Rugby: Welsh clubs have hardly distinguished themselves in either European competition

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The Independent Online
The story goes that a party of my fellow countrymen journeyed to Paris for Wales' match with France. One of their number went missing and, after some argument, his companions returned home without him, reasoning that he was a big boy who could look after himself. When he duly turned up early the following week, his friends asked him what had happened. "I can tell you this much," he replied. "The art of sexual intercourse is in its infancy in Ystradgynlais."

On the evidence so far provided by the two European competitions, I am tempted to say the same of the art of rugby union football in Wales generally. For the Welsh clubs have hardly distinguished themselves either in the Heineken Cup or in the European Conference. True, Cardiff, Llanelli and Pontypridd are all in the last 11 of the former competition, England being represented by four clubs (Bath, Harlequins, Leicester and Wasps), France by three (Brive, Pau and Toulouse) and Scotland by one (Glasgow). But of the five clubs certain to go through to the quarter-finals, three are English, two French.

There will be at least one Welsh club at this stage of the competition, because Cardiff meet Llanelli in a play-off at Cardiff. Fifty years ago, when Cardiff fielded their greatest side (even though they would not have been fit enough or big enough to last out today), such a meeting would have drawn a crowd of 20,000. They will be lucky to see half that number in these supposedly professional times.

Llanelli I have not seen this season. They seem to have been having an up-and-down time, slightly luckier than their neighbours, Swansea, who appear to have become a walking journalistic cliche as "the perpetual under-achievers of the competition".

I did, however, see Cardiff play Bourgoin in France, on French television. Just as I can tell you that Colomiers is a suburb of Toulouse and not, as the BBC seems to imagine, of Paris, so also can I supply the information of where Bourgoin is actually situated. It is 44 kilometres east of Lyons and its full name is Bourgoin-Jellieu.

The team put up a spirited performance against Cardiff and were responsible for most of the open play. Cardiff relied on the boot of Lee Jarvis, who saw them home by one undeserved point. The Welsh side played poorly.

I was in France for the famous Brive against Pontypridd encounter, but managed to catch only the televised excerpts. It seemed to me clear that the nonsense was started by the Pontypridd No 8 Dale McIntosh.

It was equally evident, though I was not there and may have been misled by the French press, that later that evening some Pontypridd players and supporters entered a bar where numerous Brive players were enjoying a quiet drink and proceeded to belabour them, as a consequence of which, several of them had to be removed to hospital and were unfit to face Pontypridd in their subsequent encounter, which turned out to be a draw.

If the facts are as I have stated them, (and I have read nothing to cast any substantial doubt on this version), there is no question in my mind but that Pontypridd should have been expelled from the competition for this season: not for their behaviour on the field, lamentable though this was, but for their conduct off it, which was quite intolerable. Brive and Bath would then be deemed to have beaten Pontypridd, and, depending on points difference, one of them would be meeting Swansea in a play-off.

As it is, Brive play Pontypridd in France for a place in the last eight. This may be the one draw that nobody wanted made, but I look forward to the encounter. My prediction is that both sides will be on their best behaviour.

Though I do not unsay anything about Pontypridd's conduct off the field, and what its consequences should have been, I recognise that when a British Isles club side meet a French side on French soil, it must come as something of what is now called a culture shock.

In France, journalists are admitted to the dressing- room. A few years ago I found myself mingling with the players in the steam after Begles had just beaten Toulouse in the semi-finals of the French Cup. All three members of Begles' notorious front row, two of whom were later to land themselves in serious international trouble, had been protecting their most vulnerable parts with cricket boxes. That just shows you what these Frenchmen can get up to.

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