A reduction in the number of regional fixtures will help the Welsh domestic game.
The press narrative for yesterday’s LV fixtures again revolved around the sparse Welsh crowds in comparison to their English counterparts. 24,000 at Welford Road for Leicester’s derby with Northampton, 12,000 at Kingsholm and 7,600 at The Stoop. A little over 5,000 hardy souls braved the sleet and Arctic winds to watch us dispatch London Irish courtesy of a fine second half performance. So what did we learn from yesterday?
1. There are too many fixtures in our season. If we do not progress through the LV or Champions Cup group stage we will play 32 games this season. 7 of our 22 league games are played during the Autumn Internationals or the 6 Nations Championship. Our LV Cup games are also played during this period. This means that for over a third of our season we will not see our Welsh internationals, the very people who are our biggest draw. In addition to losing our stand out performers for a third of our domestic league, two of the affected fixtures are versus Connacht, our biggest rivals for 6th spot. The introduction of the Dual Contracts mean that it is highly likely that players such as Samson Lee and Jake Ball will only be available for 16 games. The cost of keeping a player on a DC? You only have them for half a season. Problematic, but better than not having them at all I suppose.
2. The LV Cup is a marketing opportunity missed. It is fantastic to play the English clubs. Imagine how much better these games would be if they were meaningful? The English sides approach the tournament with the mindset that it is a trophy to be won. This mindset is reflected by the attitude and volume of their support. The regions, because they have no other choice, treat it as a development competition and use it like an A league which demeans the competition and its importance. The season set up needs to be altered. What about a return to an old fashioned, drawn out of a hat competition and played at a time during the season when our international players are available for selection? This would mean that the finalists would play 4 LV games per season and the sponsors and TV companies would have a product that would generate larger viewing figures from a more meaningful, more admired competition.
3. The Italian teams are the fall guys. What do they bring to the Pro 12? Not much. The Western Mail’s Simon Thomas recently suggested that the league would be improved as a Pro 10 meaning that we would lose 4 games per season. Ideal. A reduced schedule would mean that league games would not need to be played so regularly though the international calendar. An elite level football team such as Manchester United would not play on an international football weekend, why should this happen in elite level rugby?
4. A sustained effort to improve the quality of the Welsh Premiership is needed. With less regional fixtures, players would need to drop down into the premiership to prove their form and fitness and look to impress in an attempt to find a place in the regional squads. It is supposed to happen like that now but many premiership sides such as Llanelli are often decimated by call ups to the regional set up. An ever changing XV with players being drafted in on a weekly basis does not allow continuity which, in turn, affects competitive standards. A fiercely competitive, high quality Welsh Premiership could also do much to placate the dissenting critics of the regional game.
5. Is forgotten man Adam Warren back from the dead? It appeared that Warren’s days as a Scarlet were drawing to a close, particularly given the impact of Hadleigh Parkes. However, a Man of The Match performance and Scott Williams’ impending absence (likely to be April before we see him again), Tagi’s ongoing inconsistency and injury problems and the lingering spectre of age appearing to hamper Reggie more with each passing week, we are in need of a viable alternative. Warren could be this man. It is now or never for him and you could ask for little more than a try scoring MOM performance.
And on to the the 6 Nations and England.