Welsh rugby faces a tough couple of years. Regions are struggling financially but still the media and the WRU demand success, writes Paul Turner.
It annoys me when I read articles in the Welsh press asking, ‘Why haven’t we got a team in the last eight of the Heineken Cup?’ I’ll tell you why: because we can’t compete with bigger clubs from France, Ireland and England. And things will get worse next season as regions slash budgets.
However, there is a plus side. As regions can no longer afford to keep their big names, they’ll turn to their home-grown youngsters. In two or three years a lot of these players will start to emerge but the question is: do the media have the patience to accept a spell of poor results?
Unfortunately we live in an increasingly ‘I Want It Now’ society where people expect instant success. That doesn’t happen in rugby, as England found a few years ago when Martin Johnson’s generation retired and there was a gap before the next crop of talented youngsters came in. The Welsh public must be patient for a few years before success returns.
I’ve no complaint about some of our best players heading to France. It’s a vibrant league, probably the best in the world, and the players will improve not only their game but their bank balance.
As for ‘Gatland’s Law’ and his pledge to favour players in Wales, I don’t think that’s realistic. In an ideal world you want all your Test players to play in your domestic league, but market forces these days dictate otherwise. My main criticism of Warren Gatland is that he’s too pragmatic and doesn’t think outside the box. He needs to be bolder in his selections. Take the case of Toby Faletau; he should have come on against Fiji last November because he had the dynamism to lift Wales out of their stupor. But he didn’t and I can only hope he goes to the World Cup because he’s the sort of player Wales need.
I look around Wales for other young, raw talent, though, and I have to say I don’t see much out there. The Ospreys have several exciting players on their books but they’re not being blooded regularly enough because they’re being kept out by overseas players.
I’m pleased to see the Welsh Premiership will be cut from 14 to ten clubs, but I’d still like to see the introduction of a Magners A league. It would be a great way of nurturing young talent. The Irish and Scottish sides would support it, and 50% of the Welsh clubs. Unfortunately there are still too many clubs in Wales who put their own interests first.
I’ve kept busy since I parted company with the Dragons in February. I’m coaching Hertfordshire on an amateur basis, but I hope to be back involved in the top flight of European rugby before too long. I’ve no regrets about the manner of my leaving the Dragons. I’m someone who expresses his opinions and I’ve never said anything that’s not true.
This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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