Sunday, 9 August 2015

World Cup 2015 - Mid August Assessment

With the 2015 World Cup rapidly approaching, nations moving out of training camps into on the field activity and some still involved in meaningful competition I'm having my first stab at making assessment of how the leading squads are shaping up.

Weekend Sat 15th Aug
England and France - made their first appearances at Twickenham. Both teams looked to have many squad back up players involved, with some players playing for final cut status. Pretty much a meaningless game terms of result, however winning is always good for squad morale and more so for the home nation, England. Very little gained from the game in terms of clues as to how England or France intend to go about approaching the forthcoming World Cup. Individuals tend to attract the attention, "he did this and that well etc", however it is the whole that is most important. How will the teams approach their games when the competition commence? How will the blend between forwards and backs develop. Ask any rugby follower where the strength of England lay and would think most would say, in the forwards where they have great quality and most importantly, depth. France on the other hand would normally register a reply of unpredictability, with both forwards and backs having ability to win games dependent on the mood but often the twain don't meet.....and often the mood is not productive ! So with this game we saw England backs, mainly the exceptional pace and willingness of the wings to support the attacks off their wing, produce outstanding moments of quality and score 3 tries. However the forwards lost the game, out performed in just about every department resulting in a high penalty imbalance, low possession and continuity. 
Why is this ? Well the pack that started are more used to carrying, providing targets and hitting targets over gain lines. Would think if the England forwards were asked who they want in the centres they would go for Barritt, Burgess, Burell and Joseph as all these are capable of providing targets. With the half backs they would go for Ford and Youngs as they would not kick so much, meaning they have to stop, wait then chase. Forwards want targets and to have something to hit, well England's forwards do, mostly. However England's supposedly front line pack including Launchbury, Cole, Robshaw, Youngs, Marler and Lawes, provide much more effective support in terms of off loads, turnovers, clearing in all the channels across the field, providing England backs with the option to run and pass. Basically the starting pack offer so much more above quality set piece work than the pack we saw on Saturday who struggled to interact with the back line options. This provides England with the conundrum about how they approach the World Cup. Certainly with focus on a forwards based approach and direct running backs will only take you so far and not win the World Cup. Selecting Slade at 13 could be accommodated with the front line pack, however he is not a running threat to the level of Joseph, Daly or Nowell. So what's the conundrum for England ? To me it's straight forward if you have Ford as your staring 10, Cipriani must be selected as back up 10 and Farell cut from the squad. This is no way judgemental of the high quality of the two players, but simply these two options have polarised playing approaches. You could play either confidently, but and its a big but, the only way England will win the World Cup is with a all 15 playing approach, stretching defences wide, high continuity and bring the pace out wide into the game on a regular basis. When the 10's have been chosen everything else falls into place. We know the best starting pack. Can add in the likes of both Vunipola's, George, Attwood and Morgan....even Haskell....then we have a pack that covers the field ball in hand with a strong set piece. The backs can then confidently include Slade and Goode as back 13 and 15 respectively. 3rd scrum half England would then need to add in Simpson also dropping Wigglesworth. Both Farrell and Wigglesworth are outstanding players but play a vastly different way to the likes of Ford and Youngs the first choice half backs. The concern is it seems selection is going on a player for player basis as opposed to this is how we want to play and selecting accordingly. Expecting to see a much more complete, joined up, performance this coming weekend with Ford staring alongside Youngs and a much more capable pack in terms of a ball in hand approach.

For me it's difficult to cut Farrell having played an important role in England progress over several years, but it is hard calls that need to be made, a commitment to the chosen playing direction and to get out of the comfort zone. Cipriani should bench this week behind Ford and biggest call of all Simpson should drafted in. I would also make a case for Daly, however Slade offered enough to maintain inclusion, more in terms of distribution and of course provides a 3rd 10 option. So players to cut would be - Cowen Dickie, Parling, Corbisero (not cut depending on Brookes injury), Wigglesworth (Simpson in), Farell, Burrell, Twelevetrees, Clark and Wilson - please note, Burgess would remain as he also covers 6 a plus.

Weekend Sat 8th Aug

New Zealand - despite making most of the running to date, suffered a blow to confidence at the weekend, losing to Australia. Although a blow, the result is not a major impact to their chances of lifting the 2015 World Cup trophy, however it has exposed weaknesses and provided the other main contenders with direction how to approach games against them. The normal accuracy was missing from the NZ performance. This is something in their control, should they put this right then they will still command favouritism. However the lack of accuracy was caused by Australia competing hard at the breakdown and engaging excellent line speed in defence, something others with stronger packs than Australia will note. The NZ Achilles Heal was exposed effectively by Australia. Target Aaron Smith and restrict his influence in attack and the NZ game is significantly weakened. Fully expect NZ to balance their pack better to deal with these threats and for me still remain tournament leading contenders.

South Africa - narrow defeats to NZ, Australia and now Argentina will focus the minds in South Africa. Traditionally this leads to a reaction from South Africa to further simplify their game plan, become very direct, play for territory and penalties. I fully expect they will stay true to tradition. It will not be pretty watching SA over the next few months but not be easy for opponents either. They have the resource to take and play an effective very one diamensional game play approach. It has led to success in the past and I fully expect this will very much keep them in the mix for the final shake up.

Australia - major boost with victory over NZ in a meaningful game. They have very much addressed their weaknesses and adopted an approach which, against NZ, worked well. They still have serious issues at set piece and against teams with less ambition and stronger, more competent, packs than NZ, will find it difficult to function. However, Australia present a huge challenge to every team and injuries permitting (squad depth is an issue) they will be hard to beat. As with NZ and SA, a clear and distinct game plan has emerged. Attacking structures looked limited, however with the ability to turn over large amounts of possession via a strong focus on the breakdown they do have the players to benefit from these limited opportunities. Equally the line speed in defence was exceptional. If they can force these levels of errors from NZ then others better beware.

Ireland - very different from the Southern Hemisphere sides above coming out of a pre season camp and starting match preparation. The game against Wales was a squad game providing an opportunity to assess depth of squad and clarity of coaching direction. Ireland will be very happy with there initial outing, showing collective understanding and very good integrated squad depth. They were clear as to what they wanted to achieve. Ireland have excellent depth half back, enabling them to seamlessly rotate and maintain playing philosophy/principles. Out of all the teams in action at the weekend Ireland were best in terms of ball presention enabling effective fast ball continuity, this assessment needs to be tempered against a Welsh team which displayed early season rustiness and a lack of real squad depth. Clearly they have spent a lot of the preseason on accuracy and detail in this area. Ireland look very much on course for a competive World Cup.

Argentina - traditionally a game plan solely based around forward power, over the last two seasons or so Argentina have expanded their approach. This is due to inclusion in the Southern Hemisphere tournament providing a much increased challenge, more and more players being involved in European professional leagues resulting not only in tactical/technical development but equally as significant improved fitness levels. Improved fitness levels were very evident some 2 or 3 seasons ago, now coupled with hardened match experience Argentina are in the mix. Argentina have very talented players and although not enough depth of squad to go all the way, the squad depth is improving and will make Argentina very competitive. I feel this World Cup is the best opportunity for Argentina before the professional game really kicks in. Bit like England in 2003 with a mix of players from the Amatuer era which provides strong team spirit, collectivity and often greater game awareness/skill. Currently expectation is still low which helps their cause. So little pressure, this will change, pressure and expectation will increase in future years. However for this World Cup a semi final spot is a realistic target for Argentina.

Wales - difficult day at the office for Wales v Ireland. It is only a first up performance since, by all accounts, a tough pre season training camp. Wales have a well established set of playing principles which when applied are very effective. The main concern for Wales at this stage, some key players are missing, will be missing and depth of quality and experience looks weak. However the coaching set up is vastly experienced and renowned for timing of peak performance. I think this will be the coaching set ups biggest ever challenge. A vastly improvemed performance is required this week if they are to have any chance of progress from the pool stages.

France - yet to see what France will throw up. Whatever we see this weekend v England will be pretty much irrelevant in any case as France can and do lurch from one end of the performance spectrum to the other in a space of one week. The main issue for France will be the mind set and collective nature of the players. The current coaching set up has added the erratic nature of the French performances of late and there is simply no evidence that this will change as they move towards the start of the 2015 World Cup. Momentum is everything with France. They could well progress from the Pool stages and this could well kick start their World Cup campaign. Could they win it, yes. Wilł they win it, no. Just feel the baggage will take its toll.

England - again reports of a very hard and demanding pre season conditioning/rugby camp. First up game v France this weekend most likely involving the wider squad and some final cut hopefuls. Biggest issue for England has been the centre pairing which now with Barritt and Joseph looks pretty nailed on. What is not so clear with England are the back up centre options. The omission of Daly as a straight replacement for Joseph significantly lessens the clarity of the proposed playing philosophy. We will get more clarity after the next cut, however hard to see anything other than a make shift back line. The decision to remove Manu Tuilagi may come back to haunt England. Laudable as it was, it was more of a legacy decision as compared to a performance decision. With Tuilagi in place England could well be looking at a final slot.

Ok, early days but as we stand from the to date information semi finals look like this to me -

Semi Final 1 South Africa v New Zealand
Semi Final 2 Argentina v Australia

Monday, 29 December 2014

Wasps - halfway house

Ok, with eleven games completed - Wasps sit in sixth on equal points as Sale, same wins and losses but with a better points difference. So all to play for with Sale next up. In essence over the next eleven league games Wasps need to again to beat some of the top six teams but this time around back it up with wins against teams they should beat - that is there is a need for greater consistency.

Now the good news is the long needed performance consistency appears to be in place. It is now also possible to define Wasps through their playing style. We saw during the London Irish match added to the usual smash up from the back row some pull back passes to second wave runners, Christian Wade in particular being very effective and willing to take on this unselfish role and link well with the likes of Masi, Miller, Jacobs, Daly etc who in turn have all straightened the line well to provide the wingers options. The result has been at least 3 tries directly scored in the Irish and Gloucester games. This should not be underestimated as Wasps have very seldom scored tries through creative play over the last 3 to 4 seasons - usually from counter attack, individual brilliance or line out drive.

This second wave running option is essential to any further progress up the league. Talk of this player or that player coming in to strengthen the squad is pretty much irrelevant if the playing pattern is not clear and strong. However Wasps also need to develop much more in the contact area to compliment this extra attacking threat. All our opponents will and are targeting knocking over our big back row runners at source to prevent quick ball. Against Irish, Irish achieved this however stepped over the mark and conceded soft penalties, some fair some not. Equally against Gloucester a Haskell midfield bust followed by quick ball led to a try for Wade. Against Gloucester we saw little else and were in the end quite fortunate that Gloucester still seem unclear about their best playing combinations. Against the top sides and indeed the likes of Sale and Quins the main contenders as we stand, Wasps need to do more.

So whilst continuing with the ball carriers and second wave running patterns Wasps need to be offsetting or offloading before contact to free up the ball more quickly. The rub for Wasps will be getting the selection balance right in the back row. Although the power available through Johnson, Hughes and Haskell is very shall we say "comfort zone" it is not really helpful in terms of support play, which is required against the better teams. If Johnson were to move to hooker as reported then this move would permit Haskell to play 6 with the chance to play a 7 with better running lines and support play - Jones or Thompson.

Nevertheless even without these changes a top six finish is a realistic goal for this season. The next fixture against Sale will be difficult as they are an outstanding team and offer more threat than most. Wasps have had an exceptional start to the season, should really be 4pts further on after beating both Bath and Northampton, however with a win v Sale everything will still be on course for a top six finish. Lose and it will be a scrap to the final game of the season.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Wasps Mid Season Progress

As we approach the midway point in season 2014/15 Wasps sit 7th in the league and 3 rd in the ECC. Some head turning winning results against Bath and Northampton and impressive back to back wins against Castres in the ECC.

Progress in the ECC, assuming Castres only focus on the Top 14 and concede 5 pointers to Quins and Leinster, will depend solely on Wasps beating Quins (away) in round 5. Otherwise the home match with Leinster in round 6 will be, from Wasps perspective, be a dead rubber. Winning/Losing Bonus points may provide some mathematical hope however realistically a defeat against Quins will end this years campaign.

This leads into the League performance and as with Europe the performance to date looks varied, however we are now starting to see from Wasps a game plan emerging, playing to the same principles every week. Results, performances may vary from week to week with supporters often remarking we could have won that one and indeed this is mostly the case. But the structure each week is mostly the same. Wasps rely heavily, almost solely on the back row of Johnson, Hughes and Haskell to provide front foot ball. If these players achieve this the back line functions much better and Wasps have pace and the players to exploit opportunities and indeed often make something out of nothing.

Defence is basically solid against teams with straight line runners, we struggle defending in the wide channels, nothing or little to do with the wingers, more so the back row and narrow structure.

If the first choice back row fail to provide the go forward when the forward battle is even, they can go missing and then Wasps seem devoid of other options to open up the opposition defence other than line out drive, counter attack and individual brilliance. The game plan is far too simple and relies heavily on the back row carrying effectively. The back line approach needs to provide greater variety and contribute more wide channel go forward options with deeper second wave runners and pull back passing. Currently the structure to do this does not exist. 

This would result in getting the ball into the wide channels more often but equally would not suit the make up of the current first choice back row. Wasps need to make the next step if they are to maximise the potential within the squad and look to balance the forward and backs selection to provide go forward options across the park. We will remain a mid table team unless adjustments are made to the current game plan. Joe Launchbury does compensate for the lack of back row support in the wider channels, however even with a fit Joe Launchbury in place Wasps backs do not offer enough variety to stretch defences. In a nutshell the Wasps game plan relies on making holes in the midfield channels and for good quality teams is easy to defend.

The next game against London Irish at the Ricoh is very interesting as it offers a different challenge in terms of mind set for the first time this season. Wasps upset the apple cart in the second week of the Premiership with an outstanding unexpected win against Northampton. Very much a defensive effort, but most importantly it was in a "we are the underdog" scenario. Then we move onto Bath and here the Ricoh affect played its part. Wasps were very much underdog again but the Ricoh announcement pulled the players very closely together. Wasps play best in adversity has been a very apt description of the characterics of Wasps over several generations and the Bath game was another example. Equally in this game against Bath unexpectantly the scrum provided extra go forward to enhance the key aspect of the Wasps game plan. The London Irish game will also involve a large emotional element but this time Wasps will not be underdogs, Wasps will be hot favourites and have the burden of expection to deal with. In the world of managers playing mind games I would think London Irish have been handed game motivation on a plate, served with an expensive chilled wine and all for free. This is what Wasps need to prepare to deal with. The expectation is the Wasps pack will dominate, provide the go forward and win. However should that desire to succeed in the first game at the Ricoh become too great and London Irish are able to hold out for 20 to 30 mins, doubts and desperation may well play a part. The first quarter of this game will be very influencial and most likely determine the end result.

Wasps have assembled an outstanding squad of players which have achieved some outstanding results to date. It is only a lack of consistency of performance that places us outside the top four. Whilst certainly the Northampton game could have gone the other way, equally Saracens, Quins and Sale were games there for the taking. Consistency can only be achieved by developing the game plan as I believe the inconsistency in performance is coming from the limited, one diamensional game plan and back play. If Wasps continue to rely solely on go forward from the back row and attacking the midfield channels Wasps will remain a mid table team. Highlights here and there and low points here and there but overall a mid table, nearly team outcome. 

I would think any Wasps fan would agree the Rollercoster performances/results have been very much a familar chacteristic of Wasps for some time now. So unless developments are made to the Wasps back play attack and integrated into the overall team strategy I would think we will continue to see the performance inconsistency from week to week. Some strong performances/results, some not so strong performances/results. Nonetheless this could end with a top six finish, however with the quality now within the squad the target should really be top 4 and group qualification in the ECC as a minimum. Having seen what we have so far this season, Wasps and others, for me this is now not an unrealistic expectation. New recruits will not improve the outcome as Wasps already have a squad capable of winning throphies.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Wasps - Ricoh Stadium - "Coventry or Die"

Difficult to know where to start, but suppose it best to pin my colours to the mast. I will not support the move to the Ricoh Stadium simply because I think it is wrong in principle to move any sports Clubs from the historical base and heartland. In the case of Wasps this move has been presented and justified as a "do or die" or "Coventry or Die" scenario and as being the only option. Well on both counts this simply is not the case.

Looking back, when did the troubles begin? The first stage was the refusal of Wycombe Council to grant the " Booker" project permission to proceed. Steve Hayes was angered by this and having invested and supported Wasps heavily over several years with this project as a long term objective all bets were now off. Steve introduced more cuts backs with the operation of Wasps and at the same time sought another buyer, he wanted out. 

Another buyer was found in the Barnet FC owner, name escapes me, however for whatever reason he dropped out just before completion, again around, February 2012. This further angered Steve Hayes and the cut backs increased to the point of Steve all but ceasing funding Wasps any longer. The process of running the Club based on revenue received had effectively begun. This led to issues with cash flow, payment of creditors and finally wage bills. The only cash potential Wasps had was via the P Shares which were viewed as the "Crown Jewels". Currently worth some 5m.

In April 2012 a meeting was held, organised by Ivor Montlake and Chaired by Mark Rigby. It was not a formal minuted company based meeting, it involved highly qualified individuals from various professions brought together under an umbrella of commonality which was Wasps. Mostly members of the Wasps FC from the past and present also some past players who were now heavily involved in business in the city of London. I was also in attendance, no others from the RFC were present.

Also attending this meeting were representatives of 2 multi national, worldwide based companies who had previously registered interest and started offer transactions with Steve Hayes before the Barnet FC was  chosen as the preferred bidder. Wasps had no money, no assets apart from P shares but did have a positive brand name. The aim to build a stadium within the region was the main attraction to these investors.

The meeting focussed on how to pay the forthcoming May 2012 wage bill. This was resolved short term, however looking longer term it was made clear by all it would take some 5 months to search and locate further investment interest from the City and indeed for those investors present to reignite their businesses to formulate another offer. I should say at this point that those potential investors that were present knew full well about the state of the Wasps financial position as they had already undergone the early stages of the due diligence process. Equally the likely costs to fund Wasps over a period of 5, 6 years to find a site and build a stadium were well know and not regarded at this stage as a negative. The Wasps brand name was still very strong and desired.

The other issue needing resolution was taking over ownership from Steve Hayes. Many options were discussed and presented to Steve, these eventually resulted in a club announcement that a Consortium headed up by Ken Moss, who was also present at the meeting, were to take over ownership of Wasps. This however was mostly smoke and mirrors to enable funds from outside the club to be provided on a loan basis in order to pay wage bills, with the "Crown Jewels" as a last resort fall back option. It was indeed seat of the pants time.

Now from this point onwards, April 2012, events become very unclear. All I do know is that further investors were being sought and I have to assume this led to the current position. The cash flow from May to September, the 5 month period, was limited but did cover immediate costs. David Thorne appeared on the scene in August 2012 as CEO/Owner (all very unclear) and then in November 2012 another significant event occurred. Nick Eastwood, who had been runner up for the England CEO role, arrived. A man of huge ability and experience taking on a role of CEO at Wasps, which was to all intent and purpose still a basket case. Why ? Had Wasps finally cracked it and had Nick been brought in to sort the club and take the stadium project forward ?

Well admittedly it is assumption, but I think we can today see the answer. During this 5 month period from May to Sept 2012 I presume Derek Richardson was also unearthed being a colleague of David Thorne and options regarding the Ricoh Stadium were presented to the Wasps board, which at that time effectively would be Ivor Montlake and Mark Rigby. The DR/DT option was chosen, the initial action being to recruit a CEO, Nick Eastwood, in order to deliver the project. 

Now the ins and outs of all this activity is unclear, however the Club also reported others investors were in tow as early as Feb 2012. They also stated that a move out of region would not be considered. To me any plan that countenanced a move out of region was not an option. Other options regarding stadiums within region would have been difficult, painstaking, long winded, costly and has to be said could potentially be unfulfilled. However I do believe other options were on the table from May 2012 but the Ricoh offered a quick fix. That does not mean the option chosen was not the best or not better. Only time will tell us the answer that question.

But for me when people justifiy this action as it was " Coventry or Die" or " It was the only option" I simply do not believe that was the case. So was Nick lying ? No, because when he took over it was the only option, it had already been decided by the Wasps board which way to proceed. That's why he was attracted and he was brought in. I watched the video of the Fans Forum and noted with interest how Nick started to distance himself from the "Coventry or Die" strap line, crediting it, if that's the correct phrase, to one of the supporters. I think he knows it was not the case.

However, the deal is now done the initial project completed. I do sincerely hope it does well. I, as I have said already, I cannot support it on principle and indeed as things progress there certain aspects I find very distasteful and to my mind not in line with rugby values which I most cherish. I feel particularly aggrieved that the RFU/PRL have sanctioned/approved this move and hope that Wasps have not taken on too much of a challenge or too much debt.

Was this the best deal for Wasps? Only time will tell. Were there other options ? Most certainly. Why was this option chosen? Again how can we assess this process with so little information. In the fans forum video, some 1hr 40mins, I think only two questions were asked about the business structure.

With regard to the financial set up of Wasps we simply do not know any or hardly any of the details. What we do know is Wasps RFC are the trading company,  have bought the leasehold, most likely pay rent to CCC on the freehold, own 50% or 100% of ACL the operating company. Wasps are 100% owned by Canmango Ltd a holding Company registered in London, largest shareholder David Thorne. Canmango Ltd are 100% owned by Moonstone Ltd who shares are 100% owned by MGI Fiduciary Services in which Derek Richardson is the primary shareholder. Both Moonstone Ltd and MGI are Malta registered companies, so quite difficult to establish details.The funding for the purchase will have come down from these Companies and will be presented as loans in the Wasps accounts.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ricoh - The Final 50%

It has been reported today that the Alan Edward Higgs Charity (AEHC) will decide this week on the two bids they have received from Wasps RFC and CCFC (SISU) in relation to the 50% shareholding they currently hold in Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) and whether to accept or reject one or both bids. This may or may not be true, however one would assume all the necessary requirements would be in place and easily available in order to make this decision. The Wasps RFC bid is unconditional whilst the SISU bid is conditional reportedly based on information relating to the ongoing Judicial Review.

Should Wasps RFC secure the 50% they would have a 100% shareholding in ACL. If SISU are successful then they and Wasps RFC would hold 50% each. One can present a case of which would be the better outcome and often this would be based on which club you support, however from a purely business, commercial assessment a joint holding of 50% each would appear to be the stronger option in terms of increased revenue and profit in the medium to long term for ACL. This is based on the fact that should SISU fail with their conditional bid it is hard to see a future for CCFC as purely tenants, hence the crowd size and income this generates for ACL would be significantly reduced. Two factors would change this. One Wasps RFC develop an average gate size of around 15k and significantly improve the performance of ACL. Two SISU sell up CCFC to a new ownership and they can turn the club around progressing up the league and more significantly restore the average attendance to around 15 to 20k.

Now whilst all this is of some interest it is mostly irrelevant to AEHC and how they will make their decision. It will be the board of AEHC who will make the decision as to what to do with their 50% shareholding in ACL, despite the other shareholder, Wasps RFC, having the ability to block or accept any deal. Only the AEHC board can give approval to any offer. Any decision the AEHC board make will be based on commercial criteria in the best the best interests of the Children's  Charity. They have 3 options - 

1) Accept the SISU offer, which if Wasps RFC blocked  - then move to 2) or 3).
2) Reject the SISU offer and accept the Wasps RFC offer
3) Reject both offers

Whilst we do not know the details of any of the bids, the SISU offer is conditional and may well not be acceptable commercially on the basis as it could lead to further court action and incur further costs. In any event Wasps RFC could block this deal. Accepting the Wasps RFC unconditional offer would be a straight forward option, supposing both offers from SISU and Wasps RFC are roughly similar. However the AEHC must act in the best interests of the Charity, nothing else. Whilst the Coventry City Council (CCC) deal with Wasps RFC had a strong degree of political influence about it, this decision will be commercially centred. Now option 3) for the AEHC board would on the face of it present the best commercial gain, that is without knowing the full details of the bids to date.

Already with the Wasps RFC and CCC deal done the value, revenues, profits of ACL has already increased, simply by increasing the usage and profile of the Stadium. The AEHC 50% shareholding is now worth significantly more than 30 days ago. So both offers submitted should reflect this, if not they may well be rejected. The lawyers and accountants will be viewing the business plan projected figures submitted by Wasps, unless the offers submitted reflect the projected improved performance in ACL with Wasps RFC now in place, the AEHC board will be duty bound to reject both offers and stay, in the best interests of the Charity, as joint owners of ACL. They are not duty bound to sell. It will be the lawyers and accountants who prepare and present the criteria on each of the options, it will not be based on sentiment, polical pressure or preference. It will be based on the financial facts relating to the long term interests of the Charity. Simply the amount Wasps RFC paid CCC for their 50% shareholding will have increased in value, hence the bids on the table should be more, otherwise the AEHC board would not be fulfilling their duty the the Charity.

Having said all this, the most likely chain of events which has brought us to this point is that initially Wasps RFC approached the Council and most likely AEHC at the same time, showed an interest and negotiated an offer to buy both shareholdings of ACL. It was only when a covenant was discovered requiring first option sale must go to CCFC that things changed. However the initial figures scrutinised by the AEHC board have now significantly changed due to the deals not being completed simultaneously.

My preference is for Wasps RFC and CCFC (SISU) to share the spoils and get on and make it work. It is after all a sports stadium and with two clubs progressing and successful that can only be good for everyone. We shall see how it all unfolds, hopefully this week.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Coventry - right or wrong ?

KNo matter what anyone thinks Wasps are moving to the Ricoh Stadium lock, stock and barrel. This move will be completed in about 18 months when training facilities are ready. Then Wasps will be a Coventry based Rugby Club. 

Now Wasps have moved several times during the professional era but never had their own stadium. Here I should show my colours. Moving within region, and by region I mean designated Academy region, I have no issue, however moving outside of region i fundamentally disagree with. There is no regulation with Community development programmes and here lies the problem. Currently any team can up sticks and move. Their is no governance and we therefore must draw the conclusion the PRL/RFU by their desire with lack of control support this action.

We must also accept that employees will publically at least support any move. We will not find out until much later what they really feel when they have to move their families, change schools, stay farewell to friends etc when the training ground shifts. This scenario will come much quicker, immediately, for community development employees and some office staff. Rugby players have short careers and they are mostly concerned with being involved in a successful, supportive environment and of course one that can pay the wages.

The club management have described the clubs position as a "live or die" situation. Suggesting that between these two extreme positions there are no other options. Well the "die" scenario is certainly not true. The Wasps name will live on whatever albeit for some supporters, which I fully understand, have only known and are interested in the professional arm of the club. So although "die" is an inaccurate description it also fails to offer the many options between the two extremes. The movement down the leagues (which would occur) could be done in a controlled manner, eventually finding a level where the business is sustainable - fully, semi, part professional or completely amatuer. Maybe not very palatable for many, but it is an option many others have taken. Another possible option sit with the RFU which could step in a take over control of a club which they most likely regret not doing back in 1995 where they were advocating setting up 4 professional regions. This position supported by the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio at the time. Things have now moved on, however, I think if England could take control of 4 regionally based clubs now they would, let's say, consider it. The fact of the matter is the rugby business model after 18 years of development does not make money, the support at the turnstiles is not there. Only some models cover costs.

The model Wasps have followed has been the least productive model on the balance sheet. However it is not dissimilar to the successful ones, only the balance sheet, accounts present it in a different way. We must be hugely appreciative and grateful to the owners contributions over the years. Each have been trying to establish a structure by which the club can stand on its own two feet. Effectively they have been transferring funds from their existing business activities via their own personal wealth into Wasps accounts by way of loans and guarantees. The successful model simply creates a business directly connected with the club. Most often this is via ownership of a stadium and now in our case via ownership of the management of a stadium. The successful models presented by PRL would be Leicester, Gloucester, Exeter, Northampton and Harlequins. These make small profits based on their large support bases and stadium corporate business returns. Not sure about Saracens and Newcastle but both own stadiums but support bases are smaller and result in losses, I think. 

Wasps move to The Ricoh Stadium is different from all these models, more similar to Saracens but unlike that of Leicester, Gloucester etc. It looks like, smells like, works like, branded as and is primarily a football stadium, the home of Coventry City FC. It is not a Rugby Stadium in the fashion of Northampton, Quins etc. We will receive income from the running of this Stadium, as yet the figures are unclear as there is still 50% of the ownership to be resolved. However Wasps could have simply taken control of the running of the Stadium been supported by the revenues of the Stadium and remained at Adams Park or decided to play "big games" only at the Ricoh, Twickenham being too big with about 45,000 required to break even. They could have bought or been bought by a business anywhere in the country, the world and remained at Adams Park, similar to Saracens. The gamble for Wasps is by moving the playing venue this will significantly improve the current Stadium business model, improve revenues generated by the stadium and generate a much larger support base. It needs to at least double the current support base. This is very unlikely with some of the most heavily supported clubs in the close vicinity. However it is extremely likely the move will improve existing returns from the Studium use. But for this to make Wasps profitable we need to know what percentage will go to Wasps? It seems to me and I would suggest also the Club management, as they have already indicated, CCFC will get a better deal than we get at Adams Park and want to help them progress towards the Premiership !!!!  Further to that CCFC could also end up as joint owners with a 50% stake. Whatever happens the important issue will be to increase the Football revenues and increase Football attendances. We are moving into Football Stadium first, none of the other Rugby business models have this.

If we remained at Adams Park we would have to continue paying rent and only get 15p from every £ spent. What the profit margin is on that £ spent is unclear - 40p ? -  said like this 15p doesn't sound so bad. What will be the return on every £ spent at the Ricoh - well I would estimate 20p with a 50% stake. I don't know, would be good to know. Of course we would stay in our region, maintain all the partnerships and our support. It would mean we would not generate so much profit but it would provide time to continue to look for another venue. A better venue, a bigger venue than Adams Park. Saracens are supported by a business from afar and have done just this. Derek Richardson has driven this process and shown fantastic support for the club. However it is our CEO ( throw the eggs at me) and Board who make these decisions. Has this scenario even been considered ? Why have we decided to leave our historic homeland, buy and move into a Stadium that is quite clearly the home of the football club from that city. Other options did/do exist, it is simply not a case of "live or die". Only comes close if Derek Richardson has presented the Club with a "do this or I am off" position and hence has ruled any other options out. We would then go into administration and need to deal with the options as they present themselves. Nobody really knows what this would be. It would of course be painful.  Equally it could present opportunities that before have not been considered. We simply do not know. Mark Rigby stated 3 years ago that moving the club outside of its heartland region was "God forbid" not a option to be considered. Earliest links are reported in newspapers go back to August 2012. So this is not a sudden development.

Moving outside our region to me is not an option to be considered for Wasps or any rugby club. Every supporter will make their own mind up about how they feel. Not a problem.

For me rugby, sport is about working together and dealing with problems as they arise, working hard to develop. The success on the field is the goal, achieved collectively. Individually all then benefit. The greatest fulfilment for players, coaches and supporters is felt by achieving success in the face of adversity, as we most likely saw on Sunday v Bath. It is not about, should not be about which clubs have the most money and can attract the best players and hence win everything. This success for me is hollow. Rugby needs to maintain as far as possible a level playing field and this is very much the role of the PRL and RFU. PRL officials commented several years back about how I would feel about Wasps being the first franchised club. The PRL and RFU have been very quiet since the announcement was made. Clearly they want all clubs to be sustainable in order to grow their product and provide security for employees. However they also need to protect the integrity of the game, it is that that makes the game for most/many. Simply for me this is a step too far, goes against the basic principles of sport and indeed rugby.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

England World Cup Chances - The Biggest Threat.

As the Autumn Internationals approach Englands final push, preparations for the World Cup are under serious threat from the ever increasing list of injured players. England have great strength in depth, however not in all positions and equally as yet the side is not settled. With a large number of these England contenders out with injury the chance to play a settled team during the AI's and the 6 Nations is becoming less likely.

So why are we seeing this increase ? I believe it is a very complex picture. Certainly the increasing physicality of the game is taking its toil, but I would argue a bigger influence is the refereeing of the game which is becoming of great concern. To date with the Premiership season I would estimate a strong arguements could be made that every week 2 or 3 players could easily have been red carded for foul, dangerous or reckless play and that's only from the games I have seen. Are the referees becoming weak ? I think this is too simplistic an answer.

I would highlight a very subtle, not orchestrated, undermining of the authority of the referee which has led to referees turning to the yellow card as opposed to red. Main culprits for me are the whinging and moaning Directors of Rugby and TV pundits/commentators. Referees decisions are being constantly challenged despite one of the fundamental principles of such a physical game as rugby is the referee is the sole judge of fact. Without acceptance of this simple statement the game would fall apart. It cannot be challenged if we and future generations of players/people want to gain the benefits of this special and great game.

There seems to be an attitude amongst DOR's and TV pundits that challenging the referee publically is fair game. It is not. The game at the top is Professional and hence under pressure to entertain. A sending off can end the contest and be contrary to the business principles required by the clubs. However the Professional Clubs do not own the game. To a degree a can understand DOR's reactions to decisions as livlelihoods are constantly under threat, however that does excuse this behaviour. There can be no excuse for TV pundits. Basically often their comments are simply totally irresponsible.

Equally there seems to be a misguided attitude that sending off a player for illegal and dangerous play is in some way making the game soft - "In my day the we took it and got on with it and had a beer afterwards" " handbags" "don't be a big girl" etc etc. Well the game is going soft but not in that way. The increasing tendency NOT to send off players, tolerating dangerous and reckless play, this is soft. Whining, moaning and continually challenging the referees authority is weak, pathetic, soft and most importantly damaging the game at grass roots level and now also at England International level.

It is time to take a stance against those attacking the fundamental core values of the game and stop defending foul, dangerous play. The time has come to encourage and support the referees to take tough action. If England suffer in the coming months leading into the World Cup due to an excessive injury toll a great deal of the responsibility will sit squarely with DOR's and TV pundits due to their unrelenting assault on the referees over several years. Referees have and will always make mistakes. Do what generations have always done before, accept it as a peculiar and centrally important part of the game - live with it. 

Rugbys core values provide an effective preparation for the challenges life present. Learning to deal with events and outcomes as they happen and developing coping strategies makes a person stronger, better. Rugby is just a game, but it is a special game which provides an exceptional basis to ALL that play to lead their lives in a positive and productive manner. I repeat the Professional Clubs do not own the game, it is game owned by all.