Mike Rush has been appointed the new chief executive officer for St Helens at Langtree Park. 

Described by chairman Eamonn McManus as “ideally qualified and suited to the position,” Rush has more than 13 years’ experience at the club in roles including  youth development officer, assistant coach, head coach and general manager.

Commenting on the announcement, Rush said: “I’m delighted to take up the position of CEO at the Saints. I have been with the club a long time and I am looking forward to contributing to the next stage of its development.”

The decision to appoint Rush will provide much needed stability to the club who currently sit in seventh place in the Super League. Rush, however, is optimistic about the club’s future and has a proven track record after helping the club bounce back in his then-role of head coach from four consecutive losses early last season to finish third overall.

Chairman Eamonn McManus stated: “Mike has extensive relevant experience in every area of the club’s operations and has made a great success of all his roles at the club over an extensive period. 

His loyalty and talent are undoubted and he is totally committed to the success of Saints.”

 

While the majority of Cardiff will still be celebrating the prospect of seeing Premier League football in the Welsh capital next season, not everyone is viewing the promotion of Cardiff City into the top flight as a reason to be cheerful.

Ex-Wales rugby captain Mike Hall says Cardiff City FC’s promotion to the Premier League could be a further blow to regional rugby in Wales, in particular to Cardiff Blues. 

Hall, a former Bluebirds board member, fears the increased focus and interest on the exploits of Cardiff City in their debut season in the Premier League will only exacerbate the problems faced by Cardiff Blues, with locals opting to watch the likes of Manchester United and their world famous players rather than the Blues.

While the national team has experienced incredible success in recent years, the problems faced by Wales’ regional rugby clubs has been much publicised, with dwindling crowd numbers and an exodus of the country’s star names to France and England. 

The issues surround disagreements between the WRU and Wales’ four regional clubs, as the two parties continue to disagree over how best to fund the regional game in Wales in order to put an end to the loss of Welsh talent to the riches of the English and French leagues.

"The Premier League is a worldwide brand but Welsh rugby, sadly, is still bogged down in battles between the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions,” Mike Hall told BBC Radio Wales.

The salary cap that Welsh regional rugby clubs have to operate within (£3.5m per year) is a far cry from the unprecedented riches of the Premier League, with Cardiff City expecting to see its revenue quadruple from £20m to £80m next season, through increased TV and sponsorship revenue and, critically for Cardiff Blues, match day attendances. 

It is this inevitable rise in attendances for Cardiff City’s inaugural season in the Premier League that Hall believes will negatively impact on Cardiff Blues’ crowds, especially with star name Jamie Roberts heading to ply his trade in France for Racing Metro.

While Swansea City have set the precedent on the back of two successful seasons in the Premier League, the club’s performance in the top flight of English football also provides a warning to the effect such success can have on regional rugby clubs. The Ospreys, who ground share with Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium, saw a sharp decline in attendances following Swansea City’s promotion from the Championship in 2011. While attendances for Ospreys games in 2012-13 have risen, the average crowd of 9,641 is dwarfed by that of their footballing counterparts, who have only twice failed to attract less than 20,000 spectators for a home game this season.

While the gulf in attendances between the two sports is even greater in Cardiff, not everyone views the situation with the same levels of pessimism. Blues director of coaching Phil Davies hopes the buzz created round the city will actually have a positive effect:

"It will really bring sport to the forefront of people around this area. Last Saturday was hopefully the sign of things to come with us getting 10,000 and them getting a 20,000-odd capacity to watch them in the Premier League."

In 2012 the Blues moved back to their traditional home of the Arms Park, following three seasons ground sharing at the Cardiff City Stadium. Following disappointing crowds, the Pro12 side negotiated a release from their long-term deal with Cardiff City that was supposed to secure the rugby side at the stadium until 2029.

 

Following Sunday's defeat at home to Northampton Saints which cemented relegation for the struggling Aviva Premiership side, London Welsh has today released a statement on behalf of chairman Bleddyn Phillips.

"First, and perhaps most importantly, the players and coaching staff are to be thanked and applauded for what has been nothing short of a monumental and heroic effort this season.  

"Jonathan Mills and his squad, together with Lyn Jones and his coaching staff, have performed remarkably in keeping the club as competitive in the Premiership as they have been. Not only have we been in contention to stay in the Premiership until the last two or three games of the season, but we have done so with a playing budget of less than half that of any other team in the Premiership and with barely a month or so to prepare for the season."

The statement highlights the club's successes over the season, including wins against Bath, Exeter, London Irish and Sale, with close-run contests against a number of other teams including Saracens, Harlequins and Gloucester.

"We have shown without any doubt that we well deserved our place in the top flight of English club rugby this season, and that view has been endorsed to me by the Chairmen of virtually every Premiership club," added Phillips.

"I would also like to pay tribute and thanks not only to our loyal and passionate supporters from our historic home base of Old Deer Park, but also to those many new followers from the Oxford area where we have been inspired and impressed by the vocalism and number of people who have turned up repeatedly for our home (and indeed away) games throughout the season. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and we hope we can build on that loyalty and repay that commitment in our next playing season."

Phillips goes on to discuss the financial battles the club has faced throughout the season, alongside the impact felt by what Phillips refers to as the 'Mike Scott incident':

"I should like to mention that not only have we had to battle against low budgets and minimal preparation time, with the issue of imbalanced central funding having already been the focus of attention in other recent press stories, but the club has also had to contend with what has in its view been the application of unfair and disproportionate sanctions in the wake of the Mike Scott incident and the consequent five-point deduction at what was a critical stage of the season. 

"Not only did this impact upon our position in the table, dropping us to bottom overnight, but it unsurprisingly had a very profound impact on the morale of the team. A number of people have questioned how an RFU panel roster from whom the arbiters are selected, can, by definition, be truly independent in a case where the RFU itself is a party. Several others have also questioned the propriety of such a harsh sanction when the perpetrator of the crime acted fraudulently, deliberately concealing the facts of the case and against which no measure of checks and balances can typically guarantee proper compliance. 

"It is also strange, some have observed, that the RFU itself, with a fully fledged compliance/registration unit, did not pick up on any of the key points which were instead laid solely at the floor of the club when it itself had perhaps more information, resources and experience to draw upon than a newly promoted club with very limited resources."

Looking to the future, Phillips addresses the rumours surrounding London Welsh's location for next season:

"A number of people have speculated that given the enormous local support built up over the past months in the Oxford region, we should continue to play our rugby in that area. Others have contended that having had a very worthy and dignified season of Premiership rugby in Oxford, we should perhaps now think about returning to our roots in Old Deer Park.  

"Either case does not present an easy solution. Clearly, to have an Oxford based Championship club would require in the first place an appropriate venue and at an appropriate pricing or cost arrangement. We are not now obligated to stay at the Kassam and certainly the present rental charges would be prohibitive and render it financially imprudent to continue there. All that can be said for the moment is that we are considering all options and will come to as early a decision as possible having taken soundings from all our stakeholders.

"Perhaps equally, if not more important, is the issue of future funding for the club to ensure that we are able to compete at an appropriate level. As has been highlighted in recent heavy press coverage, our principal shareholder and benefactor, Kelvin Bryon, has announced that as from the end of this season he will be discontinuing his very generous and critically important funding of the club. 

"Despite heavy investment by certain other people, serious and sustained efforts to identify further major potential investors have proved unsuccessful thus far as have attempts to try and attain a more equitable means of central funding. We will of course continue our efforts on the above matters and this is certainly one factor which will have a bearing on where we may base ourselves for next season." 

The statement also confirms that the club will be looking for a new CEO as Tony Copsey confirms he is to step down from the role.

“I’m obviously very disappointed to be stepping down as the CEO of London Welsh, but given the situation I did not feel carrying on in my current capacity was the best for me or the club," confirmed Copsey.

"I will continue to support the club going forward and wish it all the best in the very challenging times it faces ahead. I know it has the players, the staff and the spirit to overcome the difficulties it has had to contend with in recent weeks and would like to thank all the staff, players and supporters, who have been tremendous in their support and professionalism through increasingly difficult times.”          

 

Teams from across Europe and North America gathered together at Berkshire’s Wellington College last week for a competitive seven days at the annual Wellington International Festival.

The Festival, which secured BMW as its title sponsor for 2013 as part of activating the brand’s four year partnership with the RFU, played host to emerging talent at both under 16 and under 17 age groups as the tournament acts a showcase for future stars of the game, whilst giving the players an insight into an elite environment and prove themselves at an international level.  

Over 320 players and coaching staff made up the nine teams, which included England North, England South, France A and B, Wales A and Scotland, with the USA, Belgium and the Netherlands all entering under 17 teams.

England and Wasps’ Joe Launchbury attended the event in an advisory capacity, sharing his experiences with the aspiring athletes following his international call up less than two years after helping England Under 20 secure the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2011.

Brett Heron, England under 18 fly-half and a pupil and Wellington College himself, played in the festival in 201. Herron, who missed England under 18’s recent European Championship victory due to a knee injury, said: “It’s a great experience to play in front of quite a large crowd; it helps you get more relaxed because when you start playing you feed off the crowd.”

England under 18 head coach John Fletcher was at the College in hope of finding some of the players to feature in his under 17 age group, which is to be selected shortly and will be the next stage of international representation for the successful sportsmen.

The former Newcastle Falcons academy manager and the man responsible for discovering Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood and Mat Tait, is in charge of England’s talent development pathway for under 17, 18 and 19 teams. He stated that this is the first year there has been an alignment in coaching principles through the schools and professional department programmes.

“A good chunk of these players will go through to the 17’s and 18’s so it’s important that we have some form of continuous programme and that’s what we now have,” John added.

 “The coaches here have been excellent and we’ll meet them again in May to plan for next year. This is the first year there is a proper player development pathway at this level.” 

USA Rugby has announced a three year deal with Rhino Rugby America, which will see the equipment manufacturer appointed as an Official Sponsor and Official Supplier of scrummaging equipment to USA Rugby with immediate effect.

This exciting partnership will afford the USA Eagles the ability to use premier Rhino scrummaging and rucking equipment at select training sites throughout the country.

Rhino Rugby is also offering USA Rugby members and teams a 10% discount through May 2013 on all Rhino Scrum Sleds.

Based in Petersburg, Illinois, Rhino Rugby America supplies a full range of scrummaging machines and contact equipment wholly manufactured in the USA for clubs, schools and university sides throughout the North American market.

The world famous Rhino scrummaging equipment is supplied by the parent company to the British & Irish Lions, England and Wales and many professional sides throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Rhino Rugby America is the group’s first manufacturing operation outside of the UK.

Reg Clark, Rhino Group CEO said: "I have been incredibly impressed by how quickly Norm Jones and Jim Carlberg of Rhino Rugby America have been able to replicate the high quality manufacturing standards we demand in respect of our globally acclaimed product range. Rugby clubs all over the United States now have easy access to that product range, and on a ‘Made in USA’ basis. This Official Sponsor and Supplier deal with USA Rugby is a great accolade and we look forward to working with the union in one of the most exciting growth markets in world rugby.”

Nigel Melville CEO of USA Rugby added: “We are thrilled to leverage such a quality, American-made product range and partner in Rhino Rugby. Rhino has some of the best equipment in the world and is a welcome resource to our USA Rugby National teams and membership base alike. Rhino Rugby scrummaging equipment will be placed in key USA Rugby National Team training locations throughout the country, and will be put to great use by a variety of teams upon availability.”

 

The Llanelli Scarlets have confirmed this week that Wales wing George North will be joining Northampton Saints this summer, 12 months before his contract with the club is due to expire. 

The decision comes after weeks of conflict between the WRU and the Welsh regions, which culminated last week in the national governing body accusing Scarlets of trying to ‘cash in’ on one of their key assets by touting North to a French club without his consent. 

Scarlets’ head coach Simon Easterby praised North’s handling of the situation, stating, "I suppose he'd been singled out a couple of weeks ago, which isn't ideal with all this dispute that is going on, but he's handling it well.” 

Subsequently, the WRU’s invitation to the four regions to meet and discuss the central contracting of players has been unanimously declined. 

The row over North and the right to sell his professional contract has been a regular feature in the sport’s headlines and begs the question; if North was being sold to a Welsh counterpart, would the perception from the WRU have been different? 

A confirmed figure is yet to have been released, however it is expected that Northampton will have paid at least £200,000 to guarantee North’s early release from his contract.

Despite the club’s best efforts to retain the 20 year old powerhouse, chief executive Mark Davies stated, “We have to fully understand and appreciate that George's quite unique value in the rugby marketplace, possibly inside Wales but certainly outside Wales, is considerably greater than the Scarlets as an independent business can reach.”

North’s representative Christian Abt added, "At the same time, it became very apparent that due to a number of factors beyond our control and with no clear directive on the horizon, keeping George in Wales would prove increasingly difficult over time.”

Easterby expressed the difficulty the club faces, commenting, "you've got to play with the cards you're dealt and I don't think we're the only club or region in Wales that is short of finance compared to others in Europe, and in our league even." 

Mike Phillips, James Hook and Gethin Jenkins are all playing their rugby in France, with centre Jamie Roberts and flanker Dan Lydiate expected to join wealthy side Racing Métro this summer and with North following prop Paul James into the Aviva Premiership. 

With such a large number of Wales’ starting team now playing abroad, the issues concerning WRU funding are paramount as offers from further afield suddenly become all the more appealing.

 

BBC Sport and IMG have announced a new agreement which will see live broadcasts from the 2013 and 2017 Rugby League World Cups, plus coverage of the 2014 and 2016 Four Nations tournaments via the BBC’s TV, radio and online channels.

Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, says: “It's very exciting to cap our rugby league portfolio with the top international tournaments, enabling us to offer audiences the pinnacle events of the sport each year. These add to our already comprehensive coverage, which gives the full narrative of the season. This is a great opportunity to bring Rugby League to a wide audience and showcase the best players in the world through the BBC’s multi-platform coverage.

“These events join an impressive BBC Sport international portfolio that includes the 2014 Winter Olympics from Russia, the Football World Cup and Olympics in Rio in 2016 and the World Athletics Championships from 2013 to 2017.”

The Rugby League World Cup 2013 on the BBC will see live coverage of all England’s group games on television and radio. The package also includes one quarter-final, a semi-final and the final at Old Trafford on 30 November. Regular highlights programmes will also be shown via the BBC Sport website and BBC Sport App, supporting extensive coverage on both Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra.

RLWC2013 tournament director Nigel Wood said: “This is fantastic news for RLWC2013. The BBC is arguably the number one terrestrial sports broadcaster in the world. Their incredible coverage of the London Olympics further enhanced their reputation and so for them to cover the next international sporting event in the UK is a great fit for them and for us.”

 

HSBC has announced it will be the official broadcast partner with Sky Sports for this summer’s British & Irish Lions Tour in Australia.

The agreement will see HSBC receive significant coverage throughout the broadcasts, including branded opening, closing and centre breaks during all matches, highlights and support programming, alongside a permanent HSBC headline on Lions Tour pages.

David Shore, Sky Media’s head of new business, said: “As principal partner of The British & Irish Lions, it makes perfect sense for HSBC to extend its association to our multiplatform coverage.

“The broadcast sponsorship will enable HSBC to reinforce its partnership with viewers at home and on the move and we are delighted to have secured them.”

Giles Morgan, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship & events, added: “The British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia is an extremely important sponsorship for the bank.

“We're delighted to be the first Principal Partner to renew their association for two consecutive tours and this multi-channel partnership with the official broadcaster is a key part of our sponsorship engagement activity with our UK customers." 

This summer’s tour will be the fifth to be broadcast on Sky Sports since 1997 and will comprise ten matches to be screened live on TV, mobile, online and tablet devices. 

 

Last December’s Championship clash between Newcastle Falcons and London Scottish was the debut fixture for Ref-cam. A small chest mounted camera worn by RFU referee Mathew Carley, this exciting new development sparked interest around the world, as fans and coaches alike were eager to see the outcome. 

Many hoped to gain an insight into the elusive ‘dark arts’ of the sport, unspoken techniques used by players in rucks and scrums and away from public view. Feedback from the trial was fairly positive, however the camera’s position on the referee meant the shots were subsequently of the player’s chest or often, after the crouch phase, would miss the scrum entirely. 

Never one to shy away from opinion, Brian Moore stated that “apart from nausea, Sky’s Ref-cam added nothing to the viewing experience”. Others disagreed and believed it offered a different perspective for viewers and, if nothing else, can be used as a training tool for referees.

When Australian Super 15 teams NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds met in February, SANZAR trialled its version of Ref-cam with New Zealand referee Chris Pollock.  The transmission from this version looked a lot more convincing than the northern hemisphere attempt, with the camera mounted on the referee’s earpiece and worn in addition to a transmitter unit fitted in a vest. This gave the viewer a far greater insight with the feed visible from eye level.

Ref-cam has the backing of league administrators SANZAR, with CEO Greg Peters confirming that he is “very supportive of the trial of this new technology” and SANZAR game manager Lyndon Bray describing the technology as having potential, “both for the fans, putting the game right into the living room, so to speak, which I think is really important in today's world in sport, but secondly for us, from an educational point of view and a coaching tool. I think it has got some great possibilities for us.”

As technology progresses so does the viewer’s expectations and in today’s game, where we already have referees wearing microphones and cameras in the changing rooms, it may well be that the next step forward is towards Ref-cam. Other sports have taken a similar route, with the so-called Stump-cam and third umpire in cricket, Hawk-Eye in tennis and the existing video referee in both rugby union and league. 

Whatever the outcome, it is refreshing to see rugby at the forefront of technology, pioneering the usage for other sports to take note on a global scale. If Ref-cam does become a regular feature on our television screens and watching rugby from one’s armchair is more interactive than ever before, it will then raise the question; will this development lead to fewer people attending on match days?

 

 

 

 

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has confirmed pre-tax profits of 6.2 million rand ($675,300) for the year ended December 31, 2012, it today announced at the organisation's annual meeting.

Group revenue rose 15 percent from $65 million to $75 million, due largely to an increase in income from broadcasting rights, sponsorships and home tests, which had been reduced in the 2011 rugby World Cup year.

The rise was offset by group operating expenditure which increased by 20 percent, mostly due to costs associated with the hosting of the test at FNB Stadium and the IRB junior World Cup.

SARU CEO Jurie Roux commented: "The overall position remains reasonably healthy - despite the macroeconomic situation. However, cash reserves ($1.09 million) are significantly lower than those of the previous year."