By Paul Williams
Big three still escape Wales….
ON THE 1st February 2014 Wales will endeavour to make history by becoming the first team to win three RBS Six Nations titles in a row. However, in reality, making history shouldn’t be the goal of this current Welsh squad – it’s the future that matters. The next two years to be precise. Wales don’t need another Six Nations crown on their heads – they need to remove a scalp from the Southern Hemisphere. Despite a hugely convincing win over Argentina, and competitive performances against South Africa and Australia, Wales have lost to the ‘big three’ 18 times during the last five years. It is becoming an issue with supporters and the media.
Wales are no longer talked about as the back to back RBS Six Nations Champions – they are becoming the team that has a monkey on its back. It’s not even a monkey; it’s a whacking great Silverback. Whilst Six Nations titles are obviously desirable, and the benchmark by which northern hemisphere teams are judged, without the ability to beat the ‘big three’ a place in the Rugby World Cup final is still a pipe dream.
Beyond a ‘player drain’
Two years ago the player drain in regional rugby was largely theoretical. It was a talking point. A projection of what could happen to regional rugby in Wales if the situation was allowed to deteriorate. Well, the demise of regional rugby is no longer theoretical, it is farcical. This isn’t merely a ‘player drain’. This is the mass emigration of Wales’ finest home-grown talent to England and France. Eurostar may as well extend their line directly to South Wales – they’ll make an operating profit running Welsh players back and forth to the Welsh training camps.
The list of Welsh players, rightly being shown more lucrative contracts in the Top 14 and AVIVA is increasing by the day – and will it will increase further in the next few weeks. In November Ian Evans joined the list, and it has been reported that Rhys Priestland, Richard Hibbard and Bradley Davies will soon follow. Sam Warburton, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny are also out of contract. It’s fast reaching a dystopia capable of waking Welsh rugby fans in the middle of the night in beads of sweat.
There are key decision makers in Welsh rugby who are playing fast and loose with Wales’ national sport and arguably one of its finest exports. It is not theirs alone to play with.
Obviously there is no such thing as a positive injury – to any player. However, whereas the absence of Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies would once have left many Welsh supporters requiring 20mg of valium – now they may only need 5mg. This isn’t to say that Wales are better without Adam Jones, Roberts and Davies – they clearly not. That said, Scott Williams, Cory Allen, Owen Williams, Rhodri Jones, Samson Lee and Ashley Beck have been able replacements. And whilst the benefits of these young squad players may not have been felt this autumn – come autumn 2015 they will.
‘Chief’ arrives at the Blues
Whilst regional rugby is currently hemorrhaging playing talent, Dale McIntosh’ promotion from the Welsh Premiership to Regional Rugby, has been refreshing. The clear objective of the Welsh Premiership is to assist the development of young talent – from club to region to country. However, the promotion of coaching staff should also be a key goal. McIntosh has been an integral part of the Pontypridd dynasty and his introduction into regional rugby, with any region, has been long overdue.
‘Chief’ has long deserved a crack at regional rugby. So much so that even the most ardent Pontypridd supporter wouldn’t begrudge him a shot at regional coaching. It is too early to say whether McIntosh has had a positive impact at Cardiff Blues – although the resilient defence in Blues’ win over Glasgow, on Friday, had his massive fingerprints all over it. However, the void is already being felt at Sardis Road. Pontypridd were beaten by Cross Keys, at home, last week, by 38 -17. It was Ponty’s first loss in 30 games.
Return of the King?
Regan King will soon be back at the Scarlets. He is one of the most gifted outside centres, let alone players, to have graced regional rugby. His step and ability to offload through the tackle was as effective as any player in the world. However ‘was’ is the key term here. Still cutting it at Clermont, old-father time will undoubtedly catch 33 year-old King sooner, rather than later.
This isn’t to say that King won’t dazzle the Pro 12 during the next two seasons – he probably will. The issue remains with the shirt that he will fill. The vacant shirt left by Jon Davies. Their careers are almost a mirror image. Both delivered incredible performances for the Scarlets and both, as a result, were picked up by Clermont Auvergne – in their prime. The Scarlets may have gained a King, but sadly they’ve lost their Prince.