The regions, the Pro 12 and the WRU

Despite improved exposure under the tenure of the Rabo Direct sponsors, the Pro 12 continues to stutter as a league, and there’s not one quick explanation as to why.

You can argue there just aren’t big enough teams there to draw the crowds. The Italian sides especially being such new entities never have much of a pull on the casual fan.

Officiating is another. Whether it is simply this current crop of referees is below par, or that all of the unions involved need to work together  so that all referees are better monitored by the same criteria, the lack of consistency from the Pro 12 officials is sometimes maddening to behold.  There will never be a game where a referee doesn’t make a mistake, yet as long as the mistakes are applied equally it isn’t so much of a problem. At refereeing courses consistency is one of the main values talked about, yet it is one of the key failings of officials in the Pro 12. It makes it frustrating for viewers, supporters and players alike and until it improves it will be a continuous frustration that is turning people away from the game.

The lack of competitiveness is another factor. The introduction of the play offs has added a much needed incentive for the top  half of the table, yet the bottom half are safe in the knowledge they cannot be relegated, and that nearly all are guaranteed entry to the top flight of European club rugby competitions without the need to qualify. Change the criteria to qualify then there wouldn’t be so many dead rubber games. Every match would mean something.

This lack of competitiveness has seen the league be exploited by some, particularly the Irish provinces, as being a development competition. It is a turn off for many fans to turn out to watch their side play on occasion an effective visiting second string team. Player rotation is a must but the way the Irish sides exploit it mean that yet again, too many fixtures in the competition are not seen as important. There is no draw, no pull, and no added edge to secure the floating fan.

The lack of history is something that at least can be cured by time. Already rivalries are forming between the likes of Scarlets and Munster or Ulster, or Ospreys and Leinster. As it stands now, the opposition clubs in the Pro 12 are simply not a big enough pull for Welsh crowds as say an English club would be, yet as the competition grows, that at least can be something that can be improved upon.

All of the above are mainly structural issues, things that the league organisers themselves can look at and improve. What happens then when it is one of the Union’s involved that then pits its national side against that of its domestic teams?

The WRU, having insisted yet again on an extra match outside of the international window, are effectively devaluing the competition, and putting their own domestic teams in the Pro 12 at a disadvantage, as well as scuppering any chance of fair preparation for the imminent rounds of the European cup competition next week.

Looking at this weekend’s fixtures, there are three of the four Welsh regions directly affected. On Friday it is the Ospreys v Blues. A massive Welsh derby match and neither side will have their best players to choose from. It will effectively be second XV’s competing and whilst that is perhaps good for player development it does nothing to create a true rivalry in the league and nor does it entice supporters to a game. When the two teams are at full strength this would be one of the Ospreys’ biggest home attendances. Having depleted sides and their own national side playing on the same day, crowd figures are surely going to take a big hit.

The other region affected is current second placed side the Scarlets. On Sunday, they face Ulster who are top of the table and 6 points clear. The Scarlets will be shorn of 12 international players, Ulster will have the majority of theirs available. Not only does that now provide two teams on unequal footing, but it is a turn off for fans knowing that they can’t go and watch their best side compete. When you consider this match is looking like being one of the most important in the league, it’s ridiculous in terms of competition that one of the teams will be so depleted.

The international matches always affect league fixtures, but they have an allocated time in which to do so. The WRU have gone a step beyond this and their attitude to insisting on generating the cash to pay off their debts far quicker than needed is going to have a hugely negative effect on the regions for yet another season.

The league has enough to contend with to make itself an attractive and viable product, without one of the Union’s treating it in this way. What can be said now for the WRU greed when currently Wales are sat in a tier 2 spot, yet if they lose against Australia they will drop down to tier 3. The WRU couldn’t have predicted that Wales would lose all three of their test matches so far, yet this extra game has the potential to backfire hugely; not only on the domestic game, but on the international teams standings and seeding for the rugby world cup. Take a bow, the WRU. 

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10 thoughts on “The regions, the Pro 12 and the WRU

  1. Fair play, that is complete and utter sensationalist nonsense. One wekkend out of all the weekends in the league will not affect the League as a whole, that is an inescapable and obvious fact.

    The WRU do not affect the League, the players in the Region affect the LEague. Those same players who can play well for Wales, then play like a bunch of no-hopers for their regions.

    I won’t bother respondng to your posts again, because they contain nothing but rehetoric, cliche and regional propoganda that anyone with an ounce of eyes open sense will see through a mile away.

    One last thing, after the act of violence perpetrated by Hore on saturday, have you posted on the act of violence posted by one of your hard done by scarlets on a munster player? That was an act as bad if not wrse than that perpetrated by the Samoan on Biggar, which you eloquently lambasted after the Welsh defeat.

    Good luck duck, there seem to be plenty of fellow minded readers out there to swallow your drivel.

    • Honestly? I was a bit hungover watching the Scarlets match on the weekend and haven’t had the chance since re-watching it to write up a match report. As the next rounds are almost upon us, I probably won’t have the time to do it full stop 🙂

      I won’t respond to the rest as again I feel you’ve completely missed the point of my article. Could very well be a problem in that I’m not expressing myself clearly so I’ll work on that, but you are honestly the only person I’ve come across that has trouble understanding them.

  2. The theme of this piece, and the first comment that follows it, seems to be “power”.

    The Pro12 struggles because rather than being run as a single entity in its own right, it is being run separately by four unions who continue to pursue their own individual agendas. Hard to get unity on refereeing and disciplinary fronts when that is happening.

    The organisation known as the “RaboDirectPRO12” is little more than a marketing tool for the sponsors when it should be an independent body capable of producing a fair and balanced competition that could one day allow teams from places like Georgia and Romania and thus have promotion and relegation.

    I concede that I’m not that immersed on the internal Welsh situation but sometimes it helps to get a view from outside the goldfish bowl. IMO one of the reasons the regions are failing is that the clubs have been reluctant to support them because they were used to being power brokers in the WRU and didn’t like seeing that diminished by an extra layer placed above them.

    Also on the marketing front the regions were way behind the curve in that they have had to “manufacture” support whereas here in Ireland we had ready-made provinces which already had their own cultural identities so getting bums on seats was always going to be much easier.

    All of which means that unless the clubs and their supporters can be brought on board, it could possibly be better off that the regions are allowed to fail, but I’m not sure that would mean the Pro12 would also fail. Maybe the top four clubs in the Welsh Premiership can go into the following season’s Celtic League? Pretty much how things were before the regions anyway.

    Finally when it comes to the piece, only thing I would take issue with is this statement : “It is a turn off for many fans to turn out to watch their side play on occasion an effective visiting second string team.” The Scarlets fans didn’t appear very turned off when they celebrated an opening-day thrashing of the reigning European Champions even though most of Leinster’s internationals were missing 🙂

    • You have a very very good point about the clubs not backing the regions (Scarlets aside but then there’s is a more unique situation) although big steps are being taken to counter that.

      Marketing is next to non existent in some of the regions but that’s been put largely down to the fact that there isn’t enough money in the budget for it, although taht doesn’t mean the regions can’t do better at the moment.

      And I thin it’s too late to lose the regions now. THey are so much more professional than the clubs that putting the top four Premiership clubs up into the Pro12 simply wouldn’t work. If you look at who the top four clubs used to be: Swansea, Llanelli, Cardiff and Newport – well we esentially have that now anyway!

      I think what the regions need most is time, but in such a money orientated environment now, just don’t know how much time they have to sort it out.

      And for the Leinster fixture, the attendance was under 7,000 (I do believe anyway). The fans that were there were understandably happy 😉 but you’d be expecting a bigger pull for a team like Leinster what with how successful they’ve been. At the moment, for the Scarlets at least, the only Irish sides with a pull are Munster, and Ulster starting a bit and that’s simply down to rivalry.

      I think the league needs time for more rivalries to grow, although I completely agree that it being run seperately by the four unions is a major sticking point in how the league progresses. I know a fair few Irish folk who want it to stay exactly as it is as I would say currently, they are getting the best out of it. I don’t know whether long term though it’s going to be good for anyone.

      And thank you for the comment 🙂

  3. Edward says:

    There are several layers in any business operation right from the overall strategic view through to the detail day to day operation. Rugby is a business and all the points you have raised and conclusions many people (and Accountants) have arrived at all are more or less saying the same thing. The facts and statistics clearly take out the emotion of the arguments.Most followers want to see success on the field whether it be at international or regional level.The funders want to see a financial structure which makes rugby a viable and sustainable product.We have demonstrated as a nation we can nurture talent and therefore should be competing with the best at all levels, but we are not! There are many valid reasons why we are beginning to fail and it is not all down to one element. This therefore brings me back to my opening sentence and the need for a clear strategic direction. My fear is we are going to tinker with the problems and fail to put some radical reform on the table. At present we lack leadership ,however this judgment must be reserved until the PWC report is made public.It was probably a good decision to bring in outside consultants which hopefully will see the wood from the trees. The value now will be its content and subsequent implementation.

    • Cheers for the comment Edward 🙂

      I’ll be very interested to see what the PWC report actually states as the snippets that were leaked a few weeks back by the Beeb weren’t very promising. Think it’s a bit odd though that it was completed back in August yet it still hasn’t fully seen the light of day yet!

      Compromise and balance are the two major things needed in Welsh rugby in particular, just don’t know if going by past form we are ever going to really see it.

  4. Andrew says:

    It’s a great League with some great rugby on display as good as anything from England or France. Loads of internationals competitive games through out Leinster got stuffed by Connaght for example and the relegation factor is overstated. Most leagues in all sports in every country have a few big teams always there or there abouts. The English and French leagues are the same, the same teams in at the business end of the season.
    Crowds in Scot and Wales could be better but if you round out the population of England and France the crowds are better on that basis. More can be done I,m sure but people do turn up.
    As for Refs sure there is the odd difficult decision but by and large they do a good job, the top Refs in the world come from our league no argument. And the newer refs I see coming through are pretty good I would much rather our refs then some of the top French or English refs who even after all that experience still mange to get things wrong, badly.
    One thing is for sure we keep apologizing for our league even though our teams consistanly beat French and English team, last year 5 teams were in the 1/4 finals of the H cup. All you hear from the English press is how wonderful they are and all the flaws in our league. We should start by being a little more bullish and get along to the games. It’s live rugby, it’s your team and stars or no stars they’d still play some cracking stuff. So promote it rather then slag it

    • Not slagging the league but I think it’s right to criticise it if it is justified.

      Our league isn’t perfect, there’s loads that needs improving on it and I don’t think that matter should be brushed aside.

      As a product, it isn’t working throughout the league for fans to go and watch, not in Scotland, not in Italy and not in parts of Wales and Ireland either. It’s a big problem.

      Improve the product, and improve the quality will be one step at least to making it more attractive to people.

      I go to every home game of my team, and the quality I’ve seen varies dramatically and even the games I watch, it’s very rare they are of a high quality in comparison to say the Top14. We have the players for it to be, but for me there are too many unimportant games, and I think that makes a difference as to how teams approach them.

      And thanks for the comment 🙂

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