Rugby Union: Why the power of the Welsh Rugby Union needs to be broken

ALAN WATKINS ON RUGBY
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The Independent Online
THE letters I get from readers of this column are almost always literate, reasoned and knowledgeable. There is nothing in block capitals or green ink; and on only a couple of occasions have I received cuttings of the column with the offending passages heavily underlined.

Followers of rugby are intellectually, clearly, a class above those who take an often fevered interest in politics.

The letter I had the other day was no exception. Why, the writer wanted to know - in the nicest possible way - did I neglect Scottish rugby as I did? And why, as a corollary, did I write so much about the game in Wales? My correspondent, I should add, was writing from an address in southern England.

I replied that I knew very little about rugby in Scotland, but that I had grown up in the heartland of West Wales rugby, and had, since then, attended the great Anglo-Welsh fixtures which preceded the formation of the leagues in England and Wales alike.

I might have added, though I did not, that I often watched Richmond, whose first-choice selection includes seven Welsh internationals. Of these, only Allan Bateman is currently in favour with Kevin Bowring, the Welsh coach.

This is a disgrace: not, of course, that Bateman - the most complete centre in the British Isles - is in but, rather, that Scott Quinnell, Craig Quinnell and Barry Williams are out.

Scott, the most inspirational forward since Dean Richards (even though he is a very different kind of No 8), has simply fallen out of fashion, with coaches and commentators alike. These things happen in life, for no reason that anybody can properly isolate.

Craig is said to be "no good in the line-out." Why on earth should he be expected to be? He is not built to be good in the line-out. As well, say, that Mike Tyson is not up to much in the high jump, and will never represent the United States in that particular athletic activity.

It was Willie-John McBride who said recently that, as the laws had been changed to allow lifting, it surely made sense to employ at least one athletic, relatively light forward for his stronger colleagues to elevate. Against Newcastle last Saturday, in fact, Quinnell's partner, Craig Gillies, fulfilled more or less this function, in so doing defeating Doddie Weir and Garath Archer on several occasions.

The hooker Williams has paid the price with Wales for some inaccurate throwing-in. On Saturday there was, as far as I could see, little wrong with this aspect of his game. In any case, this addition to the hooker's duties is burdensome. Then again, since strikes against the head are now as rare as snowflakes in the Riviera - a development assisted by referees' reluctance to penalise flagrantly crooked feeds - it is, I suppose, arguable that the hooker should be asked to do something with his time.

The difficulty is that throwing a ball accurately or, sometimes, at all, is not something everyone can do. It is incorrect to say that it is simply a matter of practice. It may be that one of the props is a more natural thrower than the hooker, in which case he should be assigned the task instead.

This brings me to John Davies, of whose throwing abilities I am ignorant. But of whose strength as a tight head I have no doubt at all. He was, I think, discarded too soon by the Welsh selectors.

The same goes for Adrian Davies, who gave an immaculate performance against Newcastle. If his place-kicking had been as polished as his play generally, Richmond would have piled up well over 40 points.

In my opinion, the only Richmond Welsh player who is kept out of the Welsh side because of the positive merits of someone else is Andy Moore who, good as he is, is no Rob Howley. The rest, Bateman excepted, are penalised not because they are inferior to the present occupants, but because they happen to be playing for an English club.

The more I look at the state of rugby in my native land, the more strongly I feel that what now needs to be done is to break the power of the Welsh Rugby Union. Cardiff are already threatening to leave to join the English League. I hope they do, and that the other principal clubs will follow their example.

There is little purpose in waiting for the formation of an Anglo-Welsh League, partly because the problems of promotion and relegation are intractable. It would be better for the clubs to take the initiative themselves and to play in England. Just as Cardiff City and Swansea City do as members of the Football League.

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