Rugby team is damaging our morale, says Welsh leader

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The Welsh rugby union team's performances have become so dire that they are harming national morale, Wales's First Minister Rhodri Morgan admitted yesterday.

In a highly unusual intervention in the sporting debates, Mr Morgan demanded a radical overhaul of Welsh rugby yesterday, warning the game's bosses that they were "drinking in the last chance saloon".

"It has a tremendous effect on the spirit of the people in Wales. When the national team does well they walk tall, they feel happy and, so they say, they work harder," he said.

In the past international season, Wales lost to everyone except Italy. England cantered to a 50-10 victory over them at Twickenham, prompting the legendary fly-half Barry John to declare the Welsh were "hurtling backwards as a rugby nation".

Mr Morgan admitted yesterday that Welsh rugby was "in tatters at the top". The Welsh Rugby Union was making financial losses, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium was saddled with debt and there is a risk of the game's benefactors walking away, he said.

"Rugby is what we do well," he said. "We are treated by English rugby people as a sad case. The national team cannot even give England a game. It should not be that way. The shop window of Welsh rugby is become shop-soiled."

Mr Morgan was backing proposals by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) president, Sir Tasker Watkins, to appoint a professional body to run the game instead of the amateur general committee that has been blamed for the crisis. Sir Tasker's report will be put before an extraordinary general meeting of the WRU on 26 May.

Mr Morgan said: "It does mean the perks going – the blazers, the status and the sense of participation. But it is very serious if people are not willing to act for the good of the game and the good of the country."

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Glanmor Griffiths said: "These concerns have never been formally raised with the WRU before today's rather extraordinary statement."