The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, by Nick Bishop and Alun Carter

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The Independent Culture

At first glance, everything in the valleys seems rosy: Wales are back-to-back Six Nations champions, and contributed far more players to this year's victorious Lions squad than any other of the home nations.

But beneath this pinnacle the foundations of Welsh rugby are crumbling, argue the authors of this account of the rise and precipitous fall of one of the Principality's most famous, and most feared, clubs.

For much of the Seventies and Eighties, Pontypool's pack literally rode roughshod over the opposition. Man for man they were not necessarily bigger than their opponents – with the exception of Bobby Windsor, the first of the heavyweight hookers – or individually more skilful.

But, driven hard by their coach, Ray Prosser, they were nearly always fitter and mentally harder, and their front rows especially, notably the all-international trio of Windsor, Graham Price and Charlie Faulkner, inspired fear throughout the land.

Yet last season, having lost 19 of their first 20 games, only a late rally enabled them to finish just above the relegation zone in the third tier of Welsh competition.

Alun Carter played for Ponytpool and Wales and later worked for the Welsh Rugby Union for 12 years. Nick Bishop has also worked with the national squad, so they know whereof they speak. While they don't absolve the club from all blame, citing a disastrous legal challenge to the WRU which brought them close to bankruptcy last year, they point to external factors as the main culprits.

Changes in the laws and stricter refereeing neutered their often brutal brand of nine-man rugby, the sudden move to professionalism in 1995 and industrial decline hit all the valleys clubs hard, and Pontypool lost out in the contentious move to regional rugby in 2003.

Even the architect of the regional plan, former captain Terry Cobner, admits one result is a significant loss of strength in depth. As recently as 1989, 20,000 roared "Poola! Poola!" as the Red, Black and Whites took on the All Blacks. Now the faithful may be forgiven for feeling that international success has come at a high cost for the grass roots of the game.

Published in hardback by Mainstream, £16.99

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