Rugby Union: League could rule Wales

Jonathan Davies says the WRU must sort its act out or face the threat of extinction
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The Independent Online
WELSH rugby bosses are facing a danger that could do even more damage to union in Wales than the French did at Wembley last week. There are strong rumours that a rugby league club is shortly to be set up in South Wales with the full backing of the Super League. If it comes off, the new club will have plenty of money to invest in players and they'll find the union game has never been more vulnerable for recruiting top converts.

Such is the state of Welsh rugby that the chance of playing league at the highest level in their own homeland could prove irresistible to players looking for a challenge and a potential for success they don't have at the moment.

The humiliation suffered last weekend exposed the mess that Welsh rugby is in and the league threat is another reason why the Welsh Rugby Union must attack the problem that is the source of its troubles - ie, the domestic club scene, which in its present state is incapable of producing players primed to play at the top international level.

What we saw at Wembley was not so much the result of poor coaching but of inadequate preparation. And I don't mean training. They do too much of that and not enough of playing meaningful games. The result is that not only are they not properly match fit, they are bored. The 15 who started the match against France all play in South Wales where they are so starved of regular, competitive rugby of any quality that the step up to the standard set by the French was way beyond them.

That was a French team at their very best and playing at a pace that would have swept away most teams, including England. The Welsh are not accustomed to anything like it and the longer the present situation lasts the more they are going to fall behind.

It is pointless blaming the coach when the structure of the game in Wales is so obviously flawed. What our top clubs need is regular opposition like they meet in the European Cup. Unfortunately, that doesn't last very long, especially when none of our teams makes the semi-final stage.

One move I would make to get more of our better players involved in the European Cup is to enter our top three clubs - say, the first two in the league and the cup winners - and then select the best squad from the remaining clubs as our fourth representative under the control of the national coach.

If they fail to restructure the season I think the only answer may be for our top clubs to move to play in the English Allied Dunbar League. There are so many meaningless Saturdays in the clubs' fixture lists that we are fast losing the rugby habit. It is unthinkable that this could happen in Wales of all places. Paul Turner and Adrian Hadley have been urging Welsh players to play in England in order to keep their standards up. But that is going to do nothing to help the Welsh game recover its strength.

The first thing the WRU should do is cancel the South African tour planned this summer. The last thing we need is another set of good hidings. They can then rest the players while the officials concentrate on restructuring next season.

And if they think that I'm exaggerating the rugby league threat let me assure them that there are a lot of Welsh players who would make excellent league players. Players who have already proved their worth in league such as Scott Gibbs, Allan Bateman and David Young would be the first targets. Robert Howley would be an obvious choice as would players such as Gareth Thomas, Emyr Lewis and Paul John. Youngsters such as Leigh Davies, Kevin Morgan and Gareth Wyatt would also be on the list.

Built around a core of experienced league players, you could create a very attractive first-class league team in Wales. And from our experience with the Welsh rugby league team a few years ago we know that the support is there for a successful side. If ever there was a time for sharp action by the WRU to put their house in order it is now.