CHRIS KIRWAN: Premiership grumbling simply a sign of Welsh rugby malaise
9:56am Thursday 24th April 2014 in Sport
ONE wonders whether there would be the talk of Premiership reform and ring-fencing were it Bedwas or Cross Keys facing the drop rather than Swansea.
The famous Whites are scrambling to avoid the drop and if they manage a Great Escape on Saturday then it will be Aberavon, another proud club, that are Championship-bound.
There has been plenty of tinkering to the top flight of club rugby in recent years – the necessary introduction of playoffs, the cull to 10, then rise back to 12 – but relegation and promotion must remain.
It's a tough balancing act because the Premiership is meant to be a development league for the four regions' young talent but at the same time it needs to be a vibrant league in its own right.
That prompts grumbling at both ends; treble-chasing Pontypridd feel that there is a glass ceiling while the Ospreys quartet (one of whom, Neath, used to be just as dominant as Ponty) feel that they are hindered by having a bigger emphasis on young talent.
At times it seems that not everyone has the same aim and more clarity is needed, although perhaps the Ospreys clubs have just got the balance between youth and experience wrong.
But relegation is necessary in order to bring intensity to the league and promotion provides Championship clubs with something to aspire to.
The truth is that there aren't many sides that are suitable for the top flight. Ebbw Vale are heading up after four titles on the spin, north Walians RGC 1404 look set to be favourites for promotion next season and Pontypool harbour ambitions of a return.
Beyond that not many fancy it, perhaps warned off by the travails of Tonmawr, who spent big to make it to the Premiership and promptly realised that it wasn't worth stretching beyond their means.
They now mid-table in Division Five South West but I would hazard a guess that they are happier for it; the village has its club back.
But the grumbling over the Premiership just reflects the general malaise in Welsh rugby at the moment.
Very few people are happy.
The regions are attempting to secure more funding from the WRU so that they can be competitive and this season certainly hasn't filled the quartet's supporters with glee – only the Ospreys have won more games than they have lost.
They fear for their future and the game is crumbling at the levels beneath them, highlighted by Swalec Division Two East champions-elect Rhiwbina having had the last two Saturdays off after no-shows by their opponents.
Tredegar were the 'culprits' a fortnight ago.
A famous Mark Twain quote was appropriate when social media spread news that the former Merit Table club had gone under – "the report of my death was an exaggeration" – because they fulfilled their fixture last weekend when thrashed 85-3 by Dowlais.
However, one does fear that Spike Milligan's epitaph "I told you I was ill" may be applicable and plenty of other clubs are in the same boat.
Up and down the land there is a shortage of players, officials and administrators.
Of course this is nothing new; the game has been in trouble beneath Test level for some time, it's just that international success has hidden it.
Chief executive Roger Lewis is clearly producing the financial results to please the Welsh Rugby Union board but one worries about the state of the game that will face his successor.
That has prompted the return of David Moffett, who intends to stand for election to the governing body. There isn't much love in some quarters for the former WRU chief executive but at least he is rattling a few cages and prompting some much-needed action from his former employers.
Because a change of attitude and emphasis is certainly required even if there is no change of personnel at the Millennium Stadium.
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