Swansea season-ticker holder Simon Phillips believes Welsh rugby needs a shake-up
Rugby Rant: Overhaul Welsh rugby
Who could have imagined in 1990 that the state of Welsh domestic rugby would now be so bad? Regional rugby has helped to improve standards, but since it was implemented many supporters have walked away from the game. People often say that TV money is king, but I find the decline in attendances alarming. Why are people not engaged? The answer, seemingly, is identity.
The development pathway is also exclusionary. Some thrive in a regional academy but others are put off, and many potential players are missing the opportunity to play competitive rugby.
The whole of Welsh rugby needs to be overhauled. The WRU should decide on the players they need to retain to make four ‘touring squads’: Wales, Wales A, Wales B, Wales U21. Those players should then be centrally contracted.
To achieve success at all levels, the professional game and the community game should be separated. The WRU, the regions and the Welsh Premiership sides need to pool their collective business acumen to develop four new professional sides under the umbrella of the union: Mid and West Wales, South Wales and Valleys, East Wales and border, and Mid and North Wales. These sides would play in the Guinness Pro14 and Europe, with the players not involved playing in the Welsh Premiership.
Central contracts will ensure that there are four competitive sides playing. Each centrally-contracted player will have a club assigned to them as well as a pro side. For example, Josh Navidi could turn out for both Cardiff RFC and South Wales and Valleys in the same season.
“These clubs would retain their identity and history, which is so important for engagement”
Obviously, there aren’t enough players for the 12 Premiership clubs, so they will have strict development criteria and need to attract players. The Premiership needs to continue as a semi-pro league, though salaries should be capped. The league should offer the opportunity to players who haven’t come through the academies to put their hands up to be a full-time pro. Crucially, these clubs would retain their identity and history, which is so important for engagement.
The Welsh Championship would be four regional leagues of eight teams, the winners of each playing in inter-regional semi-finals and a final to determine who replaces the relegated Premiership club.
This model is inclusive and is an impassioned plea for the WRU to do the right thing to save Welsh rugby. The plan seeks to ensure the pathway to being a pro player is transparent and allows a ‘shop window’ for supporters to become engaged in Welsh rugby again.
This article originally appeared in the September 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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