“The game in Wales needs the biggest reform in its history if there are not to be repeats of the unacceptable defeat by Georgia. This situation has been brewing for some time. The system is not working. The whole thing needs to be wiped clean. Sadly, I know it won’t happen” – Warburton
Last Updated: 23/11/22 2:07pm
Former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has shared his thoughts and fears for the future of Welsh rugby, saying it needs the “biggest reform in history.”
Writing for The Times on Wednesday, Warburton spoke in the wake of Wales’ embarrassing 13-12 defeat to Georgia in Cardiff – a first loss to Los Lelos.
The loss meant Wales have suffered defeats at home to Italy and Georgia in the same year, while also having lost to Ireland, England, France, South Africa (twice) and New Zealand in 2022.
Indeed, their only wins have come against Scotland, Argentina and a much-changed South Africa in the second of their three-Test July series, live on Sky Sports.
The poor year under head coach Wayne Pivac, which saw them finish fifth in the Six Nations, also comes after a 2020 season which saw them lose seven of 10 Tests, beating only Italy (twice) and Georgia, finishing fifth in the Six Nations as well.
“The game in Wales needs the biggest reform in its history if there are not to be repeats of the unacceptable defeat by Georgia last Saturday,” Warburton said.
“This situation has been brewing for some time both on and off the field. The system is just not working. The whole thing needs to be wiped clean and a fresh start made. Sadly, I know it won’t happen. I know I will say these things and we will be in the same situation in 12 months.
“I genuinely want the best for Welsh rugby. I am a Cardiff boy but if the Scarlets ended up winning the European Cup I would be over the moon. It would be amazing for Welsh rugby. I want everyone in Wales to succeed.
“I would never let any bias towards Cardiff hinder my decision-making and that, unfortunately, is one of the problems in Welsh rugby: there is too much parochialism.
“And the amateur game still has way too much say. Of the 12 directors on the Welsh Rugby Union’s board, there are eight community members. That is like having eight people on the board of a company that are contributing to just one part of the business. It’s just way too many.
“There should be one community member on that board. The community game is hugely important, of course it is, and most of the people involved are well-intentioned, but it should not have eight representatives on the board of a company with a turnover of £100m. It is farcical.
“It is a governance structure that is stuck in the Stone Age. Unless that changes, very little else will change.”
‘It’s such a mess…I really do fear for Wales over the next five years’
In addition to problems in governance, Warburton pointed out how player pathways, funding disputes between the four regions – Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets – and the WRU, and lack of playing depth at senior level also point to a bleak future.
He added: “It is such a mess. There is little trust on either side. I don’t think the WRU trust the regions with their money and then the regions don’t want to be owned by the WRU because their governance is so old fashioned and they do not trust their decisions.
“I really do fear for Wales in the next five years. They are simply not going to have the pool of players to compete, especially once the core of experienced players retire.”
Calls for ‘a brutally honest review’
Speaking as a pundit on Amazon Prime post-Wales’ defeat to Georgia, Warburton pondered “underlying issues” and questioned “why aren’t the players motivated and desperate?”
The 34-year-old, who picked up 74 caps for Wales between 2009 and 2017 before retiring injured, says drastic change needs to occur, and it needs to start with an immediate review.
“There needs to be a very honest review now. If I was in charge at the WRU – and believe me, I am not touting for a job – I would be going around to speak to everyone in the Wales set-up and at the regions,” he said.
“I would be saying: ‘Anonymously, please tell me everything that is good and bad.’ It needs to be brutal across the board to find the answers.”
Sky Sports has contacted the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) for comment regarding Warburton’s claims and statements