Falling out of love with rugby?

It really does come to something as a supposed rugby union fan when you sit down, realise that there’s a bunch of international rugby on the television, and you can’t even stomach to watch a second of it. That is what’s happened to me today.

I suppose there could be a whole bunch of reasons as to why. There’s a good argument these days for there being too much rugby being played and shown on television. Off the back of a very heavy season fixture wise I now have the Junior rugby world cup and all of the summer tours to watch, all of this just two weeks after the European Cup final and a week after the domestic league finals; there simply hasn’t been a break.

Another reason could be that more often than not these days, top flight rugby can be, well a bit boring. The Heineken Cup final between Saracens and Toulon was a case in point of that. I hate to admit it, but that has to have been one of the most boring 80 minutes of rugby I’ve ever had to sit through, although that thankfully was more than made up by the decent and wonderful rugby fans that I attended the game with.

But neither of the above reasons would normally ring true for me. I mean, I love rugby. Hell, I even went on the Lions tour last year. You can’t hold me back from any Scarlets match and it used to be the case that I would move hell and high water to be able to watch Wales play an international, whether that be in person or on television.

And it’s that last comment that gives me a moment of pause, and then I cast my mind back to the 6 Nations. Did I move hell and high water to watch all of Wales’ matches in this year’s 6 Nations? No I didn’t. Did I even bring myself to watch the ‘Probables vs Possibles’ match? Nope, didn’t do that either. What I’ve come to realise this season is that I simply don’t particularly care to watch the senior Wales international team.

Now, I’m keen to stress that this doesn’t mean that I don’t want them to win; I do. It’s just I simply can’t find it in me to care enough to either switch on the television and watch, or to get off my arse and go and watch them live. There’s just nothing there. It transpires that I even watched more England matches this season then I have Wales ones, and if that doesn’t start to get my alarm bells ringing then I don’t know what will.

Now for those of you who aren’t Welsh, you may not have known that there’s a bit of a ‘civil war’ going on in Welsh rugby. It’s actually been going on for the last three or so years but let’s just say that this season it’s gotten a bit messy and nasty. Grassroots rugby is failing, the semi-professional tier of rugby is stagnating, and our professional tier is in a bitter dispute with our governing body, the Welsh Rugby Union(WRU) over the fact it is not only being prevented from growing its own businesses, but that it is also being starved of funds in comparison to all other professional teams in the northern hemisphere game.

It is easy to look at Wales’ international record over the last few years and to say that surely the WRU has been doing a good job. They aren’t questioned, the 6 Nations championship wins are held up like a nice big shiny shield that says Welsh rugby simply must be in a good place. Trust me, as a Welsh person living and following rugby in Wales; it isn’t.

And then we have the WRU itself. Their conduct during this whole affair has been nothing short of distasteful. To all appearances they have seemed to use players as political pawns, supressed any notion of discussion or differing rugby media outlets (their dealings with Inside Welsh Rugby TV (@IWRTV) and forcing gwladrugby.com to remove an article are a case in point) and combine that with a lack of transparency and strategy….let’s just say they don’t exactly inspire enthusiasm or trust. That is me putting it mildly.

In the face of this surely we have the gritty, insightful and questioning media in Wales really putting them to the test with their investigative and professional journalism? I wish. Instead we have rumours of senior management in BBC Sport Wales preventing well respected journalists from airing their views on the WRU. Instead we have the “national newspaper of Wales” running nonsensical stories of the ‘greatest SA teams’ instead of doing what they really should be doing – holding the WRU to account.

It has fallen to fans and supporters on social media to do that. It has fallen to an individual flying half way around the world to galvanise the clubs so a much needed Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) could be called.

The WRU needs reform. The board, the setup, the structure – absolutely everything needs dragging into the professional era, where accountability, transparency and a clear structure are all in place. We currently don’t have that and we have a gravy train organisation doing its uttermost to hold on to their lofty seats so as to prevent this change.

Will the EGM be successful in forcing a vote of no confidence so changes can be made? I really don’t know. That is down to the clubs and I do have a general fear and huge reservations that enough can or will give the long term future of Welsh rugby the real consideration it needs, over their own immediate fears for their own club’s survival. Fears that seem to be fed by the WRU rather than appeased by them.

And so there I think we have it, just why I find it so hard to care about the senior international team in Wales anymore. For years the international side has been held up as the focal point for all of Welsh rugby, to the detriment of the rest of the game in Wales, and it is the WRU that has been doing that. So for me now when I see Wales play, I don’t see the 15 proud Welshmen giving their all for their country like I should. Instead I see the WRU board and everything that they stand for – which is everything that is wrong with the game in Wales.

Until that changes I really am going to struggle to get enthused about international Welsh rugby, and sure maybe that’s my own problem. Maybe I should be able to push the politics aside and focus just on the rugby on the pitch, but when I see the game I love around me being torn to pieces by a governing body that simply doesn’t seem to care, as long as those at the top can keep their status quo then I find that I simply can’t.

Perhaps it isn’t that I don’t care about rugby anymore, maybe it is that I care too much, and by caring too much, I simply can’t stomach to watch the tier of rugby that has been forced by the WRU to become the be all and end all, while the rest of the game here in Wales is left to rot. I can’t agree with that, and I think if most fans really thought about it, they wouldn’t agree with it either.

Give me my local club rugby and give me the Scarlets at least with them I know exactly what they stand for and what they believe in, and that they have the ethos and values that are true to rugby. I think my first two reasons; over exposure and quality of rugby are still valid ones, but I know that for me it has been the whole messy dispute in Welsh rugby that has killed off my passion for the game. If that’s happened to me, then I dread to think what it’s done to the more casual fan. Welsh rugby needs to fix itself soon, but even now it is going to take years for it to recover.

I think for today, I might just have to watch some tennis instead. 

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5 thoughts on “Falling out of love with rugby?

  1. Mike Phippen says:

    I totally understand where you are coming from, a very interesting view of the current situation
    It is really important that the clubs stand up for themselves and rugby in wales next week and change for the future of the game here
    If this does not happen I fear for welsh rugby in general and especially as the media in Wales is so biased and will not bring it all out on the open
    Well said Siobhan I hope the clubs take notice and stand up for the game in general

  2. Andrew Lewis says:

    Yesterday I renewed my Scarlets season ticket’s (Four in total) and look forward to my team punching above it’s weight and budget next season, this will be in spite of the WRU’s treatment towards the regions, semi pro’s and grassroots rugby.

    What really saddens me is I will not set foot in the Millennium stadium again to watch my country play until Mr Roger Lewis and Mr Pickering are no longer employed by the WRU,

    The Welsh team will have my full support.

    Time for change before more rugby lovers look for a divorce.

  3. Gary John says:

    I totally agree with you. I would add that I would make more of an effort to watch our U20s than the senior team (though I want them to win), I too will not set foot in the Millennium to watch Wales until those in charge are changed. The one good thing to come out of this mess, is the stronger unity between the Regions and the respect with which those organisations are regarded in Europe.

  4. Cheers for the comments guys, it seems that from all the feedback I’ve had on twitter that there’s a lot of people out there that are feeling the same.

    Gary – I completely agree, the regions working together can only be a good thing – the BT sponsorship deal a case in point.

    Andrew – top work on the season ticket renewals! I renewed mine last week 🙂

    Thanks again for commenting, and thanks so much for taking the time to read.

  5. Hi Siobhan,

    Sorry to hear that you’re falling out of love with the game. However I don’t think its all doom and gloom for the Regions and especially your average Welsh Rugby fan.

    I know that there has been a glut of Welsh players heading over to France now but I don’t see them being a success over there. The best foreign players in France are the ones that commit to the cause and are not trying to juggle internationally – Steffon Armitage, Hosea Gear, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau and even Lee Byrne. I don’t see Halfpenny, Evans, Roberts, Davies and Lydiate being all able to replicate their form in France especially with an eye on the RWC and I think it will turn out to be an expensive gamble on the part of the French.

    Of course cash is still king but I think there is a much brighter financial future ahead for Celtic Rugby. Firstly there is a lot more sponsorship coming in. SkySports will be showing live Celtic League matches for the first time ever next season. Only three weeks ago the regions secured their biggest ever sponsorship package and in Ireland we’ve just see Ulster sell the naming rights to Ravenhill for the next 10 years.

    And then we have the biggest benefit of all – having something to play for in the league. Already the Irish provinces (who I believe do not take the league seriously) have held up their hands to the fact that next year will be different. Munster’s CEO and coach have come out to state that the league is their #1 priority. Connachts coach has said that last season he used the league to test styles of play so that they could be better in the long run. He has already acknowledged he can’t do that next season. And then you have the Irish fans – many of whom enjoyed the Heineken Cup journey and in their opposition to the Anglo French powers will be getting behind the team in the league. It is going to be a very different league next season.

    I also think that it would be understandable for many Welsh fans to feel annoyed that the Civil War has coincided with a drop in results. After back to back 6 Nations, Wales had quite heavy defeats to England and Ireland which will have soured things slightly for them. Also as a Scarlets fan your season must have been very boring. Once the Heineken Cup (which you seemed to enjoy) was over it was of course boring – Scarlets finished in 6th place 14 points ahead of Blues and 15 points off the playoffs. A real ‘meh’ of a season where there was nothing to win or nothing to lose. that won’t happen next year.

    You are losing players to the Premiership and that is a worry but the idea of taking on the English enemy should sit well with Wales. I think this is an extremely exciting time for Celtic Rugby and we should start to feel the effects after the RWC when there should be a more even footing across the three European Leagues.

    That leaves the WRU and the Regions who will eventually have to compromise at some point. Clearly its a pain in the neck but look at the proactive approach of the regions. They had the initiative and know how to secure sponsorship and win vital contract battles – I hope they and the fans have enough sense to enjoy the fruits of that labour.

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