WRU Chief Executive Roger Lewis recently stated his belief that “central control” is the way to improve the Welsh regions fortunes in European rugby, which is wildly optimistic given that the regions regularly compete with teams who have budgets & salary caps far beyond their scant means. Presumably he believes that by “centralising” budgeting, marketing, staffing and player recruitment the Union will save money, this is where the major concern begins, finance. In the recent past Lewis has been as pains to point out that the WRU are still in debt regarding the Millennium Stadium, which some people find almost shocking, especially given that it’s widely regarded as one of the most atmospheric and emblematic stadia of the recent times. The mere fact that the WRU don’t appear to be able to increase it’s profitability by attracting more events is, to say the least a worry. In addition to proposing that control of the regions should be transferred to the Union Lewis also implied that one of the regions should cease to be an equal member of the quartet and become a “development side”. The suggestion that Wales needs a “development side” is not in itself a bad decision, but when it’s suggested by the WRU who decided to stop Wales fielding an “A” side in the 6 Nations it is quite hard to swallow. Had it not been for injury to the players ahead of them in the pecking order Wales would not have capped Liam Williams and Lou Reed during the autumn, 2 players who became shining lights in what was otherwise a very dark period of Welsh rugby. What is even more of a worry, is if the WRU believe that there is only enough player talent to support 3 full regions and a developmental region, they really should look at Wales’ 2012 Junior World Cup Squad, who finished 3rd, condemning the Junior All Blacks to their first defeat at a JRWC along the way and how little exposure these promising players are getting to top flight rugby.
Currently there are 3 players who appeared at the JRWC, Tom Prydie, Eli Walker and Samson Lee who would be considered “regular starters” for their regional teams. There are others who have featured for their regions, either as substitutes, or in the frankly worthless “LV Cup” a competition in which seemingly no team wants to field their first choice players.
Heading the list of players who don’t feature anywhere near often for their regions is Ospreys Fly Half Matthew Morgan, the diminutive 21 year old made his debut for the region in 2010, but as Dan Biggar’s understudy he has made just 18 senior starts, 15 of which have come in the LV Cup. Other 2012 Under 20 squad members who would benefit from playing more competitive rugby at a level higher than “Principality Premiership” level include another Ospreys Fly Half Sam Davies, son of Gloucester head coach and former Welsh Centre Nigel. Sam made his debut for the Ospreys in January 2012, playing 9 minutes against Newport Gwent Dragons; he had to wait until November for his second taste of senior regional rugby, when he played against his father’s Gloucester team in the LV Cup. That’s one example of just how concentrated the talent pool is in Wales, there are other players who are stick playing in the Premiership week in and week out against players who are far below their standard and have no chance of progressing. Much has been made of full Welsh Internationals leaving the Principality to pursue careers in France, where not only do they get paid more, but also where the standard of competition is much higher.
Aside from the players who represented Wales at last year’s U20 age group there are around 30 other young players who would benefit from more exposure to senior representative rugby and not just during the LV Cup, at the Cardiff Blues alone there are 2 back 3 players in the shape of Dan Fish and Harry Robinson, who already has 1 International Cap and 1 International try to his name, who deserve to be staring week in and week out and would be but for Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert, players could arguably be called the best in their positions in world rugby.
Although Wales’ results in the Autumn International series seem to belie this fact there is plenty of playing talent on that side of the River Severn, the major concern is that it’s not matched by the ability of the administrators who are supposed to have the best interests of the game at heart. The decision to install a man with no experience as a head coach in Rob Howley to replace Warren Gatland during his stint as Lions boss is in itself a very small, yet very questionable decision.