All posts by Dan

It’s the coaches, stupid

My kids have just taken up rugby, so rather than stand on the sidelines nattering with the other parents, I’ve decided to get stuck in and start coaching at the local club. If you want to take it seriously, this involves doing courses. Learning how to be a coach. So I’ve enrolled on the WRU’s entry-level coaching course, which begins in November. I’m really looking forward to it.

This evening, we learned of a coaching clear-out at Cardiff Blues. For those who listen to the Welsh rugby bush telegraph, this won’t come as a surprise. Rumours of Shaun Edwards joining the Blues as defence coach have been rife for months.

Iestyn Harris as backs coach is an interesting prospect. But it seems Phil Davies’ job is safe, for the moment. A tough home game against the European champions Toulon beckons this weekend, and if the Blues don’t manage to salvage a point from that, then their Heineken Cup campaign is pretty much over before Christmas, yet again. It’s a cruel game for everyone involved: players, fans, investors and coaches.

Coaches. The fall guys of professional sport. The scapegoats who are always shown the door first. They take the blame for the failure of their charges on the pitch, and also for the cowardice of the men who pay their wages. Strategy and tactics are their responsibility, so maybe it’s only fair that they should take the rap.

Even when they’re successful, they’re only as good as their last game. Look at Mike Ruddock. In 2005 he guided Wales to their first Grand Slam in nearly 30 years. A year later he was gone. He resigned, but those two words don’t really paint the full, gory picture of the circumstances of his departure.

What’s my point? It’s in the title, stupid. Coaches.

It’s the conundrum which has perplexed us ever since that re-birth in 2005. How on earth do Wales manage to be so successful on the international stage, and yet their regions are so (relatively) hopeless in Europe? OK, so the Ospreys and Scarlets have won the Celtic League a few times between them. But surely a nation that’s managed to win four Six Nations titles in the past decade should be producing domestic teams who can achieve comparable success? Obviously not. This question has troubled me for a long time, and I’m not the only one.

The obvious answer is supported by tonight’s news from the Arms Park. It’s about the quality of coaching. And, importantly, the resources available to the coaches.

Team Wales have been blessed with a settled, well-funded and resourced coaching set-up since 2005, and the investment has borne fruit year after year. Only injuries to key players have prevented us from being more successful during the intervening period.

On the other hand we have the regions, having to make do with the crumbs from Team Wales’ table. A few million quid between them in compensation for access to star players (the star players whose wages they pay, I may add), and not enough money to keep those stars from seeking to make a living outside Wales.

Some people argue that this top-heavy concentration of investment is necessary for the greater good of Team Wales. The regions are a means to an end, they say. That’s great, if you just like watching international rugby. If you want to see your local team doing well, then you’re shafted. If you ever want to see a Welsh side winning the Heineken Cup, dream on.

On top of that, we have three problems which compound each other:

Firstly, the lack of success in the Heineken Cup makes the job of being a Welsh regional coach very unattractive for top coaches from other countries.

Secondly, the regions are unable to afford to pay the salaries that the best coaches now demand, and the regions’ inability to hold on to talented players (again down to money) means that any new coach will be at an immediate disadvantage.

Thirdly, the standard of home-grown coaches in Wales is not good enough for regional rugby, let alone international rugby. Sure, we have Lyn Jones who’s led the resurgence at Newport (I refuse to call that team by any other name), Nigel Davies at Gloucester and David Young at Wasps, but even they would admit it would be massive step up for them to coach Team Wales at this point.

That leaves the backroom boys in Warren’s World. Rob Howley, Robin McBryde, Shaun Edwards and Neil Jenkins. All great at their particular specialisms, but again, none of them proven at international level. Rumour has it that Shaun is on his way to the Blues, to fix their leaky defence. Good luck to him. But it’s head coaches that we’re lacking here in Wales, and I can’t see how we’re going to fix that hole.

It’s the money, stupid.

Re-live the “Lions Raw” with Gwladrugby!

We’ve got our hands on some copies of the behind-the-scenes documentary of the British Lions’ epic 2013 tour of Australia, and we want to give them away to lucky Lions supporters.

In 2013, Australia, it fell upon the shoulders of one of the youngest Lions squads in living memory to restore the honour of the British & Irish Lions – a win down under was 24 years in the waiting.

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In true Lions form, they hid from no man and opened their doors to the Lions Raw film crew who captured every moment of our crusaders journey from pre tour training camps to the emphatic demolition of the Wallabies in the 3rd Test in Sydney on 6th July.

This is the journey of the Lions 2013 – open, honest, impassioned and brutally candid. Now it is time to see what really happened behind the scenes under incredible circumstances – the personalities, the drama, the lows, the disappointments and the incredible highs.

With never before seen footage across all 10 games, this is an outstanding documentary. With unrestricted access to every meeting and training session the cameras also captured the passion and intensity of the dressing room before and after the matches, with some colourful half time exchanges and captured the pressure, up close, with the management in the coaches boxes.

From the crushing lows of injury and defeat to the highest highs of victory, this documentary delivers what no other Lions DVD has for 16 years – a winning series to savour. This is the first Lions behind the scenes film to be filmed in full HD, including stunning slo-motion and cinematic lenses.

If you enjoyed Living with the Lions you are in for a raw treat!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of the Lions Raw DVD, just answer the three quiz questions here. Please remember to add your name, email address and phone number so we can contact you.


Win PRO12 tickets for Ospreys v Dragons on 25th October

Once again Gwladrugby has teamed up with proud title sponsors RaboDirect to bring Welsh fans closer to the action of some of the most exciting rugby in Europe with an awesome competition.


To recognise how important your support is, RaboDirect is giving ten lucky fans the chance to win a pair of tickets to watch the Ospreys take on the Dragons in a cracking Welsh derby at the Liberty Stadium on Friday 25th October.

To be in with a chance of winning the tickets you need to answer our quiz question. Please remember to add your name, email address and phone number so we can contact you. Please don’t enter the competition unless you’re able to go to the game.

Good luck!

Click HERE to enter the quiz!

Are you the biggest fan of the RaboDirect PRO12? Join Europe’s premier straight talking rugby fanbase by following @RaboInsider on Twitter.

Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday 23rd October. Please make sure you check your email to see if you’ve won.

Remember: Please don’t enter the competition unless you’re able to go to the game.

The History of the Fly Half Factory

It was Max Boyce who introduced the concept of Welsh rugby’s fly half factory in his famous poem from Live at Treorchy in 1974. At the time the production line had been going through one of its most prolific decades of operation. Cliff Morgan, Carwyn James, Dai Watkins, Barry John and Phil Bennett had all rolled off the mythical conveyor belt.number10a

Whilst those names are familiar to most Welsh rugby supporters of a certain age, there are many others in Lynn Davies’ list of “Great Welsh Number 10s” which may not be so easy to recall. Roy Burnett? Glyn Davies? Billy Cleaver? No, me neither! Many of these forgotten men were victims of the success of their more illustrious contemporaries. Let’s call it the “Chico Hopkins” factor. Players who in any other era would have dominated their sport, instead had to make do with playing second fiddle to the likes of Barry John and Cliff Morgan.

It’s a shame that the story stops at 1999 with Neil Jenkins, world record points scorer and all-round Ponty legend. Perhaps that’s when the romantic notion of the feather-light jinking, gliding fly half gave way to the six-foot powerhouses of modern rugby.

In Barry John’s day, the ability to tackle was a “nice-to-have”, of secondary importance to the core skills of the fly half, the side step, the drop kick and the dummy. These days players like Jonny Wilkinson will think nothing of getting through more than 15 tackles in a game, and their battered bodies are testament to that.

Davies’ book is a nostalgic treat. He defines two types of old fashioned fly half: the first is the “high church” model, who glides through defences and has the softest of hands and a subtle change of pace. The second is the “chapel” model, more workmanlike, employing the side-step and quick acceleration to breach the defence. Can you guess which types Barry John and Phil Bennett conform to?

“Great Welsh Number 10s” is published by Y Lolfa.

Rugby’s phoney war

With the regions, clubs and unions already bickering over the future of the Heineken Cup, you might be forgiven for thinking they would want to avoid opening up any fresh battle lines.

OK, so the battle over player release for the Autumn internationals is hardly a new one, but it’s a wound which the Welsh Rugby Union seem intent on scratching on an annual basis. This time the tug-of-war is over Wales and British Lions star George North, now making his living with Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership.

Reading through the miles of column inches which have been devoted to this spat over the past few days, it would appear that Northampton are being unreasonable in refusing to release North for the Wales v Australia (sorry, Quantas Wallabies) international match on 30th November.

In reality, Northampton are under no obligation whatsoever to release North for this game, as it falls outside the international window. The WRU know that, as they’ve been there before with Mike Phillips and James Hook in France. The Top 14 clubs, like their English counterparts, are understandably quite keen on their expensive acquisitions sticking to the terms of their contracts.

The reality of the situation is this. The WRU, and also, crucially, the Australian Union, are keen to maximise their revenue. The Aussies are, frankly, almost skint. Roger Lewis wants to ensure the Team Wales cash cow keeps the WRU coffers topped up with “monies.”

For both Wales and Australia, the match comes at the end of a gruelling AI series and Southern Hemisphere season. It’s only there to make money (prices from £40 to £70 per ticket).

So before the WRU start carping about the cynicism of English clubs, they would do well to look at themselves.

Wales will be the losers in this game of brinkmanship

There’ll be a new European rugby competition next season. We can at least be sure of that, following today’s announcement by English and French clubs that they intend to set up a new elite competition from next season.

It’s no surprise, of course; this one has been brewing for a while. It’s pretty certain that Welsh, Scottish and even Irish rugby administrators were hoping that it would just go away and things would continue on their merry way. But it was never going to be sustainable in the long term. The Anglo-French rugby axis have much deeper pockets than their Celtic counterparts, and that means they call the shots.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Irish might be the dominant partner in this European consortium, and to some extent they have been, on the field at least. Leinster and Munster have won 5 out of the last 8 Heineken Cups.

Many commentators mistakenly put this down to the supposed strength of the Pro 12 Celtic League. But that’s just wishful thinking. The reason for Munster and Leinster’s European success is that they treat the Pro 12 purely as a development competition. It’s a nursery for their young players. They keep their Irish internationals like Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll for the Blue Riband European competition. It’s got nothing to do with the Pro 12.

Sure, the academies associated with the Celtic regions have produced a lot of world-class players in the last decade. Just look at Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and George North. But that’s where it ends. Once they’ve cut their international teeth, they’re sucked up into the Mothership in the Vale of Glamorgan, rarely emerging to grace the field for their regions.

In Ireland and Scotland, there’s no imperative for their regions to make money. Why? Because they’re owned by their respective Unions. In Wales it’s different. Our regions are privately-owned, with the WRU holding shares, but not financial control. This means the Welsh regions have to produce a “product” (a nasty word, but unfortunately this is a nasty world) which makes money.

The Welsh regional product clearly doesn’t make money. The regions are all propped up by sugar Daddies and a meagre subsidy from the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

You might be forgiven for assuming that the WRU are sitting on a massive pile of cash. Nearly a decade of success, with the coins rolling in from bumper crowds at the Millennium Stadium, should have left the WRU with a healthy bank balance (have you seen the price of the tickets? The beer? The replica shirts?).

In fact, the WRU still owe Barclays Bank millions of pounds; the loan taken out to pay for the construction of the Millennium Stadium. It nearly bankrupted the WRU in the early 2000s.

But that’s only part of the story. Of course the WRU have to pay off the loan. Apparently it would be financially imprudent to try to re-negotiate the repayment terms.

This mean there’s not much money left over once the bank has been paid. Not much money left for the regions.

How does this affect what’s now happening with the European cup? The problem England and France have isn’t just about money. Of course, they’re annoyed that they’re effectively paying for a competition which includes crap Welsh and Scottish teams. Let’s face it, the Welsh and Scottish regions have done next to bugger-all in Europe since they came into existence. What really annoys the Anglo-French clubs is what they see as the unfairly large proportion of Pro 12 teams in the Heineken Cup. The Pro 12 is a single league, like the Top 14 and the Aviva, so the qualification criteria should be the same. The top 4 teams go up, and that’s it. Maybe the top 5 if one of your teams wins the previous year.

Sounds pretty fair to me. Where does that leave Wales, and why is it much worse for us if the French and English take their ball away?

Here’s how I see it panning out. The European cup needs to be a truly “elite” competition. That means it needs to include only the best teams from Europe. No helping hands to developing regions, and no assumptions that just because your national team is successful, that it follows that your regions will be too (looking at you here, Wales).

Scenario 1. The new European Cup is set up. Ireland quickly join it, and take even less interest in the Pro 12 as it’s not even important for qualification any more. They continue to play their own domestic championship and perhaps under 21 versions of their regions in the Pro 12. That reduces the quality of the Pro 12 even further. Result? Wales lose. A poor product gets even poorer. Wales might be offered a couple of places in the new European Cup, but without a competitive development competition (Pro 12), and more importantly, with limited funds, they don’t stand a cat’s chance in hell of ever winning it.

Scenario 2. Somehow the ERC continues in its current form. This means compromise on the part of the Pro 12 teams. Again, the likely result is even worse for Wales. In a scenario where only the top 4 qualify, on the strength of last season, only one Welsh region would qualify for the elite European competition. If the Irish were helpful and won the Heineken Cup, we might get two places.  Again Wales lose.

Whatever happens, if Wales are outside the European tent next season, it looks very very bad.

And what are the WRU doing about it? Precisely bugger all. They’re still banging on about “Gatland’s Law” and how some magical money tree is going to provide the funds so that regions can stop the terminal exodus of our best players to France and England.

In 2011 we were on the brink of being World Champions. In 2012 they wrote us off and we still managed to win the Grand Slam. Even in 2013, we’ve won the Six Nations against the odds and made the Lions roar in Australia.

But still, our domestic game is in a terrible mess, and it appears things are only going to get worse.