If asked to name countries associated with rugby, Wales is bound to come up very quickly. They have produced legends across the years, and have the sport engrained in their culture. But, Welsh rugby is in crisis. The Welsh clubs are currently a laughing stock, Welsh sport fans are abandoning rugby for football (due to the success of Swansea and Cardiff FC), and grassroots clubs in Wales are struggling to get players. The success of the current, exceptional Wales national team is keeping rugby afloat in the nation, but currently the long term health of Welsh rugby seems incredibly frail. All hope is not lost though! In the Loose comes to you with a 5 point plan to revive Welsh rugby.
1. Ensure unity between the WRU and the Welsh clubs
One of the main issues harming Welsh rugby is the lack of unity between the WRU (the governing body of Welsh rugby union) and the Welsh clubs. It is no secret that the WRU consistently undermine the clubs, with a recent example being a proposed idea to loan out some of their top players (including Adam Jones, Alan Wyn Jones, and Sam Warburton). If the WRU continues to kick dirt in the face of the regions, they will continue to disintegrate, which will cause endless problems for Welsh Rugby. The best players will leave Wales, fans will lose interest, and the game continues to suffer.
2. Make watching the regions a spectacle
With Welsh sport fans now flocking to football, bold action is needed to bring them to rugby. Obviously, part of the solution is to make the regions competitive again, but there are other initiatives to revive spectator numbers. They could offer the chance to meet Welsh Rugby legends (getting ex-players such as Gareth Edwards to meet the fans before a game), reduce the price of tickets, and just implementing as many methods as possible to make the experience more attractive. These little things really do count. Just look at Saracens, their average attendance is up by a few thousand since moving to Allianz Park, and this is down to countless little initiatives which make the experience memorable for spectators (including the service to have pizza delivered to your seat, having one-off quirky deals such as anyone dressed as Elvis having free admittance, and having regular pre/post match live music). Some of the regions do this to a degree (mainly Cardiff Blues), but adding a few more little touches for the spectator surely can’t hurt.
3. Join the English
Much rumour has speculated in recent months about the Welsh regions abandoning the RaboDirect competition for the English Aviva Premiership. If the Aviva Premiership really are interested in inviting them, then the Welsh regions should bite their hand off. Firstly, it is likely to attract spectators back, spectators who are bored of the RaboDirect league where many fixtures have little significance. Secondly, it means they would likely receive huge amounts of money from sponsors, which could fix the dire economic straits that the regions have today. There has been some opposition from stakeholders in English rugby, but there would also be huge support for those wanting to add another four exciting teams to their league. True, careful scrutiny is needed on the terms of an Anglo-Welsh league (for instance, the proposal that Welsh regions would be immune to relegation is preposterous), but overall it would be a boost for the Aviva Premiership, and a lifeline for Welsh regional rugby.
4. Revert to old names
As mentioned before, small initiatives do make a difference, and one important initiative could be changing the names of the Welsh regions. When the Welsh teams revealed their names in 2003, it caused disappointment among many, who felt these names did not honour the tradition of Welsh rugby. Welsh fans felt proud of the historic Llanelli, Swansea, Cardiff, and Newport. Welsh fans felt indifferent of the characterless Scarlets, Ospreys, Blues, and Dragons. Reverting back to the names of legend provides a nostalgia for those who have drifted from rugby, and embraces the great history of Welsh rugby.
5. A National team with no Exiles
One obvious reason Welsh fans are moving to football is so they can see top players week in, week out. There is little denial that the Welsh regions need international stars once again, but the question is how. Obviously, the Welsh clubs will not be able to compete financially with the Tuilagi-sized bank balance of the French clubs, which leaves just option; banning any exiles from the Wales National Team. Many of the Welsh superstars who left abroad seem more passionate about the Wales National Team than anything (Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, and George North to name a few), so if the national team players had to play in Wales, there is a huge chance they would return. Obviously there would have to be plenty of notice of this proposal, so that the exiles can finish their contracts. Perhaps it is a bold move, but it’s the only way Welsh clubs could have the best Welsh players, and become competitive sides once again.
Perhaps a few of these ideas seem bold, but this is what is needed to stop the steep decline in Welsh rugby. After all, Wales are a crucial nation in the rugby world, and to lose them as a serious force would degrade the sport deeply. If I can say that as an Englishman, then we know it’s time for action!