It has been one of the better weeks in David Moffett's stint as chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union. He arrived in Australia, the land of his upbringing, from Wales, the Land of My Squabblers, in time to see the energetic, energising match against the All Blacks. After a quick visit to his mum north of Brisbane, he settled into his seat at the Suncorp Stadium this morning, with a little less need than normal to check for hidden daggers.
Moffett has been in Wales long enough - about a year - not to take much for granted. "It makes sense to see what happens against England," he said. "The signs were obviously promising against the All Blacks, and it makes life easier when the national side are performing up to expectations - not only of the WRU and the nation, but of the players themselves. It has its effect on crowds and sponsors."
What everyone including crowds and sponsors want to know is whether Moffett's five regional teams will turn a week of relative bliss into a long-term solution. "The players have been seen to be progressing," said Moffett, "and when they get back to the regions it will give that a kickstart. It's absolutely imperative we get the Celtic League right. The gap to the 'Big Five' of England, France and the Sanzar Unions has been widening."
Last weekend the Llanelli Scarlets drew a crowd of 5,000 to their northern outpost in Wrexham, a promising development, although on the flipside it was only 200 short of the highest attendance for any regional match in Wales so far. Other regions, notably the Celtic Warriors, have been less active in reaching out to their community; in Gwent they have argued for months over their name.
On Wednesday, the WRU, saddled with a £69m debt, put tickets for Wales's forthcoming Six Nations matches on sale unusually early. A wise pre-emptive move, or the press of a panic button? Moffett - whose trip was paid for by the International Rugby Board - is fed up with the carping. "There are so many people," he said, "who at the drop of a hat will find everything that's wrong with Welsh rugby. We are about three things in Welsh rugby - Wales, Wales and Wales. We've got a huge amount of talent that's been untapped because the structures haven't been right. That means Welsh players, Welsh coaches. In that regard we're ahead of England. We're not interested in paying journeymen from around the world to come and soak up millions of pounds."
Accordingly, Moffett predicted that a Welshman would succeed Steve Hansen as Wales coach at the end of the 2004 Six Nations' Championship. Mike Ruddock, currently with the Gwent Dragons, is the favourite. The successful candidate may be named before Christmas, and could work alongside Hansen in the new year.
"I am constantly fighting the negative headlines," Moffett said, "but I will hammer on that we can have it all. We can have the rivalry at semi-pro level between the Cardiffs and the Newports and Llanellis, and success with the regions at Celtic League and Heineken Cup level, and, by the way, we can have success at national level. It doesn't have to be a choice. The big battles we have in Wales are people wanting to put their Valley team before the national side. That might have been OK 25 years ago but the world has moved on."Reuse content