THESE are uncertain times for Newport Gwent Dragons with 19 days until a pivotal vote for their future but the uncertainty won’t suddenly come to an end on the morning of May 10. Is it enough just to exist?
The evening before that date, the Newport RFC shareholders will opt for either a green or red card in the Bisley Suite at Rodney Parade to decide whether to accept a proposed deal with the Welsh Rugby Union for control of the Dragons and ownership of the famous ground.
It has been painted as salvation or bust, yet a crucial factor in the vote for many comes with the very fact that handing the reins to the governing body doesn’t necessarily lead to an end of the insecurity.
Some solace would be able to be taken from the delaying of the doomsday scenario, but some fears will linger whether an individual is Dragons only/Dragons and Newport/Newport only supporter.
Union ownership doesn’t and cannot guarantee the Dragons a future beyond 2020 when the current accord with the four regions expires.
That being the case, there can be no guarantees about Newport RFC playing at their historic home beyond that same date.
Of course the WRU state that their commitment to keeping professional rugby is shown by the very fact that they wish to invest at Rodney Parade, backing that itself will have the guarantee of owning the asset. They believe that there is potential in the east.
“It is inconceivable to us that professional rugby in that area could be lost and so we have committed to doing everything possible to ensure its future success,” said Union chief executive Martyn Phillips at the time of the announcement on March 22, the last time he discussed the issue.
But if the governing body are handed the keys then there will be a strange situation whereby the words ‘development region’, something that used to prompt most of us around these parts to spit out our tea, would offer comfort to many about the future of their Rodney Parade.
There are some in black and amber who don’t particularly care about the professional side playing at their home. They won’t care how successful the Dragons are, just as long as they are there.
The WRU have said Newport RFC can play rent-free at Rodney Parade for 10 years before a rental agreement will be reached… as long as there is pro rugby in the city.
And for the Dragons fans who have got used to being Wales’ fourth from four, would they accept being a cog in the wheel just so long as their team is still in existence beyond 2020?
Such questions must be asked because the words of a regional board member south west miles to the west should have come as interest to those at Rodney Parade last week.
Martyn Ryan, one of the bigwigs at Cardiff Blues, made some very prudent comments when speaking to WalesOnline about the future of regional rugby as the clock ticks towards that RSA expiry.
With the Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets struggling to compete with the bigger budgets of England, France, Ireland and even Scotland, the Arms Park director urged a rethink of the model.
After the initial shock of his suggestion that there should be two ‘super regions’ comes the realisation that Ryan (whose club would naturally stand to benefit, as it is common sense for the side in the capital to profit) makes some reasonable points.
“If it was purely a commercial and non-emotional decision you would put them in the two biggest population centres, so east and west Wales would be the obvious thing,” he said.
“It is not purely money, but environment and coaching as well, but to build a quality environment you can only really afford to support two sides.
"But you need five professional entities for the development of players. So you would require another three. So it would be four regional and RGC [1404 in north Wales].”
Part of the WRU’s aim for the Dragons is to make them more competitive and to ensure that they are providing more ‘bang for the buck’ when it comes to the national team.
Playing devil’s advocate, the ‘development region’ concept, and using Rodney Parade as a destination for Welsh exiles, would ensure that.
Their place in the food chain could be established and work could be put in towards ensuring the future versions of Hallam Amos, Ollie Griffiths, Ashton Hewitt, Elliot Dee, Harri Keddie and Leon Brown get a good grounding alongside better players in a side that wins more.
A bit more money could get the Dragons competing consistently towards mid-table but it would take dramatic and frequent investment to turn them into challengers.
Dragons supporters would have recoiled at such a notion in the past – and the idea of Taulupe Faletau heading for Cardiff was a horrible one – but would they accept it rather than oblivion?
If the Union are calling the shots then they might not have an option.
THE presence of 12 Welshmen in Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad makes the spluttering Six Nations campaign all the more frustrating.
Gatland’s selection was always going to prompt some dismay such was the ferocity of competition for a squad that to be honest is a little too big at 41.
The grumbling has naturally been loudest in the north after just two Scots, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, were included.
There may be wailing but is Greig Laidlaw better than Ben Youngs? No. The Grays are in arguably the most competitive area of the pitch. Hamish Watson had a super Six Nations but Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are better opensides. Fraser Brown is a mighty fine hooker but Dylan Hartley is more unlucky. Finn Russell? Perhaps.
The Scots like to mump and moan every four years and fingers will have been pointed at the size of the Welsh contingent given that they were drubbed 29-13 after a second half horror show in Murrayfield in February.
But the truth is that each and every individual is a worthy tourist and many are in a good position to be in the 23 for the first Test in Auckland on June 24.
There can be no complaints about the selections of captain Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb, Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric.
Regarding the remaining two Welshmen, Biggar, Russell and England’s George Ford are all quality options for what is, unless injury strikes, the role of midweek fly-half while Ross Moriarty had a storming Six Nations and was super against the All Blacks last summer. Expect the confrontational back rower to rise to the challenge.
Such a list of talent makes Wales’ recent uninspiring form on the Test scene exasperating and must increase the pressure on the management team.
The heat will be on Gatland and his assistant Rob Howley to spearhead better times when they return pack away the Lions stash and get back into Wales tracksuits after a summer away.