Strength in depth has long been an issue in Welsh rugby over the years, but none more so than in the last decade.
Having just four teams to pick their best players from, the depth in some positions of just four simply isn’t guaranteed to be enough, especially if the quality isn’t the same across all four teams in that one position. An example of this can clearly be seen at scrum half. All four of the regions have solid and dependable nines, yet Wales’ best scrum half is plying his trade abroad in France.
The ten shirt is a similar example, with only two of the regions having Welsh international standard ten’s, although with the injury to Rhys Priestland Wales are down to just the one ten in Dan Biggar. James Hook, again based abroad, is also injured leaving a dearth in the ten shirt.
With Wales struggling for depth with four regions and a smattering of players based abroad to choose from – what then is the sense in the latest news coming out of the WRU that they wish to change the regional structure, with two super regions and two development regions being spouted?
If the WRU and Roger Lewis are keen to stick to their words of bringing foreign based Welsh players home, just where exactly do they think these players are all going to play with just two properly competitive teams to fit them in?
Even as recently as the Autumn International series Wales struggled for depth. To reduce the teams and therefore top level playing pool further seems like madness. It is also contradictory to what Roger Lewis was stating just a few short months ago.
Wales needs to get these four regions working. It is too late to ever revert back to the club structure at the top level, and countries like Scotland and Italy prove that having just two top competitive teams is not enough for a national squad to choose from to be successful.
Ten years into their tenure and the regions don’t have that bad a return in terms of success. It is by no means excellent yet they have had more success then either of their Scottish or Italian counterparts. The fact that the regions haven’t fully grasped the imagination of the public is a major sticking point, yet that is down to numerous factors; kick off times, a poor league, player availability etc – it is far too simple to say that they are failing due to the regional structure itself.
What is needed is what Roger Lewis actually promised – the regions and the WRU working together to get the best results. None of this chopping and changing or demoting a region’s status or of promising to be discrete then providing interviews to a national paper. Added to that the allegations that the WRU were considering letting the Ospreys fold, which have been staunchly denied, leads to a situation whereby it is difficult to see who to trust or who to believe.
Roger Lewis and the WRU have already started to go back on what they have originally stated. They talk of honesty and respect, yet with Roger Lewis talking out to the press after advising the regions against doing so themselves, it does not appear that it is happening. The regions themselves still have masses to work on, both on and off field, yet this uncertainty over their futures and their status leaves them in a very difficult position.
Four teams have to be retained. Despite mistakes in the past it is now that they need the extra support of their union. For player depth to continue in Welsh rugby, the number of teams just simply cannot be cut.