Many rugby fans wanted there to be 5 regions not 4 and were disheartened to say the least when the Celtic Warriors disbanded. Well now we have our 5th region, all be it in France, and still they aren’t happy. There are many unsettling issues in the world of rugby, particularly in Wales, of which the Welsh player drain is just one. With the threatened break up of the Heineken Cup still not fully settled, shambolic scrums, player concussion controversies and in Wales more WRU and regional talks have failed to reach agreement yet again rugby seems prepared to lurch from one crisis to another.
The player drain is an issue, of course we want our best players playing in Wales but the regions simply don’t have the funding but then are reluctant to agree to central contracts. This is probably the best way forward for now but the regions don’t want to give up too much control over the players as they see them as a draw for their particular region. Personally having grown up in an era when almost an entire first xv went North i can still remember having to sit on the grass for club matches at the Arms Park despite being robbed of some of our best players. So maybe the player issue is a smoke screen that covers the failings of the product.
Lets be fair at best the RaboDirect isn’t great, it can be exceptionally tepid and uninspiring at times. Undoubtedly the exposure for the Italian teams is bringing an improvement in results for both club and in the recent six nations, so with the benefit to the greater good of the sport it has some level of justification. As a spectacle it is pretty poor at times and that isn’t due to the standard of the playing clientele owing to the absence of star names. After all in real terms they play very few RaboDirect regular season games. The standard of refereeing is a bit hit and miss, ok it’s quite a lot hit and miss but the nature of Heineken qualification lends itself to many meaningless games. This is reflected in the average attendances for the Welsh regions in relation to the population is:-
Scarlets – 6,641/377,383
Ospreys – 7,804/501,530
Blues – 7,529/739,522
Dragons – 5,629/561,751
With a massive debt hanging around their necks and being ambiguous about central contacts, where do the regions go as a sustainable business from here? One idea mooted is an Anglo-Welsh or British league with entrance into the Champions Cup that is in turn being mooted by the Premiership teams. A return to the regular cross border games would be a welcome return for many of us of a certain age who were brought up seeing such games. This would certainly bring some of the crowds back as would better marketing.
Merchandising and brand marketing is a bug bear for me, i bought my son a Cardiff City kit, shirt shorts and socks, for 30 quid with a name on the back. Just the top alone at the Blues cost 45 quid. Where did my money and interest go? I appreciate the kit may cost more to make but run a loss leader get the kids and families involved. Get what players are left out into the community, get them and their regions in the face of the public. Other than a few rule changes to improve the product and better marketing what else can be done?
One idea might be to fill the stadiums with free tickets for schoolkids, recoup the loss via merchandise and catering sales and getting people from a young age into the habit of attending. One other idea might be to tie in with the premier league teams or Glamorgan CCC and do combined season ticket offers, even if it added 100 new members they would still be a good thing. If the regions adopted the central contracts too there is a potential to if not make money then certainly cauterize the financial wound.
Without such changes i guess we would have to make the best of what we do have which is seizing on the positives. On the plus side our best players will still be playing Heineken Cup and top level rugby and wont be a financial burden on the regions. Also their moving on allows a chance for first team football for a youngster who otherwise may have been denied by the presence of a star in the squad and there is no substitution for playing when it comes to development. I guess that is probably clutching at straws but the good thing about that scenario is that at least if our new fifth region in France is to exist it wont cost us much.
- The Breakdown | We’ve been here before with the Heineken Cup, so all hope is not lost | Paul Rees (theguardian.com)
- Regions and WRU set for more talks as showdown meeting ends ‘constructively’ – but with no agreement (walesonline.co.uk)
- Leigh Halfpenny ‘will leave Wales for France’, according to report (walesonline.co.uk)
- Wales captain Sam Warburton set to leave Cardiff as deal deadline passes (theguardian.com)
- Welsh teams could add to the chaos in rugby row (standard.co.uk)
- Welsh rugby at war: Everything you need to know about the dispute between the regions and WRU (walesonline.co.uk)