CHRIS KIRWAN: Occasionals' cash welcome as long as Welsh rugby regulars benefit
10:03am Thursday 3rd July 2014 in Sport
I BELIEVE I’ve earned my stripes as a rugby follower; I played throughout my youth and watched from the terrace and stands at Welford Road in Leicester.
And I can tell you from first-hand experience that things are different over the border in terms of the club/country dynamic.
I had seen England play just once before joining the Argus and that was at Welford Road to see a national XV take on the Tigers to celebrate the club’s centenary in 1992. Not once had I ventured to Twickenham for a Test.
To this day if you mention Rory Underwood, Dean Richards, Martin Johnson and Neil Back to me then the image in my mind is of them in scarlet, green and white with the letters K, G, D and H on their backs rather than in white with a red rose on their chest.
By and large there are well-wishers for the national side but not fervent followers; offer a Grand Slam or Rugby Champions Cup glory to a supporter at Kingsholm, Franklin’s Gardens or the Rec and I’d imagine the latter option would win comfortably.
It’s not quite reached that level in Wales but things are heading that way.
Test rugby is still the pinnacle but it is viewed on the television rather than in the flesh and there is a disconnection with regular rugby punters.
There has been some gnashing of teeth at the increase in ticket prices to watch Wales games at the Millennium Stadium and many are being priced out; it is a shame that the only real option for many families is to go to the autumn international that pits Warren Gatland’s side against a relative minnow.
You can get a Newport Gwent Dragons, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues or Scarlets season ticket for what it costs to watch yet another Test against Australia plus a couple of pints and some food.
But perhaps we should embrace the ‘event goers’ having to dig deep?
Ex-Wales captain Mike ‘Spikey’ Watkins spoke for many when he recently expressed his frustration at the antics of some spectators at the national stadium.
“At the Millennium these days it's like being at a disco or somebody's birthday party. Rugby just gets in the way,” said the outspoken former Crumlin, Cardiff and Newport hooker.
But if they are happy to pay the prices – and tickets wouldn’t be second only to Twickers in their costliness if they weren’t – then why not take their cash as long as it goes back into the Welsh game?
Plenty of those that head to the Millennium Stadium don’t go through the turnstiles at Rodney Parade, the Liberty Stadium, BT Sport Arms Park or Parc y Scarlets with great regularity.
The evidence of 2013 suggests that there is very little bounce from international success; just a fortnight after England were thrashed in the thrilling Six Nations decider a crowd of just 36,174 headed to Cardiff to see the same players in club colours at the inaugural Judgement Day.
So perhaps it is a wise move to keep sneaking up the prices and take the cash of the occasionals rather than the regulars if Test rugby is the prime revenue generator.
But a word of caution to the Millennium Stadium bean counters, Test rugby has reached saturation point and there were plenty of empty seats in South Africa and Australia in June.
Wales will once again take on the Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks this autumn and if Warren Gatland’s winless streak stretches to 27 against the world’s top three then the punters will be restless.
Which makes it all the more important that the governing body and the regions have a good relationship rather than constantly battling each other.
“We work together, but we have got to ensure the protocols are there to ensure Warren Gatland gets the best opportunity for a winning Welsh side,” said WRU chairman David Pickering.
I have no problem with a premium being charged to watch a winning Wales as long as the clubs and regions that guarantee that success are rewarded.
The money generated by Gatland’s team must be used to keep its players in Wales, thus giving the regional fans their chances to see the stars throughout the rest of the season.