CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Regions are up against it... again
9:01am Thursday 5th December 2013 in Sport
IT'S hard to decide what was more predictable last weekend, Wales losing to Australia again or the regions suffering RaboDirect Pro12 disappointment.
Cardiff Blues fought hard for a draw at Treviso, Newport Gwent Dragons showed spirit in defeat to leaders Munster while the Ospreys and Scarlets had nothing to show from their encounters with Glasgow and Leinster respectively.
Not one win and a combined tally of three points from a possible 20... will they be able to do better this weekend?
If they do then it will be a sterling effort given the barriers to success.
The Dragons aren't hit as hard as the other three by international call-ups but their preparation for a must-win Amlin Challenge Cup encounter with Bordeaux-Begles has been hindered by the extra autumn international.
Toby Faletau put everything into the tough Test against the Wallabies while Andrew Coombs and Hallam Amos took part in the warm-up at the Millennium Stadium and have not been at Rodney Parade for weeks.
The Blues host Glasgow in the Heineken Cup after seeing Gethin Jenkins, Cory Allen, Bradley Davies, Owen Williams, Scott Andrews and Rhys Patchell sidelined by injuries suffered on international duty while Sam Warburton, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny are flung straight back in.
"It's tough coming back from international rugby," said Glasgow boss Gregor Townsend. "There are mental and physical demands of playing at that level and then coming back into club camp."
At least the Blues are playing in Wales; the Scarlets don't have a chance of ending Clermont Auvergne's incredible home record on Saturday while the Ospreys are up against it when they travel to Top 14 champions Castres.
Of course the Welsh Rugby Union will point out that the regions signed up to the extra Test when they penned the participation agreement in 2009.
They say that international matches, both in the autumn and the summer, are vital to raise money that benefits the quartet.
But not enough of that revenue trickles down to the regions, who must now ponder whether the inconvenience is worth it.
The PA expires at the end of the season and the parties are in negotiations for a new one, although a fourth Test (sigh, the Wallabies again) has already been pencilled in for 2014 by the Union.
The regions don't appear to have much of a choice but to sign up and the future is bleak.
The offer on the table won't give them much chance of holding on to the players that haven't already headed for the Aviva Premiership or Top 14 and meanwhile they are left to play in the RaboDirect Pro12 and a powder puff European competition.
Our television screens are full of montages of famous Heineken Cup moments but it won't be the same without the English and their absence will ensure the French, who were coerced into competing by their union, will just go through the motions.
The regions are certainly not perfect and need to do better to bring in more money but league clashes with Leinster reserves on a Sunday and European encounters with Oyonnax seconds are hardly going to be talk of the town in Newport, Llanelli, Cardiff and Swansea.
After a shocking 2012/13 the Dragons have shown real signs of progress on the field this season and some bright talent is coming through the academy.
And yet the future still looks grim.
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