|Worcester 12 Cardiff 10|
|Leicester 31 Cardiff 13|
|Gloucester 28 Llanelli 6|
|Llanelli 17 Wasps 20|
|Toulouse 28 Ospreys 14|
|Ospreys 5 Bath 15|
|Edinburgh 0 Leicester 36|
|Munster 13 Newcastle 6|
|Munster 5 London Irish 12|
|Northampton 35 Newport 11|
|Northampton 47 Edinburgh 17|
|Ulster 19 Harlequins 26|
|Connacht 9 Newcastle 32|
|Connacht 16 London Irish 24|
|Sale 43 Glasgow 6|
|Glasgow 20 Sale 39|
|Leeds 34 Glasgow 3|
P17 W1 D0 L16
As the Celtic League (CL) and Zurich Premiership (ZP) finally kicks off, the Welsh media is full of comparisons between the two competitions. Are the two leagues really comparable? Can the Celtic League really compete with England’s best? Let’s take a look at how things stand both on and off the pitch.
On the pitch, based on pre-season friendlies, the situation is clear. Only on one occasion when teams from the ZP and CL went head to head, did a CL side come out on top. Home or away, the Celtic sides came off second best – in many cases by a considerable margin. Even in the so-called Anglo-Celtic Challenge, a battling Llanelli – for all their home advantage and huff and puff – came a poor second to a Wasps team missing many of its stars. When the Turks pressed hard and rallied in the second half, the side from Wycombe always had plenty in the tank to surge ahead, playing well within themselves.
Stories from England abound on the increase in season ticket sales on record sales last season. Following an increase of 12% last year, latest reports show a 19% increase this year! The ZP will kick off this weekend with a record crowd of over 50,000 at Twickenham – could a Llanelli vs Cardiff and Ospreys vs Llanelli double header attract even half that figure? Details in the Welsh press are scant – despite desperate attempts to over exaggerate on season ticket figures (Llanelli’s season ticket holders number only 1,000 more than relegation bound Worcester). None of the four teams is proudly proclaiming even modest increases in season ticket numbers. Newport’s second XV have sold more than 1,000 season tickets for the coming season. There is little change on last season and no sign of Newport’s missing 3,000 supporters. Even compared with village league attendances three years ago (see our editorial) attendances are well down – particular due to the mismanagement of the situation at Newport. 2000-1 was a record season for ticket holders – since then Moffett’s presided over a reduction in attendances.
Financially, many ZP are finally breaking even – despite many doom laden predictions in recent seasons that they too were in financial trouble. Northampton have recently announced record profits – profits that Welsh clubs could only dream about. Meanwhile, limited TV coverage ensures the right balance between promotion of the sport and overkill. In Wales, Moffett has sold the soul of the game to the TV companies, and gates have plummeted. Saturday afternoon kick offs are a distant memory in contrast to the ZP. In a mad dash to boost short term finances and clear the WRU debt as fast as possible, he’s quickly destroying the soul of our game – its history, tribalism and traditional highly competitive nature sacrificed in favour of reducing the WRU’s historical financial mismanagement in racking up huge debts for the Millennium Stadium.
Moffett’s target of 8,000 per home game (incidentally, what Cardiff City count as season ticket holders) is a pipe dream, whereas in England, there is no sense that clubs are losing their identity sacrificed in some lemming type dash towards oblivion. “If one suffers, we all suffer!” seems to be the creed of Moffett and his cronies in the press. This farcical idea of inclusion was put into place at the Warriors and what happened? The club went bust. It was put in place at Newport and a forced amalgamation with Ebbw Vale and what happened? Season tickets down. Not content with destroying Ponty and Bridgend, and impoverishing Newport, now Moffett is attacking Cardiff with an ignorant attempt to water down any sense of identity with the club in the nation’s capital city. Cardiff doesn’t need to spread its efforts even more thinly to attract supporters – it needs to attract those right on its own doorstep!!
Meanwhile, successful clubs like London Irish are growing from strength to strength – playing in first class stadium, in front of record crowds and NOT having to sacrifice the name or tradition of the club. In England, success has been built on traditional clubs – Bath, Northampton, Gloucester, Leicester etc.. There is no sign of these proud organisations throwing away their identity, just because London Scottish and Richmond folded due to bad financial planning. In Wales, there seems a curious logic that because some clubs could not compete financially, all must somehow sacrifice their future.
In England, more and more clubs are reporting black balance sheets, high quality overseas players are welcomed with open arms, and clubs are rewarded for producing English internationals – not penalised as in Wales. Top players are limited to a maximum of 32 matches for club and country with clubs receiving £30,000 for each player they provide to the élite squad and £10,000 for a representative in the national academy.
What does the RFU do for the clubs in England? Do they insist on clubs amalgamating? Do they threaten clubs identities by enforcing meaningless recycled names? No. Each Premiership club receives £5 million from the RFU this season to help to pay elite salaries. This is in addition to the £1.9 million for each of the 12 clubs from central funds to cover basic salary costs for all players. In addition, there is an ‘upside’ payment: a contribution based on TV monies, sponsorship deals and the like amounting to £3.5 million.
Meanwhile, Welsh clubs play in a sponsorless league, with match times designed to minimise revenue through the turnstiles and maximise reliance on a crazy Union-negotiated TV deal, have their identity undermined and destroyed and finally receive no reward from the Union for producing the stars of the tomorrow. When we hope for an independent press to report on these difference, we are fed a regular diet of spin and no substance.
And the saddest thing of all is that deep down – despite Moffett’s attempt to whitewash the situation – the press know that traditional rivalries are what sell papers. When it suits them, their happy to give the approaching Cardiff vs Newport game, its true billing as one of the oldest rivalries in rugby.
Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Abandoning one of the fundaments of sport – winners win and losers come nowhere – led us to this situation. 16-1 …. The scoreboard never lies.