Three weeks in to the new rugby season in Wales and debate still rages over the merits of the new regional A teams versus the soon-to-be trimmed and short-changed Principality Premiership. But Harri Morgan says live TV offers a golden opportunity for the old clubs to prove their worth – and if they need any ideas, then they should look to the south.
When it comes to suspicion of change, nobody does it quite like the Welsh rugby public.
The murky reaction to the announcement that, The Guinness Pro 14, would cease to be televised free of charge was yet another example of this perennial skepticism.
The cause for concern was not only the dent that yet another subscription would put in the bank balance of the average Dai, but the possible void in inspiration for Dai bach.
Such an outlook often hinders one’s ability to identify opportunities that present themselves in an evolving environment. As one door closes, another one opens and all that.
Opportunity is afoot, and believe it or not, it could be that the beneficiary is the oft’ maligned Principality Premiership.
Prior to being usurped by five brand spanking new regions in 2003, the Premiership was home to elite rugby in Wales. Its inhabitants, Wales’ most esteemed rugby institutions.
Playing second fiddle, the Premiership’s tune has all too often found crescendo in off-field disagreement between the Welsh Rugby Union and the clubs – rather than the drama on the turf at Sardis Road, the Arms Park, the Gnoll and other cathedrals of Welsh rugby.
The current hullabaloo centres on the decision of the WRU to cut the funding on offer to a Premiership that will be downsized from 16 to 12 clubs.
Regional reserve teams, will, in the Union’s opinion, provide a preferential player pathway and thus represent better return on investment for the elite game. One for another day, perhaps.
Back then, to the opportunity. With the Pro 14 now hidden behind a paywall, BBC Wales’ Scrum V Live are screening a Premiership game each and every Friday throughout the season.
This kicked off last Friday with a thriller at Eugene Cross Park. A try resulting from a line-out manoeuvre, christened the ‘catch and Kynes’ by Phil Steele, helped Ebbw Vale come back against Aberavon, whose half time oranges had tasted 17 points sweeter.
Here’s to hoping for more of the same at the Brewery Field this week as Bridgend welcome Swansea.
The coverage is a leg up for a league that is looking to rebut the question marks that circle its relevance.
To maximise the exposure, the onus is on the clubs to produce a product befitting of the prime time slot.
This product must utilise Scrum V’s coverage as a marketing tool, to shunt club rugby back into the public domain. Big hits, quick ball, offloads and all that good stuff are important but shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all.
In order to stoke the dormant tribalism that is critical to the vibrancy of the community game, the clubs must create an offering on and off the field that thrusts them to the fore of the community.
Broken record alert – but as is often the case in rugby, inspiration can be drawn from the Antipodes.
First stop Sydney, and the Shute Shield competition. Rewind a couple of weekends, and in excess of 15,000 fans packed on to the banks of North Sydney Oval, to watch Sydney University take on reigning Premiers, Warringah, in the competition’s big dance.
To provide context, this was some 3,000 more than rocked up to Allianz Stadium to shout for the Waratahs in a Super Rugby quarter-final.
The Grand Final line-ups featured current Wallabies, an ex-Wallaby, future Wallabies, men of the tools and chaps who spend their days drowning in spreadsheets.
Two fingers up to those in Wales who say that the community game and development pathway need to be mutually exclusive.
Sydney’s premier club competition has itself benefited from the additional exposure that live TV coverage provides for the game.
However, to maximise the benefit of enhanced awareness, the characteristics of the underlying product need to be on point.
Kudos here must go to those who have made ‘club footy’ an experience that fans, old and new, want to be part of.
I’m talking raucous rivalries, a sense of community identity and a social buzz fuelled by sausage sangas and cold, cold cans of the frothy brown stuff -responsibly consumed, of course. Glory be!
Let’s hop across the Tasman. Those weekend early birds, who overlook worm-catching for a winning combination of the sofa – coffee and a game of rugby on the box – will be familiar with New Zealand rugby’s second tier, The Mitre 10 Cup.
In addition to being littered with hot-steppers, offload wizards and the obligatory mullet, it is a competition which both values and leverages what has gone before.
Waikato’s victory over Taranaki on Sunday was celebrated in a manner that a millennial might describe as having ‘no filter’.
The reaction was raw, unplanned and packed with emotion. Dwayne Sweeney, who debuted for the Mooloo men back in 2002, fought back the tears during a post-match interview.
One would have been excused for thinking that the reaction was somewhat disproportionate. Even for a bonus point victory.
But, there was more at stake, something that can’t be quantified by points on a ladder. The Ranfurly Shield was heading north to the Waikato.
Known colloquially as the Log o’ Wood, the shield is the prize for defeating the current holder in their back yard.
A successful challenge enshrines a team into the folklore of the clubhouses across the province.
It isn’t merely a career highlight. It’s a tell the grand kids job. It’s been that way since 1904. Long may it continue.
Clubs of the Principality Premiership, take note. This is an opportunity that has dropped inadvertently into your path.
Harness the history, but don’t expect that alone to be enough. Give youngsters community heroes, create something different, create an experience and give people a reason to get through the gates.
To the rugby public: if it matters, get amongst it.