Tough decisions made in the interests of rugby - WRU Community Director Geraint John

Geraint JohnFormer Haverfordwest man, Geraint John, has been facing some very tough decisions in his role as the Welsh Rugby Union’s Community Director.

Rugby club’s in Wales are facing unprecedented times, firstly Storm Dennis wreaked havoc and now we are enduring the COVIC-19 pandemic, so how are clubs managing, what is the WRU going to do to help clubs in Pembrokeshire and throughout the Principality and what will the future look like when rugby eventually returns.

The last couple of weeks has seen the union making some difficult decisions as they continue to cope with all the uncertainty that surrounds the game.

Geraint talks about all these important issues that is affecting rugby and everyone all over the world.

“Not just us in the Welsh Rugby Union, but I have found it busy, maybe bizarre or different ways of working, but everybody around the country is like that we’re are all either working from home or looking at what else is happening around the world,” said Geraint.

“It has been difficult, we have a fantastic group of people who work in the community game, the sad part we’ve had to cancel all our fixtures and there is no rugby happening in rugby clubs in Wales and right across the world it is also affecting other sports as well. So that was a simple decision to make with what is happening right now.

“Then following that we got to look at what else we need to do, what are the financial implications to the union itself, and yes we’ve had to make hard decisions, we’ve had to furlough a large number of staff, not only in the community department, but right across the business.

“Having those conversations with staff has been difficult, but I’m amazed how supportive they are, and fully understand why we have been doing it in terms of our safeguarding our business.

“Of course there are staff that have been kept on and we have to keep working, keep making sure when we come through this that we’re ready to go because there is a large number of projects we have to continue to work on and get right.

“We are making sure we all come through this and come out the other end, they fully understand what we are trying to do to safeguard the community game, it’s a big part of what we are trying to do.”

What difficult decisions have been made for this rugby season?

“We cancelled the leagues for this season. People obviously asked the question of what happens now. Who gets promoted, who gets relegated, what do we do? We looked at all the implications and decided that this season would be null and void.

“It was hard to come up with any formula that was fair and consistent right across the board. We discussed it with other countries, but it wasn’t about them it was about getting it right for us.

“We still had 35% of games still to be completed, we needed eight weeks to do that, we don’t know when we’re going to start the season.

“There was no team mathematically who was already promoted and no team mathematically relegated, there was always opportunities if results had gone their way. That was something we looked at and we thought in the end it was the fair decision to come up with.

“The feedback we’ve had from clubs has been excellent. The next step is what we do to help and support the clubs? We do a club update every Friday on how they can get support from local authorities, governments, grants, making sure that when we’re up and running again, they remain sustainable as well and that’s something we’re are working closely on right now.

“The right process to be put forward and we will be asking clubs to fill in a survey, so they can help us so we can help them moving forward.”

Blues skipper Matty Phillips carries strongly

What is the main problem that clubs have right now?

“The key thing for all our clubs right now is they still need to stay connected through this and also if they need help from us then get in touch with our club development helpline asap to try and gather support and make sure that they can cross things.

“Clubs right now are closed, there’s nobody going there, there’s no money going over the bar and money coming into the club has stopped.

“Linking up with the local breweries, the local authority, making sure they can get that support as well, what other means of linking up if they have other deals, the Sky deal in terms of how we are supporting them with other deals. All that is written down and a helpline of what they can and can’t do.

“I think the big things with the club is to make sure they’ve read all that and exhausted it all. If there is anything that they are not quite sure of, don’t  forget to ask, we’re here to support and here to help them and that’s key for us because we need to make sure that if they have any questions or are not sure of what to do they can get in touch with us and we’ll make sure that we have enough staff to be able to help them.”

When we get through this at the end, do you think Welsh rugby will just be able to go back as it was?

“When you look at it, we have over 30,000 youngsters playing the game between the ages of seven and sixteen our aim is we want those people back into the game playing as soon as it comes back.

“We hope that people being in their houses, maybe not doing much activity they’ll be desperate to get back out there into there local communities, that’s the aim. One of the things we are looking at is we feel our rugby clubs have a huge part to play in the local community.

“Hopefully that’s where a lot of the people in the towns, villages can congregate straight away after this, they can come together and help and support each other, meet people via the game of rugby would be one means and I’m sure other sports and organisations want that to happen.

“We want people to come back to the game our aim over this period is to keep engaging with people with loads of projects and programmes that we will continue to do and you know we have a coaching locker which coaches, referees and parents can get into and support, the activities that can be done we will continue to support and educate our coaches, we’ll be putting online some activities for youngsters to do at home, we’ve brought the health and fitness programme out to parents so youngsters.

“Our aim right now is that if everyone stays engaged with the game, with activities taking place with the game so when we do start back that people do want to go to the rugby clubs and want to continue playing, we’ll be able to monitor those numbers when people come back.

“At the same time, we want our leagues to continue and clubs to be back turning out for first XV, youth and second XV programmes. We’ve had many positives this year. We had the greatest number of youth fixtures that there have ever been completed. That’s great to see we must make sure that is back up and running.

“There’s been a lot of positives this season. The aim is actually we have to make sure those positives are there for next season and moving forward, during this period our aim has got to be to make sure that the youngsters and the people are involved in our game don’t go away, we to keep them engaged, keep connecting with them so that when we start up we can welcome them back to our fantastic game.”

Quins on the charge