CHRIS KIRWAN: The need to save face ensuring stare down continues

First published in Sport by

AT the turn of the millennium a cult television comedy series called Big Train featured an animated sketch about the World Stare Out Championships.

Two foes sat motionless either side of a table, eyeballing each other while Barry Davies provided commentary, analysis and inane anecdotes on the (lack of) events.

Perhaps the legendary broadcaster fancies putting his voice to footage of negotiations between the Welsh Rugby Union and Regional Rugby Wales.

The wait goes on for a fresh participation agreement; suddenly a gloomy end-of-season warning by Ospreys chief Andrew Hore seems very possible.

"I can't see things really moving until there's a need for the WRU to get desperate — and that could be as late as November when they are going to want to use our players for Wales' extra autumn Test," he told the South Wales Evening Post.

It was thought in some quarters that the regions would have blinked by now; that Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues would have caved in.

In fact the quartet, aided by their deal with BT Sport, remain united despite funding from the Welsh Rugby Union drying up, with those 'pesky' benefactors once again digging deep.

In the mean time the embarrassing situation is watched from afar by those baffled by how two Wales and Lions internationals are kicking their heels on the sidelines while WRU chief executive Roger Lewis, RRW boss Nigel Short and independent judge Sir Wyn Williams get stuck into the Bourbon biscuits.

In truth Sam Warburton and Adam Jones are not in a position to vent their spleens.

The Wales captain knew the risks when he signed a central contract with the governing body, at least I hope his representatives made them clear.

There was no certainty that he would play his rugby for Cardiff Blues despite that being his preference.

And Jones must have known he was taking a chance at the start of the year when he opted not to accept an Ospreys offer.

He seems set to pen another deal at the Liberty Stadium once a fresh PA is agreed but at the moment he has been training alone on the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr and with his old club Neath.

The high-profile pair have served to focus more attention on a tedious situation but a big hurdle must be overcome despite both sides being hopeful of a fresh accord.

This shouldn't be about egos yet saving face will be vital before there are staged handshakes by smiling officials.

IF more evidence was needed for the observation that television viewers are more valued than those that head through the turnstiles then it has been provided this week.

The fixture dates for the first half of the Guinness Pro12 were announced on Monday less than a month before the big kick-off (the Aviva Premiership, a competition where teams travel by coach rather than plane, put theirs out on July 4).

They will be followed this afternoon by dates for European rugby tournaments, but Newport Gwent Dragons fans will still have a pair of question marks on their calendar.

If they fancy an away trip to either Bucharest or Calvisano then they will have to visit lastminute.com as the final Pool Three qualifier will only be confirmed on September 27 – three weeks before round one.

That game will undoubtedly be one of the few that isn't be on television.

Sky Sports will add a touch of glamour to the Pro12 as they certainly know how to sell a product.

However, it means that yet more games will be beamed to homes with even Newport Gwent Dragons, traditionally a team ignored by the cameras, receiving plenty of coverage.

It may help the region attract better sponsorship deals given that logos on jerseys and hoardings will be more prominent.

But it certainly doesn't help the push to sell season tickets for punters to have three possible time slots – Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon – for games at Rodney Parade.

The Dragons' opener at Connacht is not on telly but all nine of their other confirmed Pro12 dates are, six of them on free-to-air television.

No wonder the regions have had to price their season tickets so cheaply in a bid to put bums on seats.

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