It maybe the the off-season but Welsh rugby is rarely quiet. In his monthly round-up Paul Williams ruminates over quality 'imports', heartwarming tweets and the painful wait for a Participation Agreement
Quality imports continue at Cardiff Blues
Gareth Anscombe has finally been confirmed as a Cardiff Blues player. It’s another astute signing for the Blues and adds to the already promising additions of Jarrad Hoeata and of course DoR Mark Hammett. But whilst the addition of a quality ten/ fullback is clearly good news for those at Cardiff Arms Park – it’s also positive news for Welsh rugby as a whole. It signals the return – albeit slowly – of quality imports into the game in Wales – although it’s worth noting that Anscombe isn’t an import at all. He legitimately qualifies to play for Wales, but many may initially regard him as such an import.
Like it or not the domestic game in Wales needs a handful of quality overseas signings and players such as Xavier Rush, Ben Blair, Regan King (the first time around) and Filo Tiatia genuinely added to the game in Wales during the mid-to-late noughties. Unlike some of the more recent imports into the region which have been of the quality you’d expect when ordering an item online from a dodgy Chinese postal address.
Owen Williams. The best tweet ever.
Last week, Owen Williams tweeted a picture of himself recovering in hospital with his dog, Riley, by his side. He wrote:
“Nice little pick me up today. Visit from Riley. Thanks for all the messages of support. #KeepingMeGoing.”
I have never been so happy to see a post on Twitter. Genuinely. Many others obviously feel the same – it has received over 3,300 favourites and 2,000 retweets. Hitting the ‘favourite’ or ‘retweet’ button didn’t quite seem to do it justice. At that moment in time, Twitter required a new button – a ‘Go on son, we’re all behind you!’.
Owen’s tweet also said that the messages of support are keeping him going. Well, you heard the man. Keep sending them to @owilliams91.
Shrewd moves continue at the Dragons
July saw Lee Byrne unveiled as this season’s captain of the Newport Gwent Dragons. Andrew Coombs did a fantastic job of leading the team last year, but it could be a shrewd move to name a captain of Byrne’s quality, who can lead the team without the distraction of national duty. Having said that, it may be unwise to rule out Byrne’s involvement with the national squad now that he has returned to Wales.
An injury to one of Wales’ first and second choice fullbacks this close to the 2015 Rugby World Cup could sharpen Warren Gatland’s mind with regards to Byrne. Giving the armband to the former Clermont fullback follows a solid recruitment strategy at the Dragons and adds to a squad that already includes Taulupe Faletau, Andrew Coombs, Hallam Amos, Jack Dixon, Jason Tovey and this season’s player to watch – Tyler Morgan. The Dragons definitely won’t be the 4th Welsh region next season.
Wales Sevens perform well at the Commonwealth games
Yes, Wales didn’t win a medal. Yes, Wales came second in the plate final. But the fact that the Wales Sevens team performed well during the Commonwealth Games is worthy of note. Wales fell just shy of the semi-finals with a two point, ‘clock dead’ defeat to Australia and another two point, last play defeat to England in the plate final. Led by the abrasive Adam Thomas, both Luke Morgan and James Davies excelled on the Sevens stage.
But it was the performances of Lee Williams that once again proved that he is a legitimate force on the circuit. However despite the good performances, as with Wales’ recent 15 man defeat to the Springboks, Wales yet again lost two vital matches with them seemingly won. Whether it is a mere coincidence or a genuine psychological issue it needs to be addressed – defeats in the dying minutes are the only thing currently killing Wales’ potential.
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Participation Agreement is slow in coming
The Participation Agreement, or lack of, is normally the first point in these monthly roundups. It is after all the most important issue in Welsh rugby. But July saw no movement – publicly at least. It’s like watching two sloths mating. We’re all vaguely aware that something is happening. There are small periods of activity and the odd grunt. But I’m bored of watching sloths. I’m just waiting for the birth.