Our sport and our business are similarly based on teamwork and strong leadership. So much of the hard work the players and coaches achieve is measured in years and takes place on a pathway which starts a long, long way from our wonderful Millennium Stadium. So too does the business journey.
My role as Group Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union offers me a truly rewarding and unfailingly challenging task of ensuring that the pathways are in place and clear of obstacles. I am confident that having made the tough calls last year we are on course to deliver a secure future for Welsh rugby.
As I await this RBS Six Nations tournament with anticipation and pride I am confident that the Welsh Rugby Union has made great strides in the right direction over the past year.
With the full support of Chairman David Pickering and the board of directors together we have made great strides over the past twelve months and together we face the future with confidence.
I am determined to applaud that hard work by a great team at the WRU and the Millennium Stadium and declare out loud that Wales should be proud of what is being done to sustain and develop the sport of rugby which defines us as a Nation.
It has been a year of massive and sometimes painful change with new people and structures put in place where they are needed and plenty of hard work to renew the systems and procedures which need renewing and developing.
Let's just take a look at where Welsh rugby is right now, TODAY.
We have a new Head Coach who is recognised as world class, a new structure to run our game, a renewed executive board to manage our business and reviews close to completion on the elite game, our Premiership Division and grass roots rugby.
At the top of our sport the clear structure now embraces a powerful triumvirate of the Head Coach in charge of making the senior team a success, an Elite Performance Director to get the best from our most talented players and coaches and a Head of Rugby Development to ensure everyone gets a chance to step onto our pathway to success.
The introduction of that structure is something Welsh rugby should be proud of because it is now the envy of the sporting world. It has been thought through, it is fit for purpose and we have recruited the best talent available to make it work.
To ensure the pathway they develop is as strong as possible last year we increased the WRU spend on elite rugby to a record £15million which is a huge leap from the £11.8 million spent the year before. That's an achievement I am proud of and determined to improve on in future.
I have to be secure I can keep that promise and to make that possible I have restructured the WRU management team with new heads of legal affairs, marketing and finance to run our £43million turnover business with flair, transparency and accountability.
It was that kind of confidence which led me to order a radical and far reaching review of our finances during the year.
The annual report revealed a set of accounts containing more detail than we have ever published in the past and the figures were testimony to some tough boardroom decisions.
Behind the scenes we have also embarked on a new deal making structure which ensures that we talk tough but fair to our customers and get the best for our true shareholders - the people who play and support rugby here in Wales. And there will be further good news next month.
As well as international rugby and soccer we have seen the Millennium Stadium rock to the sound of The Police and Rod Stewart. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen is with us in June this year and Neil Diamond in the summer. We have heard the roar of rally cars, speedway bikes and Monster Trucks and watched the devastating punching prowess of Joe Calzaghe pummel world class opponents in the ring.
We secured all those deals through hard and fair negotiations secure in the knowledge we were selling a stadium with a retractable roof which makes for rain free certainty, a city centre location in which to welcome travelling support and a removable pitch to offer flexibility in the type of event we stage.
We also unveiled a powerful Economic Impact Review which outlined how the Millennium Stadium and the events it stages helped draw some £725 million into the South Wales economy over the first nine years of its existence. That is a truly important statistic which measures the impact of our work on Wales and its success as a modern and economically vibrant Nation.
Some people might ask what that has got to do with rugby. Let me answer that as simply as I can. We must run our business as efficiently and effectively as possible because the profit we earn goes to develop and sustain rugby as our national sport and the elite game as a fitting showpiece for Wales and Welsh rugby fans.
I jointly faced the challenges surrounding the possibility of the collapse of the Heineken Cup as French and English teams threatened to boycott the tournament. For several months I spent hour after hour with our colleagues at meetings in Dublin, London or Paris thrashing out a settlement. It was worth it, we saved the tournament and the work of the Welsh Rugby Union in achieving that victory has been acknowledged with gratitude across the wider rugby and business community.
Some of the most audible sighs of relief came from our four regional teams and I take pride in the way our relationships have blossomed and grown over the past year.
Alright, we have our disagreements, but you show me any close family which does not have its squabbles. I am proud to say that I can, and do, pick up the phone regularly to any of the regional coaches, managers, chief executives and benefactors in the knowledge that we can talk openly and sensibly about the business of Welsh rugby. I am proud of that and grateful to them for their support and hard work.
Last weekend I was interested to read the views of my predecessor, David Moffett, on his ambition to get back into Welsh rugby. Well, let me make a suggestion. Maybe someone with his rugby experience and business skills could make a major contribution at one of our regions. He has close associations at The Ospreys and maybe he could link up with Mike Cuddy and work towards building on the success now being achieved at The Liberty Stadium.
Building on the relationships with our regions has helped us secure a players' participation agreement which not only rewards their amazing efforts on the field but also ensures their welfare in the tough professional rugby environment they operate in.
We are now working hard to close off an agreement with the regions which will be modern and meaningful to take Welsh rugby through to the next World Cup on a secure and strong footing.
Let me be absolutely clear that all sides in these agreements have strong opinions of what is right for them and I applaud everyone involved for the way we are able to get through difficult issues and reach meaningful conclusions. We sometimes have to burn the midnight oil but the headlines which sometimes talk of conflict mask a true spirit of cooperation because, after all, we all want the best for Welsh rugby and we work in a spirit of trust.
We continue to take a lead in world and European rugby. In 2007 we welcomed the world's greatest rugby event to Cardiff and this year we bring the world's first Under 20 World Championship to our nation. Furthermore we have secured the world's greatest non international rugby event, the Heineken Cup Final which comes back to Wales in May.
My phone was red hot over Christmas as I juggled contintental timezones to secure a contract with our new coaching backroom team. I was happy to juggle those timezones because the reward was worth it and so I got the handshake from Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley, two great rugby men, providing Wales with a new dynamic alongside Warren Gatland and an outstanding backroom staff which together has created one of the most formidable outfits in world rugby.
Now more and more of these issues are reaching resolution, the right people are in place and it's time to spend even more time looking forward with eagerness and energy.
I've overseen the move of the Welsh Rugby Union headquarters away from a rented office in the centre of Cardiff back into the stadium we own and run so our base is secure.
We are focusing hard on securing a new Centre of Excellence and I have ordered my team to explore all the options in the knowledge that we have financial package in place which will ensure we get what we want.
The triumvirate of Warren, Graeme Maw as EPD and Nigel Davies as our Head of Rugby Development are currently reviewing the structures of the elite game and they are already making a difference.
One element of the work they will focus on is the Sevens Squad which we have made an important part of our elite performance pathway by introducing them into the core of the IRB circuit this year.
We have invested in the systems and the structures to support and develop the players and, just like any business, we unashamedly want to realise that investment in full.
The best systems are now in place here in Wales so we want players to have close access to the right people to help their progress and we want that progress to be defined by the success and sustainability of our four regional teams.
Everything we aim to do is for the benefit of the game at those elite levels and in the community game to boost participation in rugby.
I am passionate about the success of Welsh rugby and I am completely focused on working tirelessly to secure its future.
Come on Wales, let's have a great Six Nations!