Avid readers of Wales Watching (which both of you are) will realise that there’s been a lack of blog posts in the past month and a bit, for which I can only apologise. There were many reasons for this, the first being that I was in a bit of a sulk. Yes, following on from an expectant piece (written at the start of the Autumn Internationals) which enthused about a golden opportunity for northern hemisphere teams to finally get one over their southern counterparts, the November tests ended with the all-too-familiar sight of Wales narrowly losing to one of the ‘big three’. In doing so, we witnessed the resurgence of a strikingly creative Australian side and thus any hopes of a New World Order in international rugby quickly evaporated with a series scorecard that finished The North 7, The South 12. Even worse, if you look at the matches between Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides then the final result was 11-3 in favour of the southern mob. And so it seems that, with less than two years to go to the Rugby World Cup, the great divide between the north and south remains. And if that’s not a reason to go and sulk under a rock for six weeks I don’t know what is.
However, there was more misery yet to come as the disappointing autumn turned into a winter of discontent. The row concerning the future of the Heineken Cup (a row that has defined 2013 for me) has, as I write this, resulted in a very public battle between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four Welsh regions (united under the banner of Regional Rugby Wales). With the future of the European Cup and (possibly) the Pro12 league very much in doubt, the regions have been (understandably) reluctant to sign up to the WRU’s ‘participation agreement’ which would bind them to the union’s wishes for another five years without any increase in funding. With there being very few, if any, competitions to participate in at present, signing such an agreement would seem a foolish act. Almost as foolish as, say, setting a deadline for the signing of that agreement against a background of turmoil which has affected every European rugby nation. Alas, such a deadline exists and most rugby fans and commentators fully expect 31 December 2013 to pass by without ink gracing WRU letterhead paper. While the administrators engage in the phoney war of bluster and demand, accusation and defence, it is the players and fans who are the real casualties. That said, a new year can often mark a new start: an opportunity for people to draw a line under the past and move forward for the greater good. I guess that I’m not alone in saying that, if I were to have one wish for 2014, it would be that the WRU, the RRW and other parties find their own New Year’s Resolution, one that will strengthen professional rugby in Wales for many years to come rather than consign it to the history books.
But away from the board room, what else would be on your wish list for 2014? Here are some thoughts for you:
- If going a year unbeaten, like the All Blacks of 2013, is too much to ask then how about Wales winning a third consecutive Six Nations title? If they do so, they would be the first team in Six Nations history to achieve such a feat. Trips to Twickenham and Dublin stand in the way though.
- Regardless of the Six Nations result, my main hope for the Welsh senior side is that they beat at least one of the ‘big three’ come next November. The 2014 Autumn Internationals will see New Zealand, the Springboks and Australia come to Cardiff. I don’t expect much change from the summer tour to South Africa, so this series has to be targeted as the last chance to lay down a marker before RWC2015.
- This next one may not have quite the support from my readers, but the blog is banking on a sparkling finish to the season from Abertillery BG RFC and promotion to Division One East. We can but dream.
- Is it too much to ask that we get the greatest Heineken Cup Final ever this May at the Millennium Stadium? It looks increasingly likely that this tournament will come to end in 2014 but let’s see it go out with a bang.
- If the Heineken is to go, then let’s hope that we get the best competition possible for Europe for the 2014-2015 season, and how about some enhanced domestic leagues to go with it: an improved Pro12? A British League? All options are on the table at present.
Let’s finish on a positive note – one wish has already been granted over the Christmas break with the news that Warren Gatland has extended his contract as Wales Head Coach until the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Many were touting Gatland as the successor to Steve Hansen as New Zealand coach (if the unthinkable should happen and the All Blacks not win in 2015), so to keep him in Wales is nothing short of a coup. On this issue, it’s a well done Roger Lewis and the WRU. Now if only you could sort out that other pressing matter in time for New Year. The clock’s ticking.
The blog will return in January with a new look. Stay tuned