Embed from Getty Images

Left Hanging Around . . . The ‘Resting’ Welsh Regions Are An Embarrassment That Cannot End Quickly Enough

It’s that annual Welsh rugby tradition – Armchair Weekend – when supporters of the four Welsh regions grab a beer, slump in front of the box, and watch the European knockout stages featuring teams from Ireland, Scotland, England and France. Robin Davey says the full house Celtic contingent this season makes the Welsh absence even more embarrassing.

 Wales may have won the Grand Slam and the nation is still recovering from the celebrations, but back down on earth professional rugby carries on without almost the entire Six Nations squad.

It’s all about Europe – not the Brexit variety – but the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions and Challenge Cup competitions. And there is not a Welsh team in sight.

Two weeks after Alun Wyn Jones lifted the trophy aloft, seven days after the skipper went back to the day job with the Ospreys, he and the vast majority of Warren Gatland’s men are left twiddling their thumbs.

The quarter-finals weekend in the two European tournaments will witness a complete wipe-out on the domestic front for our four regions.

Of the Wales players, just three are in action – Liam Williams with Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup, Dan Biggar with Northampton in the Challenge Cup, and Josh Adams of Worcester, also in the second-tier tournament.

The rest? Honoured status at the Grand Slam party, they now find they are not even on the guest list.

All four sides were knocked out at the pool stage whereas their Celtic rivals in the Guinness Pro 14 have earned themselves a clean sweep to make the embarrassment even worse.

For Ireland have got all four of their professional teams in the quarter-finals, three in the Champions Cup and one in the Challenge Cup, while the Scots have amazingly got both their teams in the last eight of the senior competition.

Glasgow, perhaps, is no great surprise but this time Edinburgh have made it, too, under the guidance of inspirational and frequently controversial chief Richard Cockerill.

Glasgow face the difficult task of taking on former champions Saracens at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday while Edinburgh open the Champions Cup weekend at their home base of Murrayfield against European giants Munster.

Over the Irish Sea, apart from Munster’s game there’s a mouth-watering all-Ireland quarter-final between Leinster, the best European team of the lot, and Ulster.

And their fourth side, Connacht, feature in the first Euro quarter-final on Friday night away to Sale in the Challenge Cup.

The Welsh teams can only look on in envy while their supporters express their anger and frustration as they look at a blank weekend (though of course they can always go and watch any game at lower levels).

What is to be done about this dire situation?

Embed from Getty Images

Well, a start has been made with a final signing of Project Reset between the WRU and the regions after the calamity of that on-off merger saga between the Scarlets and the Ospreys during the Six Nations.

WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips has apologised for the way that was handled and for the fact it was all over the media during the build-up to the Wales-Scotland game. But that’s in the past and steps are being taken to put things right.

The signs right now are promising at least, particularly in the realm of re-signing players who might have been tempted to up sticks with all the uncertainty.

Cardiff Blues have signed international wingers Adams, who played a leading role in the Six Nations triumph, from Worcester while Hallam Amos has signed from the Dragons.

On top of that leading players Josh Navidi, Jarrod Evans, Kristian Dacey and Tomos Williams have all signed contract extensions.

They look like fielding a formidable back division next season, especially if Gareth Anscombe signs on the dotted line again, and if they can boost the lock department they can be quite a force next season.

The Scarlets suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the Blues last weekend, but leading centre Jonathan Davies has already committed his future to them while this week impressive winger Johnny McNicholl signed a new deal, following on from similar decisions made by Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens and Rob Evans.

New Zealander McNicholl becomes available for Wales in December and will add even more strength to Wales’ back three department for next season’s Six Nations.

The Ospreys are also confident Player of the Six Nations Alun Wyn Jones will see out his career with them after opening talks on a contract extension.

And Dragons acting head coach Ceri Jones says they are talking to a number of possible recruits – naming a quality No.10 as their major target for next season.

So, while the lack of success of the national team, isn’t reflected on the regional front, there is the prospect that things could get better.

In European terms, at the knockout, business end of both tournaments, they could hardly get any worse.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *