Welsh rugby is split over the attempted breakaway of the Gang of Six – Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Llanelli, Bridgend and Pontypridd – who want to set up their own organisation. This threatens the continued existence of clubs like Neath, Ebbw Vale and Caerphilly, which I think is far too big a price to pay for a move that might not work anyway.
It is obvious that the present state of Welsh rugby demands that some drastic action is taken to improve our playing standards, but it needs something that inspires all-round improvement without destroying tradition.
The Gang of Six is doomed because it is élitist and because we don't have enough good players to service even top clubs. We need to put our eggs into fewer baskets, and what I can see emerging when all the arguments die down is the emergence of four top teams. If only we could turn to our provinces as the Irish have done with great success. But we don't have that sort of set-up, and you can't just invent provincial teams out of thin air.
All our ancient rivalries are bound up in the clubs. But there is no reason why we shouldn't use clubs to represent an area, and if you fasten on Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Llanelli as the big clubs you may have the secret of a better future.
If those were set up as "super clubs" into which all the top Welsh players were drafted you would get four good sides. By playing each other home and away and representing Wales in the Heineken Cup and the Celtic League, you would have the basis for a solid and high-standard domestic involvement.
The super league would be governed and funded via a joint committee of the WRU and representatives of the four clubs. The other teams would be accommodated in an eight- or ten-strong premier league and would also receive union funding, but would be semi-professional. At least two of them could play in the European Shield, and the aim would be to provide a good standard of rugby, allowing young players a chance to develop while avoiding the risk of clubs spending beyond their means.
Below the premier league level, all rugby would be amateur. We would still have as many clubs in action, and the leagues would be just as competitive, but the clubs would benefit because finance would play a lesser part.
Players who wanted to turn pro would have to earn a call-up to a bigger club. Too many of them are paid enough by their local clubs to keep them in a comfort zone they can't be bothered to progress from.
I see no other alternative to the present situation, in which the production of good Welsh players is slowing to a trickle and standards have dropped to a level fans no longer want to watch. You can't change the state Welsh rugby is in without something upsetting someone. The cruel fact is that too many clubs have had ambitions beyond their capabilities.
This move would allow them to face up to reality without risking going out of business. I am convinced it would create higher standards, and towards this end I would restrict the import of foreign players.
Once the current contracts run out, I would ration the number of imports so as to allow our own talent to develop. That goes for foreign coaches, too. We've got enough top coaches now in Wales to run four clubs.
All of this would take time and we might even suffer for a couple of years, but the long-term future of rugby in Wales would undoubtedly receive a massive boost.Reuse content