Welsh Rugby Is Dying

Wales did well in the RWC 2015. Well, they lost anyway.

Wales did well in the last 6 Nations too – we came 3rd.

Regional rugby is going swimmingly well too. Yep, I’m kidding of course. A Welsh team has never won the European Cup, Beddau 2nds get more fans turning up to an away game than Cardiff Blues and club rugby (that is all the clubs below the so-called ‘professional’ regional level) is going down the pan along with The Thomas family millions.

Think about it? Ponty’s “House of Pain” used to be just that for visiting sides (think Munster, Leicester, Bath, Leinster, Wasps and so on…) but now all we have is a creaking reminder of former glories. Remember Neil Jenkins, Martyn Williams, and the rotund Phil John and what he was worth?

Up and down the principality rugby clubs are struggling to survive. The money men have gone, all but the very die-hard of fans have left the building, councils are closing grounds, stands are crumbling, clubhouses open only on match days, players can earn more money fiddling the dole doing roofing jobs than spending time on the training field and you’ve as much chance of seeing Elvis in Treorchy as a full attendance.

The professional era promised so much but it was just a get-rich-quick scheme for the lucky few. Sure, plenty of committeemen had new conservatories built but what about investment in rugby, in schools, in coaches, in the small clubs, infrastructure, in the future?

All that regional rugby has done for Wales is break the hundred year old links between communities and the village, town and valleys teams.

Is rugby still the Welsh national game or is it mountain biking or fishing?

It’s Ponty v Cardiff on Boxing Day, a fixture that once saw 10,000 fans brave the elements to watch their heroes hit lumps out of each other. But not anymore. I doubt there’ll be 2000, and even that is ten times what most clubs get these days. Ponty is the last great Welsh team left. The last club left standing. You could make a film about it if Custer wasn’t already dead and gone.

Rumours on the terraces abound that lowly Merthyr are paying players £20,000 a year even though they are in the division below Pontypridd. All in cash of course. How can the village teams in their division compete with that? They can’t, and they will lose.

Pontypridd used to pay players well but now they struggle to pay anything near a £10,000-a-year salary, let alone the £600,000 Toulon pay Leigh Halfpenny, and they’ll laugh in your face if you say Welsh rugby is doing well.

Even the rich regional clubs set up by the Australian-run WRU at the time can’t compete with other nations. We must accept that Wales is a poor country, like Fiji and Samoa are to New Zealand. You can’t blame the players that are leaving for England and France.

Yet the WRUin in Cardiff gets richer as more corporate sponsorship brings even more people through the Millennium Stadium gates that don’t know one end of a rugby ball from the other (think about that one). There’s business people drinking champagne in their cosy boxes with salmon platters and half of them are not even watching the game on the telly provided. So much for live sport. Real rugby fans still crowd the pubs of the city on match days but only Brains brewery, chip alley and a few pasty shops makes any money. The valleys still struggle.

And the worst thing that has happened to Welsh rugby? Warren Gatland’s relative success.

The national side have been Six Nations champions four times in the last decade – incredible, considering the mess in the club scene. Ask yourself where the next Shane Williams or Sam Warburton will come from?

It has “sugar-coated” the reality. The reality that all true rugby fans can see as plain as a Bulgarian pin-up. Unless the WRUin make drastic changes to the game it is doomed.

A move to ‘true’ regions might have worked. Maybe even cutting the top flight by one or two clubs might have worked. But now all we have is four clubs, which means Ebbw Vale, Caerphilly, Pontypridd, Bridgend and Neath now have no top-tier team to support.

A favourite Sardis Road song is “I’ll never be a blue”. That sums up the insensitivity of the WRUin to the ethos of Welsh club rugby and why the ‘super clubs’ experiment will never work. Old rivalries was what made a Saturday afternoon worth living for. Not anymore.

The WRUin will probably get what they want of course. The death of Ponty and valleys rugby. The British & Irish Cup, which provided a competitive environment has been taken away from the best club in Wales. The rise of Merthyr that some see as a threat will Peter out as quickly as it loses money for the investors. After all it’s just a childish attempt to do a Welsh Toulon without reading the rules of the leagues – i.e. no promotion to regional level, therefore a completely pointless exercise.

It’s a far bleaker picture elsewhere in Wales. Great clubs like Pontypool, Aberavon, Newbridge, Swansea, Bridgend, Neath and many others are ghost towns on a Saturday when once you’d be queuing to get into pubs and clubhouses.

The future? There isn’t one at the moment.

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