Alan Watkins: Amalgamation would create a stronger Cardiff and be good for Wales

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The Independent Online

For me, one of the most interesting bits of news of last week was that Cardiff Blues (formerly just plain Cardiff) were in financial difficulties - in my native land, who is not? - and had made approaches to Celtic Warriors (formed by combining the Bridgend and Pontypridd teams) for an amalgamation of these two new-fangled regional outfits.

For me, one of the most interesting bits of news of last week was that Cardiff Blues (formerly just plain Cardiff) were in financial difficulties - in my native land, who is not? - and had made approaches to Celtic Warriors (formed by combining the Bridgend and Pontypridd teams) for an amalgamation of these two new-fangled regional outfits.

The response was that there seemed to be unease in both camps. And yet, to me such a move seems to make complete sense. It would, to be sure, be hard luck on 15 or more players, who are now earning their living from the professional game in Wales. But then, more than that number have already had to change their ideas and their plans - not least the Welsh captain in the World Cup, Colin Charvis. On what other occasion, I should like to know (this is a genuine question), has the captain of Wales or, indeed, of any other country appeared on the team sheet with "unattached" after his name?

But consider the advantages which such an amalgamation would bring. On current form, - with the Warriors beating Wasps away in the Heineken Cup on the weekend, and Cardiff performing miserably everywhere - it is reasonable that Cardiff should be doing the petitioning.

Despite a recent record of failure, Cardiff is still a name in world rugby. I would go so far as to say, moreover, that Wales do well when Cardiff are doing well. There was a time when they used to complain in the south-west of the country that, to get a Welsh cap, you had to move to Cardiff first. And, indeed, the number of great players who came from the west but ended up in Cardiff is striking: Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, Barry John, D K Jones and Haydn Tanner, to name but a few.

Today, the traffic is more likely to be the other way, towards Llanelli. For the past few seasons the honour of Welsh rugby has seemed to depend on this club, absurdly rechristened Llanelli Scarlets in the regionalisation policy.

In particular, it has seemed to rest on the shoulders of two men: Scott Quinnell, the captain, and Gareth Jenkins, the coach. Neither will be around forever. Jenkins is widely predicted to be the new Wales coach in succession to Steve Hansen, an appointment that would be wholly deserved; for Quinnell the clock goes tick-tock.

Llanelli have enjoyed a relative success in the Heineken Cup without ever looking as if they could bring it back for the first time to Carmarthenshire.

Judging by the reports of their match against Agen on Friday (which, unaccountably, Sky television chose not to show us live), this past form - so far, and no further - is likely to continue this season as well. Still, I am not complaining.

But what no one can maintain is that the club's recent success is in some way a justification for regionalisation. They look much the same outfit as they did when they were having a similar success in the same competition. The only substantial difference is that they have been supplemented at centre by Mark Taylor, formerly of Swansea.

One is tempted to add that Taylor is well out of it. For Neath-Swansea Ospreys (a ridiculous name, for I have never heard the bird in question mentioned once in relation either to Swansea or, still less, to Neath) are being as unsuccessful in Europe as they used to be when they were participating as separate clubs. Here it cannot be claimed that regionalisation has been a failure: but it has not been a conspicuous success either.

This is not to depreciate the recent victories of Celtic Warriors or Gwent Dragons, who are coached by the former Swansea player Mike Ruddock, also a possibility for Hansen's job. It is a matter of contention, fit for a Law Lord to sort out, whether they should now properly be called "The Dragons".

But when they unexpectedly beat French giants Stade Français, their supporters were shouting "Come on, Newport". Just so. Wales has never been composed of regions. As far as rugby is concerned, it has been a nation of clubs, some of them great clubs, roughly divided between south-east and south-west. Traditionally, the visiting sides from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would play four of these, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli, together with Neath-Aberavon. Sometimes Neath-Aberavon and even Llanelli were omitted from the itinerary.

An amalgamation between Celtic Warriors and Cardiff Blues would give us a stronger Cardiff. Gwent Dragons should be renamed Newport. If Neath-Swansea want to call themselves that, well and good, but drop the silly Ospreys. Likewise Llanelli do not need to add "Scarlets" to their name. Let us have some honesty for a change, which would do nothing but good for Welsh rugby.

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