A trip down memory lane

I’ve been somewhat stuck lately with many things (a pandemic will do that to you) any my relationship with rugby is one of them.

Among the odd blips of happiness and excitement that only rugby union can bring, I’ve found myself in the most part really struggling for consistent enthusiasm over the last two seasons and I have been asking myself; why? Why does a sport that I tell myself I love, that I spend a lot of money on, not make me really happy anymore?

And so I thought I’d revisit the past, and in doing so I re-read one of my own articles from this very site, written way back when in 2014 when all I did have to worry about was rugby, and I’ll point you in its direction here .

When I wrote ‘Falling out of love with rugby’ it had come from a place where I was so sincerely demoralised and angry by the actions of the WRU that it was nearly overcoming all of the joy I found in the sport.

And I’ve realised that the only reason that isn’t the case now is because I have deliberately not engaged with what the WRU are doing, or rather not doing.  And reader, I have now taken the time to look into it and boy do I wish I had not.

A lot of it is exactly the same problems as in 2014. A lack of structure in the community game, a chronic lack of investment in particularly the women’s game, and  poor treatment of the professional teams in terms of financial support. The less said about how the WRU have dealt with the pandemic the better, for my anger levels at least.

To those of you who perhaps don’t follow Welsh rugby, I would ask you to consider just how demoralising it is to have a Union, that is supposed to care, strengthen and support the game, be the very thing that undermines it. The saddest thing of all is that this isn’t even new. These problems are old, embedded in an amateur set up of an institution that seems hell bent on not professionalising.

And yes okay, they’ve built a hotel. A very small part of me would consider that a good idea, a way to generate money without saturating the calendar with international matches as a cash cow but….they’ve organised an international match outside of the international window.  Again. Which will negatively impact all of the professional teams in their domestic league. Again.

I don’t want to dwell too much on how the WRU treats the professional teams as it is simply history repeating itself. What I’d rather focus on here, and what has really been brought into sharp focus, is how appallingly women’s rugby is being treated by the WRU.

We have one of the best 7s players in the world in Jaz Joyce and yet she finds herself in the position of not being able to play on the circuit as the WRU don’t have a team for her to play in. With the folding of the women’s Swansea RFC team  just a short time ago, it is clear that the club game is struggling also.

On the 13th September, the BBC reported here that 123 former Welsh internationals have launched a petition to improve the state of the women’s game in Wales. As they state so succinctly, Enough is Enough.  The women’s pathway has been obliterated by the WRU and this is a complete failure by the Union to safeguard the game.

The link for the petition is here and I would urge everyone to sign it.

All levels of the women’s game in Wales deserves better. 

The WRU, with its hotel vanity project, needs to have a dramatic turnaround in its conduct because as it stands it is decimating the sport in this country. It isn’t good enough.

Yma O Hyd

Rydw i’n mynd i ymgeisio gwneud rhywbeth newydd gyda blog yma. Bydda i’n ysgrifennu mewn Cymraeg cyntaf ac wedyn yn Saesneg. Bydd rhaid i mi ymddiheuro nawr am fy syllafu a gramadeg ofnadwy yn y Gymraeg! Rydw i’n gobeithio bydda i’n gwella’n gyflym.

I’m going to try something new with this blog. I’ll be writing in Welsh first and the English will follow that. I have to apologise now for my awful spelling and grammar in Welsh! I’m hoping it will improve quickly.

Ydw i’n breuddwydio?

Dydd Gwener. Llanelli. Y Scarlets.

Weithiau mae dyddiau yn dod pryd mae bopeth yn perffaith.  Ar Dydd Gwener, digwiddodd hwnna. Pryd cyrhaeddais i i Barc Y Scarlets roedd yno awyrgylch bendigedig, gyda cefnogwyr Scarlets a La Rochelle yn siarad, canu ac yfed gydai gilydd. Es i sefyll ar y teras yn gynnar ac lwcus wnes i hwnna achos ers pedwar o’gloch roedd y teras yn llawn o gwmpas fi. Un awr a hanner cyn y cic cyntaf!

Mae rhaid i mi dweud bod canu Yma O Hyd cyn i’r timau rhedeg mas oedd rhywbeth mor arbennig, bydd e’n aros gyda fi am blynyddoedd. Falle bydd e’n galed i dweud i cefnogwyr o clybiau eraill beth mae’r can ‘na yn meddwl i’r Scarlets ond mae’r geiriau Dafydd Iwan yn cryf iawn. Byth cefnogwyr o’r Dreigiau, Gleision Caerdydd ac y Gweilch yn gwybod pa mor agos oeddwn ni i gyd i diffygio trwyddo ac ar ol ymladd gyda’s Undeb Rygbi Cymru. Roedd Dydd Gwener yn tystiolaeth beth sydd gallu digwydd pryd mae clwb proffesiynol yn cael cymorth o’r Undeb ac wrth gwrs yn gwneud y gwaith galed eu hunan.

Mae ‘na llawer o newidiau yn dod i rygbi Cymru, withiau mae’n teimla fel y ‘last chance saloon’ i achub y gem ond rydw i’n gobeithio pryd bydd y newidiadau yn digwydd, bydd rygbi Cymru gallu tyfu ac bydd y clwbiau profesiynal gallu mwynhau mwy dyddiau fel welais ni i gyd yn Llanelli ar Dydd Gwener.

Does dim cwestiwn bod na gwaith galed iawn i Scarlets wneud os mae nhw eisiau curo Leinster mas yn Nhulyn. Bydd gobaith gyda nhw ar ol ennill y rownd cyn derfynol blwyddyn diwethaf yn y Pro12, ond mae Leinster yn mynd i lefel arall mewn Ewrop. Ond mae na siawns glyr gyda ni. Ar ol blynyddoedd o poen, dyma ni, yma o hyd.

Am I dreaming?

Friday. Llanelli. The Scarlets.

Sometimes you get days where everything is perfect. Friday was one of those. When I arrived at Parc Y Scarlets the atmosphere was brilliant, with Scarlets and La Rochelle fans talking, signing and drinking together. I went to stand on the terrace early and it’s lucky I did as my 4pm, a whole hour and a half before kick of it was completely full all around me.

Singing Yma O Hyd before the teams ran out on to the pitch was something so special it will stay with me for years. It can be quite hard to explain to supporters of other clubs just what the words to that song means to Scarlets supporters but the words of Dafydd Iwan are so strong. Supporters of the Dragons, Cardiff Blues and Ospreys will understand just how close we came to failing during and after the fight with the WRU. Friday was proof of what can happen when a professional club has the support of their union, while of course putting in the hard work themselves.

There are a lot of changes coming to Welsh rugby, sometimes it feels like we are in the last chance saloon to save the game, but I’m hopeful that when the changes happen that Welsh rugby will fially grow and the professional clubs can enjoy more days like we saw in Llanelli last Friday.

There’s no question the Scarlets are going to have to work incredibly hard if they want to beat Leinster out in Dublin. They will go into it with belief as we beat Leinster in the semi-final out there in the Pro12 last season, but Leinster go to a whole other level in Europe. But we have a chance, a clear chance. After years of pain, we’re still here.

What’s that on the horizon?

Well in this instance, it’s two new teams joining the newly re-vamped Pro14 in the guise of South Africa’s Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs.

Given the radio silence coming from the then Pro12 headquarters in the summer, rumours were running rampant as to what exactly the new format of the league would be, and it’s been with a fair bit of trepidation that the news of the new South African teams was welcomed. Is this really what the league needed?

Regardless of whether the answer to that is a yes or a no, there’s no doubting that these new teams bring much needed money with them, especially through television revenue which the longer rugby union is professional, the more vital that component is. The rather romantic side to me begrudges that as I would never wish for us to walk down the same farcical money route as Premiership Football, yet from a business and economical view point there’s no getting away from the fact that money is the key driver, and if the Pro14 has any chance of keeping with the English and French leagues then they must make changes to remain even remotely competitive.

The changes to the league with their new conference set up, whilst confusing on first reading it is now starting to settle in to place and I think it will be the best way they could have re-jigged the format for two additional teams. The double header weekends out to South Africa are going to be key fixtures given the different climate and weather our players will encounter and it’s a refreshing shakeup to a league that is often much maligned by its lack of competitive edge for the second half of the season.

The league structure isn’t the only change this season. There are new laws for us all to get our heads around too, many of which are the focus of the breakdown and in the Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh game last night we saw one team adapt much more quickly to it than the other.

From a Scarlets perspective, it’ll be interesting to see how the likes of James Davies, so often the lead player in breakdown stats, copes with the new laws. Early on as referees seek to impress the new laws on the game more vigorously, it is those teams that can adapt and learn most quickly that will take an early advantage in the W column.

The Scarlets have had a rather strange off-season with the rumbling rumour of Leigh Halfpenny joining seeming to take an age to be formally announced thanks to the WRU involvement as he joins us on a National Dual Contract. Yet there is no escaping the wave of positivity that seems to be emanating from Parc Y Scarlets at the moment.

Last season’s championship victory seems to have instilled a sense of confidence and belief that the team was it must be said often lacking. It’s a very strange feeling to be going into a new season as Champions and with confidence in how well my team can play. That’s a throwback feeling to the Scarlets’ inconsistent nature over the last decade so there’s always going to be a part of me that dreads our fall back to earth. Who knows when it will come, but I for one will approach every game as I did the last few of last season; I just want the players to play well. If they go out there and play well, then whether they win or lose (though obviously I’d prefer the former!) then I can’t ask for more. There will be times when sometimes their opponents are simply better.

The Scarlets team for today’s match is one of the strongest we could name for the first half of the season and it’s going to be a daunting prospect for Southern Kings in their first game in the league.

All I can say is bring on the season, I can’t wait to see how the Scarlets go in their bid to retain the title, and I can’t wait to see what the South African teams can bring to the league. For this supporter, I’m starting the season on a positive; let the roller coaster begin.