CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: As long as the Welsh regions play the English clubs I don't care

CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: As long as the Welsh regions play the English clubs I don't care

CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: As long as the Welsh regions play the English clubs I don't care

First published in Sport

THE BACKING didn't quite rival the Polish masses that packed out a quarter of Wembley but the Newport Gwent Dragons fans certainly made themselves known at the Rec.

It was support that the players certainly appreciated, even if their disappointment at another away defeat meant they headed straight to their changing room with heads bowed rather than acknowledge those that travelled over the Severn Bridge.

But the result didn't seem to totally ruin the afternoon in Bath for the Dragons' faithful, some of whom had seemingly adopted a 'when in Rome' approach to being on a terrace sponsored by a cider company.

And it was a delight to not have to adopt a 'when in Parma/Treviso/Cork/Galway/Dublin/Belfast/Edinburgh/Glasgow' policy of RaboDirect Pro12 rugby.

Instead it was a 3pm Saturday game just over the border with England rather than in Italy, Ireland or Scotland; bus, a beer and back for Match of the Day.

The game probably didn't mean quite as much to Bath, especially given that they face West Country rivals Gloucester tomorrow, but it certainly felt like a big one for the Dragons even though it was 'just' an Amlin Challenge Cup encounter.

Because there is nothing quite like an Anglo-Welsh tussle.

That is the same a rung down with Cross Keys currently enjoying battles with Moseley and Ealing in the British and Irish Cup, much to the envy of Newport following the Black and Ambers' famous recent ding-dongs with Exeter, Cornish Pirates and Plymouth.

Which is why it was encouraging that the four Welsh regions came out in support of the Rugby Champions Cup this week.

Forget all this Celts sticking together, games with the English are what supporters want.

If the move by the Dragons, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Scarlets prompts the establishment of a competition that is a rebranded European tournament – with tinkering to the governance, format and qualification – then it will be a huge relief.

But it's just a shame that the rumpus won't end with Welsh involvement in the Aviva Premiership.

The words of the sage that is Jim Bowen have come to mind when the Dragons have locked horns with Bath, Gloucester, Northampton, Exeter and Wasps in recent seasons: "Here's what you could have won".

How galling that five places in the English league were turned down in 1999, a decision that eventually led to forming a Celtic League.

Some quarters have painted the English (and French) as greedy and power-mad over the Euro tussle.

Maybe that's the case – and surely there is nothing wrong with businesses wanting to make more money – but we need them and we want them.

"The public have voted with their feet and they've made the strongest possible statement to the Welsh Rugby Union," said a Cardiff official after they played Saracens in front of a bumper crowd in their 'rebel' season.

"They want a British league, as do we all. I can only hope and pray that this occasion will accelerate the process."

That official? Current Dragons and Newport chief executive Gareth Davies.

And he must know that while a lot has changed in a decade of regional rugby the appetite for taking on English clubs remains as strong as ever.

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