Rev. Pete catches up with Paul Whapham

By Rev. Pete orphan | 06/04/2018

  •  A foot in both camps but hopefully moving in the same direction !
  • Rev. Pete Orphan chats to Paul Whapham: The past. present & future.
  • Latest news on Whites' "Chosen Charity" Macmillan Cancer.


As club chairman Stephen Hughes mentioned in his last programme notes, the much awaited WRU decision on the future of development rugby in Wales has gone public. Following a lengthy consultation and many changes the headlines were the establishing of regional under 23 squads and the reduction of the Premiership from 16 clubs to 12.

I caught up with Paul Whapham who has been one of Swansea RFC representatives in the future planning meetings with the WRU. His day job is with the Ospreys so with a foot in both camps he seemed an ideal person to ask about the new structure and how it will impact upon Swansea.

 

Paul, tell us how you first came to be involved with Swansea RFC?
I first became involved as a 16-year-old when I was invited to trial for a newly formed U17s. I was
lucky enough to be selected for the squad and went on to play for the U17s, U19s and U21s. More
recently I have been involved at the club for the past 5 years as Team Manager and now as a
board member.

What's your rugby background playing and off the field?
On field I have played for a few clubs, but played the majority of my rugby at Morriston RFC, with a
few years at Birchgrove and Cardiff Met. I’ve also played a bit of rugby league and was capped by
Wales Dragon hearts winning the 4 nations. Off the field I have been involved with Ospreys U16s,
Ospreys Prem Select Team and Swansea.

Your role has changed here at St. Helens from team manger to director of ruby operations? What does that mean?
I am responsible for all of the Team administration at the club, overseeing a range of strategic and
off field operational issues at the club. My current responsibilities include; managing rugby budget,
player contracts, submitting the A Licence criteria each year, all disciplinary hearings, working with
the medics to ensure that all elements of player welfare are in place, providing a link to the
Ospreys and alongside Alun Donovan I attend the monthly Premiership meetings. More recently I
have taken over the responsibility for working with the Balconiers and Glamorgan to deliver the
festival of cricket in the Summer. I’ve managed to sneak back onto the touchline twice this year, so
hopefully I will still get to make the odd appearance.

You also work for the Ospreys so what's your role with them?
I am head of Ospreys in the Community, the official charity of Ospreys Rugby. I was employed to
created and establish Ospreys in the Community the first charity linked to one of the Pro 14 teams.
Over the past 3 years the charity has had substantial growth and now has 11 staff and engages
with approx. 40,000 people per year from across the region. More recently I have taken over
responsibility for the WRU Community strategy in the region, so we now have a ‘One Community’
offering with clear alignment for all aspects of both the Ospreys and WRU initiatives.

Last week the WRU announced its latest set of changes for premiership/regional rugby. How do you see the new proposals?
It’s a tough one. On a rugby development front, I think it’s the right think to do. Having 16 teams in
the league is too many and there aren’t enough players of the right quality. In my opinion the U23s
structure has been in place but under the guise of the Premiership select teams. This proposed
changes now give those players a better season structure, extra coaching support and the clubs
the ability to play week in week out with no interruption.
From a Swansea RFC point of view, it’s been a tough decision to take. Over the past 2 years we
have been working to a 3 year coaching and business plan to make sure that we don’t end up bottom of the league and end up relegated in 2018/19 season. Now with the goal posts moving to
see 4 teams relegated and a possible 5th team too, it possess a greater challenge for next season.
We have had positive meetings with the Ospreys and new commercial partners, so plans are well
under way to meet that challenge head on.

Some feel from what's been said in the press, that the phased reduction of funding to the
premiership is a sign of the WRU slowly killing off the club game, so they will become amateur again? Do think this is the case?

We have never had the same funding as other premiership clubs, so the reduction in funding is not
ideal but it isn’t as much of an issue for us as some other clubs. The funding that is available in 4
years time is very similar to what we receive this year. Other Premiership clubs are going to have
to take an increased view on their commercial activity if they are to sustain paying the players to
the extent they currently do. To be honest and this is a personal view, the spiralling wage costs that
are being talked about is getting out of control and it can’t be sustained at our level. Whilst I don’t
think this level of rugby should be completely amateur something needs to be done to stop clubs
falling into financial difficulty and dropping down the leagues at the expenses of players pockets.

Do you see there being any pathway for players from the club scene to professional regional
squads anymore ?

Yes. The proposed u23 structure will give a number of players from the Swansea squad the
chance to go into the Ospreys environment and have the opportunity to impress regional coaches
and try to force their way into the Ospreys squad. This season we have seen Rhys Williams, Jay
Williams, Andrew Claypole and others be given a chance to play at a higher level in both the BI
Cup and Anglo Welsh competitions. That will still continue but under a new format with greater
support from the regional set up. Similarly we will continue to see Ospreys players in a Swansea
jersey next season as they need game time to improve.

There still seems uncertainty as to how the fixtures for next season will look and whether any players from the Ospreys will be available to Swansea, do you know anything more on this?
We are still waiting on the final details around season structure, but the initial draft information has
a clear timeline for when players will become available. The idea is that once the U23 fixtures are
complete regional players will either join the Ospreys squad to play in the Pro 14 during the
autumn international with the remaining players released to Premiership clubs.

Some have commented that other regions support their clubs more than the Ospreys do. When you look at the last few years the tables and see the Ospreys club sides struggling, do think that's
fair ?

No I don’t think its fair. Whilst we have had some ups and downs during my 5 years at the club on
the whole the Ospreys have been supportive of what we are trying to do by developing young
talent. The main reason the league is like it is, is due to player budget size and the ability to pay for
experienced players. There is no secret that clubs in the East have larger players budgets than
clubs in the West, with some West clubs punching above their weight. It’s easy to forget that
already this season we have seen 7 players pull on the white of Swansea, Black of Ospreys and
red of Wales. Something that the club is extremely proud of, whilst being realistic that they can’t
wear all 3 shirts at once and with such a work load will come injuries and unavailability.

How to see Swansea's hopes going into next season with possibly four or even five clubs being relegated?
The board and coaches are positive about next season. We all realise that we are in for one of the
biggest seasons in the club’s history. In order to be up for the fight, we need to strengthen in a few areas and I am pleased to confirm that we have managed to retain all of the key members of our
squad too. We have started to do this and more will become clear in the Summer. With support
from the Ospreys and our current squad being another year older and having more experienced
we will be making every effort to maintain our position in this league.

We are a rich club in history but don't have the large money resources that some clubs have, do you think in the end it boils down to economics who will survive or not ?
Not entirely. Yes the clubs with big budgets will find it easier to establish strong squads but that is
no different to any sport. If it was purely down to budget would Swansea City have stayed in the
Premiership as long as they have?

If you could pick out a highlight of your time here at St. Helens what would it be ?
Definitely the final home game that got us promoted back to the Premiership. Fair play to Jac
Wilson with the winning drop goal vs RGC. Thankfully there was video evidence to remind me as
that night is still a bit hazy.

What are your five favourites ?
App - twitter
Animal - Dog
Food - Sunday Lunch
Holiday destination - Las Vegas
Chocolate bar – Chocolate Orange

What are your thoughts on Saturday's game against Neath ?
Always a tough game, especially as Neath will be looking for revenge following our bonus point win
at home earlier this year. I am confident that if we can maintain our discipline we will sneak win.
Thanks to Paul for giving us his reflections on the way ahead. What's clear that the club needs
everyone pulling together for what will be a massive season next year. So do all you can to get
behind the Whites. Finishing the season strongly will be of benefit to next year so let's get behind
the boys on Saturday, after the heart break of Tuesday nights game and help them turn over local, rivals
Neath.

Finally thank you for all those who generously donated to the bucket, at our Good Friday fixture v Pontypridd. You helped raise £194.04 for the clubs chosen charity Macmillan cancer support. That takes this season's total so far to £ 647.27 towards our target of £1,500. Watch out for an announcement of a special last game of the season event, to support the club's charity and get
ready to bake !

Enjoy the game
Rev Pete

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