After the news broke that the WRU had blocked the Ospreys from playing a mid-week fixture against Tonga, the immediate outpouring was to ask the simplest of questions: why?
The WRU have come up with the reasons, although excuses is a more accurate word, that they are firstly concerned about player burnout and secondly that it is a fixture that will detract fans away from other premiership/regional games.
With regards to the first point, it is almost laughable that the WRU have wheeled this out as a reason. In under 20’s tournaments, players regularly have to play three games in eight days. At the end of the season when delayed fixtures have to be completed, three games in eight days is again a normality; why have the WRU never expressed their concerns on this?
With regards to the Ospreys squad for the Tonga fixture, yes a great deal of players would be away with Wales, but it would be a team made up of young players who would relish the opportunity of playing against an international side, and they are more than fit enough to cope with a mid-week fixture.
If the WRU are so concerned with player burn out, it begs the question as to why they have yet again organised an extra fixture in the Autumn Series outside the International window. It would appear that as long as the players are playing for Wales, burn out is not something they consider.
Moving onto the second point, that the midweek fixture would take supporters away from other premiership and regional fixtures on the weekend; is utterly risible. If anything, it would promote the game further throughout the Ospreys’ region. Supporters would get to see their young players, who often play for their premiership side, compete against an international team. It would garner interest and enthusiasm for the game. It would bring great rugby to a key area of the Ospreys’ region. There are in fact no negatives to take from the fixture.
The only fixture the proposed midweek game could possibly have an effect on would be the Friday match of Wales v Samoa. But surely the WRU is not so selfish and childish as to prevent a region promoting itself for its own financial gain?
Time and again recently we’ve seen Roger Lewis come out and say that the regions current woes are down to their own mismanagement. If that’s the case, why then are they now stamping on any idea the regions have to better themselves?
It is a truly baffling situation, and it only presents the WRU in a bad light.
They appear to be determined to only promote international rugby in Wales, and this blocking of a midweek fixture for the Ospreys only goes further to prove that.
As stated in a previous article, the WRU has to remember that there is more to rugby in Wales than the international team. No one is denying that the regions have been mismanaged in the past, but the WRU stopping the opportunities the regions are trying to use to manage themselves properly, is counterproductive.
This decision by the WRU has now confirmed that they believe they are in direct competition with the regions, as opposed to helping them, as was first seen back in 2008 when they again blocked the Ospreys having an extra match, this time against the Barbarians. This issue of competition for supporters will raise its head again in the added on international fixture of Wales v Australia. It comes the same weekend as the Ospreys v Blues; one of the biggest regional fixtures has now been forced to become a sideshow, where neither team will have their best players available.
This fixture alone, and its timing, speaks volumes as to how the WRU are treating domestic rugby in Wales. It needs to change.
Take note Mr Lewis.