CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: WRU’s fixation is so short-sighted
9:00am Thursday 10th January 2013 in Sport
IT’S no wonder that regional rugby is in such a mess when its priorities have become so skewed.
The battle for independence rather than central control is being lost and the obsession with Team Wales is harming the sport.
It is a problem that is highlighted at this time of year when the Six Nations is looming.
Take your pick out of Dan Lydiate, Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones and George North – they are all said to be in fitness battles to take part in the defence of Wales’ crown.
It seems their international participation is more important to some than them aiding their misfiring regions in Europe.
The brain-washing has created an obsession about the prime existence of Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets being to produce players for Wales.
There is no problem with that being an aim but it should be a by-product of their on-field success, which must be objective number one.
This week Newport Gwent Dragons head coach Darren Edwards said: “Our goal is to bring players through for Wales and the regional game is the vehicle for the national team.
“We have got to make sure we bring them through and it’s up to the Welsh Rugby Union to support us in doing that.”
But with financial backing comes demands and we are already in a situation where everything is driven by what Team Wales wants; the whole set-up seems geared towards what goes on at their Vale of Glamorgan base.
The power has even been taken out of the regions’ hands when it comes to Under-20s players – this season national academy skills camps have been deemed more important than talented teenagers getting game time in the RaboDirect Pro12.
As the jousting between the regions and the WRU continues, wrestling some control back from the Millennium Stadium should be a priority for the quartet.
They must have more freedom in player recruitment, who they have on their coaching staff and when it comes to their own business decisions.
Wales will fare best if its teams are producing the goods in the RaboDirect Pro12 and in Europe.
The key to that is not being quite so obsessed with development and churning out new talent – that will look after itself if a side is winning.
The Dragons are a case in point. They are currently exposing an extremely young side to professional rugby but defeat upon defeat is not the best way to develop.
Invest in some experienced overseas talent and the most will be made of the burgeoning talent that is on the books.
We are frequently told about the success of the Irish model in which Connacht are labelled a development province.
Yet take a look at their recent results and you will see that they aren’t all about Team Ireland.
It has been seven hours and 50 minutes since an Irishman scored points for them, a streak that goes back to a pushover try on December 1.
They have Dan Parks pulling the strings backed up by Miah Nikora, George Naoupu is a commanding presence in the back row while Fetu’u Vainikolo and Danie Poolman have been finishing off their tries on the wings.
And when it comes to football a glance at the recent travails of Aston Villa provides more evidence of sporting talent struggling without a large dollop of experience to guide it through tricky times.
So if Roger Lewis and the Welsh Rugby Union do want Team Wales to thrive – after all, it does help pay the bills – then they would be well advised to let the regions off their leash.
THE SIZE of the Dragons’ catchment area shows why it would be farcical and short-sighted for the Welsh Rugby Union to downgrade the region.
The Dragons, both on and off the field, haven’t helped themselves in their bid to avoid the chop. It has been a miserable season.
But it would be a hammer blow to the sport in the area if Rodney Parade takes a hit in order for others to try and compete more fiercely in the Heineken Cup.
Firstly, concentrating slightly more funds elsewhere is no guarantee for success – French clubs will still have far deeper pockets than the regions.
Secondly, it won’t lead to Wales developing better players as nobody will fancy being sent to the runt of the litter for heavy beatings.
And thirdly, completely killing off ambition in the region (on and off the field) will lead to apathy towards rugby whether it’s Newport, Caldicot, Pontypool or Tredegar.
Even by the WRU’s standards, thinning the potential player pool at a time when the sport is struggling against football and the might of the Premier League would be a madcap decision.
The Dragons are miles away from being competitive in Europe but they need to at least have an incentive to improve and the chance to hope and dream of better times ahead.