Welsh rugby’s facade hides ticking time bomb

On Saturday, the country require a minor miracle to occur in the final round of European Champions Cup group matches if they are to be represented in the last-16. In the two conferences, the Ospreys are bottom of one and the Scarlets and Cardiff occupy the two lowliest spots in the other. Not a win between them. 

Granted, the pandemic forced the postponement of multiple fixtures, with the Scarlets only having played one match of three. But their 45-10 mauling in Bordeaux on Sunday hardly installed confidence that they would have figured otherwise. Instead, this is seen simply as normal sub-service being resumed. 

In the 10 years since the 2011-12 season, only the Scarlets have reached the knockout stages of the Champions Cup. That is an incredibly poor return if you think of the players these regions have boasted. 

There has not been a Welsh winner of the United Rugby Championship in five years, with the Irish emphatically dominating. Three weeks ago, Cardiff and the Ospreys lost by a combined 72-29 to Edinburgh and Glasgow. 

Even before Mark Drakeford’s closed-doors demands, the punters were staying at home. The Scarlets nudged the 6,000 mark for the visit of Munster in October; the Ospreys welcomed only 5,676 for the derby match with Cardiff the same month. The only restriction at the time was apathy. Nothing to do with Covid.

There has been the odd spark of hope. Cardiff attracted more than 10,000 for last month’s Toulouse tussle and on the pitch produced a burst of positivity when running Harlequins close in last weekend’s 33-36 nailbiter. It was a thrilling more-booster to many but to others it just made us pine for the Anglo-Welsh League that should have been formed at the birth of professionalism. 

It was the belligerence of the Welsh Rugby Union that was to blame then and since there has been a series of cock-ups, from the very concept of the regions to the inability to back the outfits with resources anything like the Irish. No doubt, it is not all about money, but with such indifference to the URC it has proved impossible to summon the spirit and invention to overcome the discrepancies. Something has to change.

Perhaps it will take a Six Nations humiliation to instigate what should at least be a radical overhaul if not a full-blown revolution. As it is, do not put it past Wales to lift their third Championship crown in four years. Pivac is no mug and Warren Gatland used to pull off the trick on an almost annual basis. And the WRU carried on as if everything is rosey and as if there is not a ticking time bomb under that green, green grass.

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