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Wales is Falling Further Behind

International Wales
by Ospreydragon (U14332915) 19 June 2010
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Despite some notable success in the last 5 years, I think Wales are falling further behind the top rugby nations. Although I think success in international rugby is partly down to player selection and game management and Gatland has made mistakes in that regard, the Wales coach still has to suffer the consequences of the structure of the game in Wales compared to the other nations against which it is trying to consistently compete.

New Zealand. The structure of the game and the environment is not just highly competitive, there's also a tremendous pool of players to develop and choose from. The same applies to SA, France and England. Ireland have punched well above their weight in the last decade, and it'll be interesting to see how well it does over the next decade as some of the best players they have produced retire.

Australia recognised that they needed to improve their player pool and have introduced a fifth team in the Super tournament, the Melbourne Rebels taking the number of their representatives to 5.

Countries like Argentina will soon benefit by joining the Tri Nations tournament, so it should get even stronger as it grows the number of international fixtures and has a regular tournament to play in, even though its domestic club structure is very weak.

Wales have four regions. The Ospreys have done very well to develop so many players for their region and Wales. The Blues have developed players like Warburton, Roberts and Bradley Davies in recent years. The Dragons had a great season and have developed some players too, as have the Scarlets. The benefactors and owners at all the regions, however, have to balance the need to support the national game with the success required to make their regional businesses viable. To compete in the Heineken Cup, the regions rely on overseas stars to bolster their resources and make their regions more competitive. The rewards can be enormous, with tv revenues contributing a great deal, particularly in the later stages of the Heineken. The consequences -- numerous positions are often dominated by Southern Hemisphere players, especially in the back row, where Wales has been really struggling this season.

The demise of the Celtic Warriors a few years ago was a blow for the fans not only in that region, but to Welsh rugby. It meant that the player pool was significantly reduced. And since then, opportunities to develop talent have been reduced further by the indefinite postponement of the Wales A team.

For Wales to compete on the highest stage, especially against the big three, things have to change or Wales’ further decline is inevitable.

1. The Wales A team must be reinstated.
2. There needs to be a fifth regional side, even if it is a development side, as Connacht is in Ireland.
3. There must be greater limits on the number of players and the number of appearances of overseas, non-Welsh-qualified players.
4. Regions must try to develop their businesses by attracting more fans to the game and making greater efforts to engage with and interact with fans, in an attempt to grow the fan bases and strengthen the regional game. Fans who live locally, are in employment and can afford it, need to support the regional game or they can watch it slowly disappear from their television screens as the game ceases to be able to compete on the professional stage.
5. The WRU and the regions need to work more closely together, to find ways to encourage fans to support the regional and national game and reward fans for doing so. This particularly applies to season ticket holders. Corporate hospitality is a necessary curse, but real rugby fans regularly lose when it comes to international games.
6. I don’t know enough about the issues related to coaching at all levels in the game, but the WRU needs to work harder to improve its coaching programmes and develop good coaches at all levels, especially for the young who take up and learn the game. Obvious systemic weaknesses in our current senior game – the poor lineout performances at the Ospreys and often for Wales, for example – need to be addressed. This, surely, can only improve with better-developed coaches and a greater understanding of how to develop the skills of players at all levels.
7. The development of young players at all age grades must be improved. Too often at under-20 level, our players often seem less well-conditioned than other sides, and there is also a seeming lack of concentration on the skills of the game and encouraging players to express their abilities. There should be less enthusiasm for developing gym monkeys and more an emphasis on developing dynamic, highly skilled athletes that can compete with the Southern Hemisphere’s best.

To some extent, results and performances this year have been affected by injuries to a lot of players. But consider the players at regional level who have had very little opportunity to play at a high level. Promising players such as Gareth Owen, Tom Prydie, Ben Lewis …

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posted Jun 19, 2010

Dragon. You are quite correct, many schools no longer play and this is a problem. However, even in the schools where rugby is still strong, unless a boy is at a Regional Academy (which means he is frequently barred from playing for his school), there is no longer a direct pathway to representative honours. Many lads are missing out.

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posted Jun 19, 2010

Cracking read Dragon,

Schools are not the source of players in England these days, it has to be the clubs who take the responsibility and have mini and junior rugby teams starting at age 7.

Waiting for the limited number of schools to generate players will not yield players as they will find the boys have already found other sports or pastimes.

Clubs have the time, skills and need to ensure young players are attracted and developed. I do not know the support the WRFU offers, but it is something the RFU deserves credit for in England.

Youth development is the key to the survival of all clubs, and the only way the suitable depth in player talent can be attained.

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posted Jun 19, 2010

Were you aware the bbc pundit and ex welsh star johnathan davies is the last welsh player to score a try in new zealand.

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posted Jun 19, 2010

Cookie_Monster_Will_Eat_You, Yes, in '88 as I recall, and it was a great try too, with JD showing off his pace.

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posted Jun 19, 2010

Interesting read, however with a "5th" region it will drain resources from the other regions. In Ireland there was talk of winding Connaught up ladt year due to funding. If the other regions are not getting the attendances needed then there is little hope of a 5th region getting the attendances.

We have many of the same problems in ireland, especially in schools. You would be surprised how small the Irish rugby pool is in comparison to Wales. One thing we have is Irish leaders in each province though which I think is important.

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posted Jun 20, 2010

Perhaps London Welsh could be the 5th region. Lots of exiles in London, and it used to be a powerhouse in the 70's.
Also the French have an academy system, whereby schoolboys are affiliated to top clubs. Last year there were 145,000 applicants!

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posted Jun 20, 2010

Regarding my point 7, Will Greenwood is reported to have made a comment on Wales' manufactured gym fitness after yesterday's match:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/rugbynation/rugby-news/2010/06/20/wales-not-fit-for-top-level-91466-26686779/

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posted Jun 20, 2010

Ospreydragon,

This manufactured fitness is a paranoia that we have picked up from RL i think.

RL is full of beefed up players who only look to boss the tackle by physicality not technique.

However it is okay to be like that when all players are the same, but as we saw yesterday, a natural athlete will always outlast a gym monkey.

The spin off to all that gym time is that less time is spent on skill development, further reducing the effectiveness of players.

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posted Jun 20, 2010

"The spin off to all that gym time is that less time is spent on skill development, further reducing the effectiveness of players." -- There appears to be ample truth in that, given the way Wales have been playing for the last two seasons. I didn't expect us to score a try against NZ because we have shown so little creativity in our displays for quite a while. Ther can be only two reasons for this: 1) WWe are simply not verty good 2) It's a coaching/player preparation and management issue.

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posted Jun 21, 2010

Cookie,

Not quite true - Gareth Thomas the Welsh B&I Lions captain scored the opening try of the second lions test.

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