Rugby Union: Real `no-win' situation

Jonathan Davies says that Welsh rugby needs a plan first - and then a coach
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The Independent Online
WALES are searching the rugby world for the right man to take over from Kevin Bowring as coach of the national team. But whoever they appoint faces an impossible task. The dilemma Welsh rugby is in is not the fault of one man and one man is not going to solve it.

The structure is the problem, and until they get that right nobody's magic wand is going to work. Bowring did his best to point this out when he presented the Welsh Rugby Union with a list of the changes he wanted to be made in the organisation of the Welsh game.

They didn't disagree with what he wanted but couldn't promise to deliver and so they parted company. He wasn't sacked and didn't resign. They just agreed to call it a day. What is a coach doing trying to change the structure, anyway? That's not his job. There are plenty of others in the organisation responsible for the structure but no one seems to be doing anything about it in time for next season.

It is all very strange but most things in rugby these days are strange. I like Bowring. He has a clever rugby brain, and there aren't too many of those around, but he wasn't the greatest motivator. He'd probably done as much as he could do under the circumstances and was unlucky that his period in charge came when the Union were trying to come to grips with professionalism - and failing.

There have been accusations that some of the players let him down but I can't agree with that. The players were caught in the middle of the constant antagonism between the Union and the clubs and they were forced to train with both. Attending 10 training sessions a week is bound to drain your enthusiasm, especially when there is a lack of quality competitive rugby.

Most of the players in Bowring's squad were over-trained and under-played. Nearly all their injuries were from training. You cannot prepare players for international duty unless they are playing regularly at a high level. The French are the perfect example of what strong domestic competition can produce. The Welsh have nothing to compare and the situation is not likely to improve next season.

I believe that international rugby is not about coaching. It is about man-management and organisation. Players of that calibre shouldn't need coaching but they do need to be motivated and to be kept enthusiastic.

Bowring, I believe, put himself under extra pressure with some of his vision - total rugby by rugby athletes is what he said he wanted. There's nothing wrong with theories or in wanting to play with style but the basic principle of international rugby hasn't changed through the years. All that matters is winning and nothing else.

Fine, if you can do it with style, but winning is everything. Scoring four brilliant tries and losing 40-20 cannot compare with a 3-0 win ground out with a dour performance. Even Bowring had to admit that when Wales played Scotland at Wembley this year. We had to win that game and style went out of the window while we did it. That should be the attitude every game.

Perhaps if they appoint someone from the Southern Hemisphere, that approach will be introduced. But I feel that if they appoint a foreigner, he'll need a close colleague who knows the Welsh scene because Wales needs the whole-hearted co-operation of the clubs.

One of the changes Bowring wanted was the creation of four provincial teams in Wales and I know that others in the Union favour this. But we've only got eight first-class clubs, surely we can raise the standard by giving them the fullest support and the best possible competition. Because of the stagnation among the top clubs many up-and-coming players are preferring to stay with lower league clubs where they are comfortable and earning a few bob. This is killing ambition among the younger players.

I am convinced that there is plenty of talent in Wales. I refuse to believe that France and England are 50 points better than us purely because of superior talent. The job is to get that talent flowing again by restoring the club rivalry and competitive urge that once made Welsh rugby great.

The first thing we should is cancel the tour of South Africa and utilise the time and energy to plan for next season. Of course, we need a great coach to help us achieve our potential. But we need much more besides - otherwise he is going to walk into the same minefield that blew up his predecessors.

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