CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Dragons' balancing act highlights importance of Euro tussle
7:02am Thursday 3rd October 2013 in Sport
THE TELEVISION pundit was puzzled after a meek Newport Gwent Dragons away defeat in Ireland last season.
He pondered why Toby Faletau was not picked in the starting XV against Munster at Thomond Park.
He went on to make the point that Wales players are only available at limited points throughout the season so you might as well use them while they are there.
Leaving him on the sidelines sent out a negative message, that the game was lost before it had begun.
That pundit? Kingsley Jones.
Fast forward a campaign and he is part of the Dragons coaching setup that opted to leave Faletau in Wales while they were suffering a defeat to Munster in Cork.
It goes to show the fine balance that needs to be struck between getting full value for paying the big bucks for an international player while looking after that prized asset.
Faletau can certainly not be put in the same bracket as Jamie Roberts or George North, who frequently turned out for Wales but cried off for Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets.
Last season Toby played 35 games – 19 for the Dragons, 9 for Wales and 7 for the Lions. His commitment to his region cannot be questioned, as was shown when he turned out in a dead rubber in Edinburgh when the Lions tour Down Under was looming.
Perhaps he could have been used in Cork; maybe he could have helped earn a bonus point with a cameo off the bench.
But the Dragons needed to give some game time to highly-promising Wales Under-20s back row forward Ieuan Jones while the performance of Fiji number eight Netani Talei certainly didn't give cause for complaint.
It's a balancing act for the regions – and a plight that should have the Welsh Rugby Union concerned by the rumpus in European rugby.
The current Heineken Cup set-up is perfect for them. Their players are not flogged week in, week out in the league then they aim to hit peak condition for European rugby just before the autumn and Six Nations internationals.
That's all set to change with uncertainty over budgets inevitably leading to more players joining Dan Lydiate, Luke Charteris, James Hook, Jamie Roberts, George North and a raft of others in France's Top 14 and England's Aviva Premiership.
It's hard to see there being a Heineken Cup next season meaning that Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets will lose at least £4.4million.
Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Ian Evans, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton are all out of contract at the end of the current campaign. The chances of hanging on to them look slim.
The WRU gets access to international players outside of the IRB Test window by paying the regions around £6million, a figure that seems a tad low. That gets tougher – and more costly – when dealing with the French and English.
Which is why the Union, rather than worrying about losing a little bit of control to clubs, should be doing all they can to help out the regions, who need the English, so that they can keep the country's top talent in Wales while also producing the next batch.
Standing in the way of the Rugby Champions Cup, which would bring in more money to the regions and could allow them to prosper, could do irreparable damage to the game in Wales.
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