Another day, another crisis for the union

A nation in turmoil: The scapegoat hunt gathers pace as Wales' major sport lurches from faux pas to farce

The wagons were circled around the latest home of the Welsh Rugby Union in Cardiff last week. The scenes were reminiscent of many other sieges from the Eighties and Nineties when the most publicly scrutinised, and so often vilified, body in Wales once again found itself cast in the role of villain.

There is nothing quite like a good or bad rugby story to set the pulses racing in the Principality. Rugby and gossip are key ingredients in the staple diet of life in Wales, and when the two can be combined, especially with the WRU to aim at, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Life at the WRU is an ongoing soap opera which often attracts as much attention as Coronation Street or EastEnders. You only have to look at the increase in radio and TV chat shows and readers' letters in the regional press to realise that rugby rules in Wales.

"We all know that Welsh rugby lives constantly in the spotlight. I guess it has been like that ever since 1881 when the union was formed," the secretary, Dennis Gethin, said. "The events of recent weeks have been rather dramatic and, in some cases, alarming. They have brought into question not only the internal workings and integrity of the union, but also the character of thenation as a whole.

"We do tend to get very emotive about all matters of rugby in Wales and that often makes life difficult. What a lot ofpeople often forget is that we are not running a pastime, but a multi-million-pound company.

"When your practices and reputation as a company are undermined you have to be very careful and measured in your response. Knee-jerkreaction to criticism, fair or otherwise, has never been the style of the WRU, and in all that has been going on over the past weeks our major concern has been to respond to the International Board's requests for information and explanation.

"The frenzy that has surrounded the eligibility row, and the resignation of Steve Black, has been trying and hard to handle. What it hasn't done, however, is divert the focus of the WRU from continuing to look after the best interests of Wales' national sport. We are determined to build our business into one of the most competitive in its field."

The recent dramas began two weeks ago with the "Grannygate" affair, questioning the eligibility of Kiwi imports Brett Sinkinson and Shane Howarth. All of a sudden the hunt for blameworthy targets escalated into open season on anyone wearing a WRU blazer badge. There are more than enough of those, and many of them displayed sidesteps that would have graced Phil Bennett or Gerald Davies as the barbs began to fly.

Union officials quickly found themselves facing calls for their resignation in local newspaper leader columns, there were further claims regarding an alleged £15m shortfall in Rugby World Cup revenue, a potential £200,000 lawsuit from Twickenham for Grand Slam damages and talk of a potential £1m fine from the IRB for playing ineligible players.

And as if that was not bad enough, Scottish journalists travelling to last weekend's Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff raised the spectre of the Fraud Squad becoming involved in the Sinkinson and Howarth situation - South Wales Police confirmed there might possibly be a case to answer but, as yet, they had received no complaints and were not considering aninvestigation. Not even a 26-18 victory over the Scots provided much relief.

No sooner were the victory celebrations over than the next crisis was firmly on the agenda with the shock resignation of the national conditioning coach, Steve Black.

The amiable and charismatic Geordie had come under increasing fire over recent months for his methods. The Welsh players were described as fat, unfit and not remotely in the same physical shape as Clive Woodward's England side. Black, with 13 wins in 20 internationals over an 18- month period, including a first win in Paris for 25 years, atriumph over England at Wembley and a first win over South Africa under his belt, headed back to the North-east in anattempt to keep his professional pride intact.

Now the media really had something to get their teeth into, especially as the Welsh team management were talking of conspiracies and pointing an accusatorial finger at the journalists for the role they had played in seemingly pushing Black over the edge. So, who would be next to go? Graham Henry? That was the big speculation last weekend as the £1m coach had his commitment to the Welsh cause put under the microscope.

While the story about Black broke the day after the victory over Scotland, the press pack were back on the hunt for another headline. Henry provided the ammunition, if not the type that some had hoped for. "I am here to stay until 2003," said the Kiwi-born coach.

It was certainly the calm after the storm. After all, in the hours preceding a lunchtime meeting of minds, the mediaoffice at the WRU had taken more than 50 calls from panting journalists hot on the trail of another possible exclusive.

Only rugby can do this in Wales, and all this happened two days after 72,500 fans had brought around £12m into the regional economy, filled the pubs and clubs and left one Italian restaurant owner more than happy. On match day he grossed £28,000 and made £20,000 profit. At least someone is happy with the WRU.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own