Someone once said that sport is drama. If that’s true then, at the moment, Welsh rugby is a soap opera. Yes, the nation’s least favourite spat (between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four Welsh regions) has crawled into another week and it’s becoming increasingly dull, dull, dull. To be honest, the whole thing lost its entertainment value way before Christmas but, such are the potential consequences of not finding a solution, the story will not go away. And so we find ourselves faced with that eternal dilemma for many a soap writer: how to inject life into a failing story that must go on. The answer is of course obvious: bring back an old character (preferably one that will stir things up a bit).
Rugby journalists must have jumped for joy therefore on January 8th when David Moffett (former WRU Group Chief Executive, former Regional Rugby Wales Chief Executive and Welsh rugby’s answer to Nasty Nick Cotton) announced his intention to return to the principality and sort out the whole mess. The reason behind Moffett’s sudden and unexpected spring into action are unclear. In his letter to the 320 member clubs of the WRU, the man himself had this to say:
“I am doing this because of my concerns for the future of Welsh rugby and I believe that my management and leadership style will offer a new way forward. A way that is built on mutual respect and trust with a promise to recognise; firstly the importance of the clubs and secondly the regions to the future of Welsh rugby.”
You may be reading this next paragraph with one eyebrow raised – an involuntary movement probably brought about by the phrases “my management and leadership style” and “the importance of the clubs…and regions”. I say this because, during his time as WRU Group Chief Executive, David Moffett did plenty to convince the Welsh rugby public that the clubs were at the bottom of his priority list. Many saw the introduction of regions as nothing more than the creation of ‘super clubs’…the enhancing of the few at the cost of the many. If you were to ask many a local rugby fan (or a regional benefactor for that matter) what they thought of Moffett’s ‘management and leadership style’ they would probably include the word ‘abrasive’ (or maybe a less favorable synonym). So it’s quite natural to therefore question what ‘Dai Moffett’ (as his Twitter handle now describes him) is out to achieve with this prodigal son routine. Red Rugby suspects that the main motivation behind all this is a sense of ‘unfinished business’ for the former head of the New Zealand Rugby Union. Having seen Wales adopt a regional structure to its professional game (albeit a fudged one), Moffett grew increasingly frustrated with the regions refusal to move towards central contracts and eventually stepped down from the WRU citing ill-health in 2005. He came back for a second bite of the cherry in 2008, this time maneuvering from the other side of the fence (as chief of Regional Rugby Wales). It now looks as if Mr Moffett has decided to have a third crack of the whip (possibly because he sees a potential way back into the WRU given the flack that its Board and, in particular, Chief Executive Roger Lewis is receiving at the moment). It’s no secret that Moffett is not a fan of Roger Lewis – a man he regards as riding the crest of a wave of someone else’s making.
Well whatever the motivation, David Moffett has certainly been busy in the last few weeks: letters, tweets, radio and TV interviews, visits to the grand old Welsh clubs of yesteryear…all of it culminating in the briefest of cameos on BBC Scrum V’s underwhelming if not ‘special’ rugby debate of last Sunday. In doing so, he’s declared his intention to stand for WRU Chairman in upcoming elections. He’s also expressed interest in occupying the WRU district representative role created by the departure of Aurwel Morgan. He is obviously a man on a mission.
But there’s a problem here. Besides the fact that recent history has proved that David Moffett is not the man to bring about the reconciliation and collaboration needed to sort our Welsh rugby’s problems, he is (whether he realises it or not) being used as a sideshow. Most rugby pundits would recognise that this current dispute is not going to be solved with a sudden and majestic flourish of the tongue or a flamboyant act of messianic resolution. It’s going to be solved in a dull room somewhere where some rather dull comments will be made, exchanged and then agreed on. Less blaze, more blazers. As such the papers and sports news outlets have needed to frame the story in a more entertaining matter and pitting Moffett (the challenger) vs Lewis (the incumbent) is the natural (and let’s face it) easiest way of injecting some life into this dying horse of a tale. But let us not forget that, even when you take his recent media exposure into account, David Moffett remains at the periphery of this whole saga and do not be surprised if that’s where he stays. With news that a conclusion to the European Cup fall-out may be close, David Moffett may soon find that the offers of interviews from papers and radio stations are less forthcoming. For now Moffett (and his ambitions to return to the heart of the Welsh game) are nothing more than the musical interlude, half-time show, court jester routine of a story that will hopefully conclude soon…and should be treated as such.