Griffiths' exit line - an agonising week

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The Independent Online

It has been a bittersweet week for Welsh rugby. On Monday the national squad missed their plane from Heathrow, which is one way of preparing for Tests against Australia and New Zealand, and on Friday Glanmor Griffiths announced that he too will be heading, belatedly, for the southern hemisphere.

Griffiths, virtually a one-man band in the Welsh Rugby Union since succeeding Vernon Pugh as chairman in 1997, has cleared his desks to join his family in Australia. The recent death of Pugh, who had taken over at the International Rugby Board, and the arrival of David Moffett last December as chief executive of the WRU, have also persuaded Griffiths that the time was right.

He has been treasurer since 1984, chairman of the general committee since 1997 and also chairman of Millennium Stadium plc for the last six years, a project for which he will always be remembered. "After much heart-searching I have decided not to stand for any position,'' he said. "It has been an honour to be at the forefront of Welsh rugby for the best part of 20 years, and I leave with genuine optimism for the future of the game.''

It is hard to share in such optimism. The dragon has been in intensive care for a decade or more. After years of prevarication, the WRU have been living on borrowed time and borrowed money; they are in debt to the tune of about £60m.

Last February, the union's 239 clubs voted for a new regional structure, which will kick off next season. Changes should have been made in the last century. Since the game went professional in 1995 the clubs have received more than £80m. It has been money down the Taff. "We have not had value,'' Moffett, a New Zealander, has said. "We have to avoid the lost opportunities of the past and the crippling debts of the present.''

Although he inherited a suspect system, Moffett said on Friday: "Now is the time to reflect on what Glanmor achieved for Welsh rugby, which was enormous.'' David Pickering, WRU vice-chairman, said: "Glanmor leaves an outstanding legacy in the shape of the Millennium Stadium, the iconic landmark of Wales across the world.''

Wales, whitewashed in the Six Nations, could not produce a side to grace the stadium. Instead, it is the Welsh football team who are running with the ball. The affair of the missed plane - the players were haggling over money - made Welsh rugby a laughing stock. If the new regions don't work, the great history of rugby in Wales will be just that... history.

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