These are worrying times for the future of rugby in Wales. First, there is the threat from football that can’t be ignored. With Swansea playing in the Premier League next season, and Cardiff City riding high in the Championship, football has never been more popular in the Principality.
And that will only continue if Wales suffer another humiliation like the U20s did against New Zealand last month.
To lose 92-0 was bad enough but the excuses that followed were even worse. Joe Lydon, the WRU’s Head of Rugby, said the difference between the two sides was that “a large number” of the New Zealanders played regular Super 15 rugby. That’s just not true. Only three Kiwis had Super 15 experience and none have featured regularly for their sides.
What Joe should have said is that we lost 92-0 because the Premiership is a poor breeding ground for our youngsters. Joe and Roger Lewis (WRU chief executive) were told this three years ago when they were advised to set up an A League if we were serious about catching up with the major nations.
They were also told that it was imperative that we reintroduced a Wales A team, to play in the IRB Nations Cup. This is the best way for youngsters to test themselves against similar players from other nations.
But instead the WRU decided to concentrate on the Premiership, on sevens and on developing the U20s, though a fat good of use the latter did judging by what happened against New Zealand!
As for the Premiership, I just don’t see how its current 14-team format can benefit Welsh rugby.
I know it’s being reduced to ten teams for the 2012-13 season but those changes should have been implemented in time for next season. The trouble is that the Premiership is fuelled with self-interest.
As a consequence I worry for the future of the national team. I watched some of the games from the Nations Cup on TV and was very impressed with the likes of Georgia and Romania; they’re all improving at a rate of knots, as are the Pacific Island teams, and unless Wales take the necessary measures we might soon be overtaken by them.
We need a second-team competition that runs along the same lines as the new Pro12, featuring A teams from all regions. You only have to look at the English and Irish national teams to see how their youngsters have benefited from the A-team structure.
Lastly, I’d like to see someone appointed in charge of skills coaching for kids between the ages of 13 and 17. Speak to any academy director and they’ll tell you that too many players arrive without the necessary core skills. It’s vital that we impart these skills to the kids before they reach academy age, so let’s have the WRU appoint a national coordinator.
This article appeared in the August 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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