think we're in a very different position from where we were when we spoke last, so that's really, really welcome. Thank you very much.

Thank you all very much. I really appreciate it.

Thank you, and thank you for everything that you've been doing. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you. 

4. Papurau i’w nodi
4. Papers to note

Aelodau, we'll move straight on to papers to note in a moment. 

Mae gennym ni o 4.1 at 4.8 yn ein papurau. Ydych chi'n fodlon i nodi'r rhain? Ocê.

We have papers to note, items 4.1 to 4.8, in our paper pack. Are you happy to note those papers? Okay.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod hwn
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Felly, mi wnawn ni fynd yn breifat. Rwy'n cynnig, o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42, i wahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod. Ydych chi'n fodlon inni wneud hynny? 

We will move to private session. I propose, under Standing Order 17.42, to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are you content? 

Okay, we'll wait to hear that we're in private, then.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:25.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:25.