Category Archives: Rugby

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.

OspreysDragons_web

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.

Irish Stew!

The world of rugby was rocked to its foundations today as another Irish international chucked his bunch of sour grapes into the ongoing row which I’ve just decided to christen “Snubgate.”

“Fecking Gatland!” wailed the former-crack-touchline-hugger Simon “Mad Trout Up A Burn” Geoghegan from his retirement home in Bognor Regis.

“It doesn’t matter that I’m 44 and haven’t played international rugby for 17 years. I’m still a better finisher than George North. And I’ve got blond hair.”

“I sat by the phone all night waiting for the call-up for the third test, but it never came. This is worse than the time when I was overlooked in favour of Tony Underpants in 1993.”

Asked if he knew who might be responsible for alleged death threats received by Lions squad members, he responded, “How the feck should I know? We don’t do dat tort a ting.”

Game changer

Believe it or not, I’d only just finished reading Ross Reyburn’s biography of John Dawes when I heard that Cliff Morgan had passed away.

Dawes and Morgan are two giants of Welsh rugby, inextricably linked by this moment. Many people have said that it’s Morgan’s voice that makes “that” try so special, but without “Syd”, and the perfect dummy he threw the Kiwi defender, the try would never have been on.

dawesAs book titles go, “John Dawes, the man who changed the world of Rugby” is a bold statement to make. But the arguments the author makes are strong ones. Dawes was a modest chemistry teacher who happened to find himself in Surrey in the late 60s. As a talented rugby player from the Newbridge club, he was looking for a local side to play for. Naturally, he settled upon London Welsh RFC. In those days the old club was high on hwyl but distinctly lacking in commitment and quality.

Within a few months Dawes had changed all of that. He was made captain of the first XV and London Welsh were transformed into a real rugby force. Of course it helped that Syd had the likes of Gerald, Merve, JPR and John Taylor to help him, but Dawes was the architect of London Welsh’s transformation.

Soon even the clubs back in Wales had to take London Welsh seriously. They were no longer the “posh” exiles in England. London Welsh were beating Neath, Newport and Cardiff on a regular basis.

Like Carwyn James, Syd was never to make the impact on the international stage that he deserved, with two huge exceptions. However, in the stampede to lavish plaudits on Carwyn James, Dawes’ contribution to the British Lions’ triumphant 1971 tour of New Zealand is often overlooked. Sure, Carwyn was the arch strategist, but Dawes was the master tactician on the field. He may have lacked the eloquence of the Llandovery schoolmaster, but he made up for it with simple, clear-headed tactical thinking and encouragement.

London Welsh and the Lions shared the same philosophy when it came to rugby: play with your heads up and use your talented back line to run through (and more often) around the opposition. It was no coincidence that Dawes was the common denominator in these two teams.

Ross Reyburn has carefully recorded Dawes’ impressions and memories of that golden era, most of them written down just after the time they happened in the early 1970s. It is only now that they have seen the light of day. Several chapters have been added by way of post-script, with Dawes offering some very telling observations on the current state of professional rugby and its increasing reliance on power over skill. Dawes is not alone in bemoaning the negative influence rugby league has had on the mother code in the professional era.

When you watch that grainy clip of “that try” today, it’s easy to view it as an isolated moment, trapped in time, without context, without a before or after.

In fact, the rest of that match contained a number of other fabulous moments of skill from both sides, and it’s worth watching in its entirety. Cliff Morgan wasn’t even due to commentate on the game until Bill McLaren was taken ill on the morning of the match. As it turned out, the match will be remembered as much for Morgan’s voice as the events on the pitch. For me personally, Cliff Morgan was the voice of Radio 4′s “Sport on 4″ when I was growing up. Alongside Noel Edmonds, Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry and Sally James, Cliff Morgan was my “Mr Saturday Morning” when I was a boy.

The other crucial thing to remember is the context of that game in 1973. Dawes was on the verge of retirement, and almost didn’t get selected for the match. Carwyn James had said a few inspiring words (notably to the relatively young Phil Bennett) before the game, so this match was very much the end of an era rather than the beginning. Carwyn’s greatest successes were behind him, as were Dawes’. Syd went on coach Wales and the Lions, whereas Carwyn was never asked to coach his country. It reminds you that rugby was as much about personalities as it was about talent and experience in those days. Some things never change.

John Dawes: the man who changed the world of Rugby is published by Y Lolfa.