More than the English?

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£102m over 8 years is what the English see as a payment for International Players outside of the IRB window. For the WRU, that value is (at present) £54m.

See the difference? It’s stark. Same product to sell (international rugby) but a different price.

Look at what the RFU pay for:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/international/england/2325851/RFU-and-Premier-Rugby-announce-new-deal.html

Look at what the WRU pay for: http://www.wru.co.uk/eng/news/8688.php

Anybody want to spot the difference? The fact that PRL serves 12 clubs and RRW serves 4 is utterly irrelevant to what the Unions are paying for.

What to do with Valleys Rugby?

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The vocal minority of wolves in Ponty clothing have gone a little silent since Nigel Greenaway launched a new business venture and Owen Smith got a proper job, but their followers still need to be fed a bone.

For me, the obvious thing that they should look to do is to enter the English County Championship tournament, which seems to be played in May each year – just for a month.

What better place for them to prove their collective worth and for them to sell out Sardis Road’s huge corporate and retail capacity for a few home “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, VaR-lees, VaR-lees” games a season? That’ll prove something to Roger Lewis, I’m sure.

What to do, Roger?

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What to do, Roger?

The professional game is at a crossroads in this country as Roger Lewis’ own policies are beginning to bite him on the backside. For years he has underpaid for the access Team Wales (his team) have to the assets of the four professional teams and this slow starvation has caused them to be unable to offer the wages players can command in the European market. He compounded that starvation with an insistance on employment of Welsh qualified players, regardless of their ability or likelihood to play for Team Wales. This insistance increased wages as the talent pool meant a shortage of supply and a seller’s market.

Whilst doing this, Roger saturated the fixture list with Team Wales fixtures to the point where these games were in competition with the four teams which supplied the bulk of the players. Despite the WRU being shareholders in the Celtic League, we still had inter-Region games on weekends Team Wales were playing. Despite the WRU being shareholders in ERC, Lewis still drew up a fixture list for Team Wales that prevented the four from having six weeks worth of access to their players before Rounds 3 and 4 of the ERC competitions.

On top of this, he now has to lower ticket prices in order to get bums on seats to watch the Golden Goose.

And yet some still wonder why the four aren’t as good as is the expectation of them!

It’s obviously possible to write in real depth on this subject so I’ve tried to condense my thoughts into a few bullet points:

  • WRU contribution up to £8m pa from £6m pa. This is a long way from the RFU’s payment of a minimum of £102m over 8 years, but it’s a start. This payment would lead to guaranteed access for 20 weeks per annum – 6 weeks Autumn, 8 weeks 6N, 6 weeks Summer Tour, plus the maintenance of existing access for player training, fitness and medical tests
  •  The present £9.1m earned through competition and broadcast revenues should continue to be shared equally amongst the four but the payment of £8m must be made by player supply to Team Wales.
  • £7m to be paid for the top 35 players named by the Team Wales Head Coach on August 1st (after Summer Tour) = £200k each
  • £1m for 40 top players at u20 level = £25k each
  •  Players not playing in Wales see their £200k put into a reserve pot
  • Each player outside of top 35 who is called up earns his club £10k a week (which also provides an incentive to promote from u20 level to senior squad) at senior level
  • Any surplus at end of the Summer Tour (i.e. before the next year’s squad is announced) is split four equal ways
  •  From 2014-15, no player playing outside of Wales will play for Wales unless in existing contract
  •  Minimum wage spend per squad is £500k on top of Competition & WRU money for top 38 ERC registered players for year after, to be heavily audited
  • No one player can earn more than 15% of total salary spend
  •  NWQ limit to be 8 players including time servers in registered squad of 38 players
  •  All four “encouraged” to open up a percentage of the business to be supporter owned through Supporters’ Trusts. A minimum of 5% and one board seat to be in place by 2015.
  •  Coaching positions should be the choice of the four with encouragement for at least one member of the coaching team to have coached in a different league. This will encourage ideas to come into the system from outside, rather than becoming stale and insular.

 On top of all of that, I’d look to put into place an U23 competition for only Welsh qualified players, played on a home and away basis with the top two entering into a Grand Final. This would look to provide something of a stepping stone after u20 international rugby.

  • Will guarantee 6 u23 games per season, to be played outside of the IRB windows (possibly HEC group game weekends to ensure BBC coverage on TV)
  • Should be a highlight / showpiece for best u23 players not playing in HEC
  • Two over 23 players allowed per match day squad
  • Aim to play FIRA National teams on designated weekends as Wales u23 v Spain, or Portugal etc.
  •  Aim to play other Pro 12 and / or AP “A” teams on additional weekends outside of IRB window
  •  Aim for 12 u23 fixtures per season with, in effect, the u23 team entering the LV= Cup

All of which involves the top end of the tree and rather ignores the roots. So:

Welsh Premiership & BIC

  •  WP should be cut to 8 teams and all to play in the BIC
  • Newport, Swansea, Llanelli and Cardiff should step out of WP and concentrate on u23 rugby
  • WP should be based on promotion / relegation of best 8 semi pro teams in Wales, regardless of geography
  • “Regional PA” should be scrapped in favour of individual loan deals with WP clubs when u23 players become available / return from injury
  • 4 pro teams should be focussed on developing players within their own system from 16 to first team through pathway of representative rugby and allow clubs their independence
  • There should be no “developmental” responsibility or pressure on WP clubs. They should simply aim to be the best they can.
  • Strict audit function put in place to ensure that books balance, including wage cap at 65% of turnover (promised turnover, excluding any WRU payment) or £650k (whichever is greater)
  • WRU grants of up to £75k available per team to be spent on infrastructure only and not wages (including travel, training facilities, hospitality facilities to become centre of local community etc)
  • Clubs must be encouraged to own their own ground and be community owned
  • A WRU gift of £50k per annum can be spent on player wages.
  • Any u20 players not involved in the u23 rugby should play WP rugby with wages covered by the four on Academy terms (a set wage agreed across all four for parity reasons) at teams best suited to their circumstances (geography, coaching, positional requirement, availability). Host WP team pays nothing, so owning club also covers WP club standard win bonus / appearance fee.
  • In the BIC, the Irish teams will be encouraged to remove their A teams and play top club sides by offering fixtures of their A teams versus Welsh four u23 teams

The removal of the handcuffs of “regional responsibility” on the WP teams and the enforcement of their independence leads to the thought of “what happens with regionalism”? Well, here goes:

Regional Responsibility

The main responsibility must be the growth of the game at u18 and schools level, in order to create the conveyor belt into recreational, club and professional rugby. This must be in partnership with the WRU as the game itself benefits more than will the four professional teams.

  •  Ratio: 1 Development Officer per x schools and clubs? Equal funded?
  •  Monthly coaching master classes to be run to train the coaches of junior clubs within the region
  •  Regional Clubs Liaison Officer to be a standard employee for each of the four, to work on closer links to assist with coaching development, junior rugby and grant applications for infrastructure
  •  Players encouraged to take coaching badges and work with clubs at age grade level and senior level.

Conclusion:

That’s a lot to take in but I think that it is a blueprint which could work, and should offer more than just a basic document for discussion purposes. The funding model is designed to reward the professional teams who develop talent for the international game AND is designed to reward the amateur clubs who become the hub of their communities. Those are the key aims for both games.

There is enough in the finance model for the pro game to provide strong HEC teams, especially when you think that all of those Team Wales player bonus payments won’t be made available to those not playing in Wales. A player can earn tens of thousands per season playing for Wales, meaning that the more lucrative contract outside of Wales is just that little bit less lucrative……

How the Other Half Live

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Not only is the weather better, but so is the rugby set up. A swish (if small) club shop in the local Shopping Centre backs on to the Club’s Restaurant / Cafe that seems pretty busy. The home support are nigh on all decked out in Club Colours, be that a scarf, a big thick coat (despite it being pretty warm in January) or a Jonny Wilkinson prayer mat.

How can Peter Thomas fail to miss all of that? How can he fail to see that Toulon have taken the model of professional rugby and sold it brilliantly to a local market? He should spend less time inviting ex-Cardiff players to his hotel room to offer them derisory contracts and spend more time working out how to copy the Toulon model.

On the pitch it was, sadly, men versus boys. The home team don’t seem to have kicked on in quality since the Amlin win but the away team have sunk to an embarrassing level of woeful play. Whilst individual skill levels remain high and Owen Williams, in particular, shone for his disciplined and talented peformance, the collective play and lack of leadership from so called senior players just underlined the gap in quality.

Against a team of hard nosed, physical players (despite missing Sheridan, Botha and the aforementioned Jenkins), the ballerinas in the Cardiff pack were out of their depth. Phil Davies’ idea of getting them to run about quickly is completely pointless when they are constantly battered at the gain line. To beat Cardiff is easy – kick, clap, pressure and pick and drive. The gaps in the defensive line then appear as quickly as Jamie Roberts running away from his defensive duties. Whilst players like Copeland look pretty with the ball in hand and Navidi tries his hardest, a pack containing such relatively physically weak players has no place even on the second table of HEC rugby. You cannot beat the top teams without a physical pack.

The inevitability of the result was so depressing but not as depressing as the capitulation just after half time. The defensive discipline went, the collective play fell apart and tackles were half hearted. Obviously there was some kind of motivation coming from Davies at half time…… Maybe the result in Munster has more to do with him staying at home than anything else.

Amongst the gloom were some rays of sunshine. Whilst not having any idea of game control, Lewis Jones had his best game in a Cardiff shirt and Patchell was Patchell. Two kids at half back who have lots of talent but no idea how to run a game. They need to be taken off the training field for a fortnight and forced to watch non-stop videos of Holmes and Davies so that they learn when to take the drop goal they should have gone for in the first half….. As mentioned, Williams played very well but, sadly, took his positional lead from Roberts – who must surely have been left in France as that clearly is where his heart is.

The shining light, however, was Halfpenny. He was cruelly exposed by a bouncing ball that Wilkinson was clearly controlling from afar, but that was the only blight on a faultless performance of skill, courage and tenacity. Sadly, way too many of his colleagues lack one, or all, of those qualities.

2006 Pre-season friendlies

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Two seasons ago, this site took a look at the build up “enjoyed” by the Celtic League teams to the 2004-2005 season. It didn’t make happy readying. Of the 17 games played, the then Celtic League teams only managed one victory. This season, results have improved, so are we going to see more success for the Welsh and Scots in Europe?

A feature of the ZP clubs’ warm up games was that they often fielded more than one team on a weekend. Wasps, Northampton, Bristol all made use of squad strength in playing simultaneous games

Last season the Guiness Premiership attracted 1.3m spectators. The Celtic Legaue – with two few teams – attracted 571,000. The English are expecting 100,000 specatators for the opening week. What number will turn out on a Friday evening for the launch of the Magners League?

Pre-season Results

Cardiff 41 Worcester 17
Cardiff 3 Bristol 20
Northampton 14 Llanelli 22
Llanelli 19 Gloucester 7
Leinster 10 London Irish 25
Gloucester 29 Llanelli 22
Glasgow 13 Newcastle 7
Rotherham 0 Connacht 49
Dax 24 Leinster 5
Cornish Pirates 6 Dragons 20
Munster 18 Leicester 26
Narbonne 35 Connacht 29
Dragons 3 Bath 12
Ospreys 24 Harlequins 14
Edinburgh 61 Heriots FP 7
Borders 7 Ulster 36
Sale 30 Edinburgh 14
Ulster 26 Rotherham 14

Zurich teams’ warm up games

Bath 61 Parma 0
Bath 31 Plymouth 17
Bristol 43 Ebbw Vale 15
Clermont 26 Harlequins 17
Coventry 22 Bristol 54
Gloucester 14 Sarances 24
Bourgoin 19 Harlequins 13
Leicester 39 Touloon 19
Neath 24 Bristol 21
Northampton 68 Treviso 0
Saracens 38 Rotherham 24
Biarritz 20 Sale 38
Beziers 27 Sale 25
Perpignan 12 Sale 16
Wasps 56 Calivsano 5
Wasps 46 Blackheath 14
Wasps vs Borders
Worcester 35 Viadana 15

Other games

Agen 18 CS Bourgoin Jallieu 6
Stade Toulousain 35 Castanet 13
Stade Toulousain 24 Brive 9

Complacency

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Cardiff have a long tradition of failing to perform in Europe, and the recent defeat at Headingly was very much part of this tradition. And it really is the performance that fans endure – not the loss. The famous capitulation at Gloucester five years ago mirrored the performance against Leeds as a shambolic ramble took the pitch and put in one of the most feeble and half-hearted performances you are ever likely to see.

The defeat at Biarritz two years ago was by a team hugely superior in every facet. Cardiff – by contrast – were a mixture of youngsters struggling manfully to compete. The best coach in the world could have been leading that squad and he would have struggled.

But the performance on Saturday was all the more dreadful given the abject weakness of the opposition. Leeds are heading for English rugby’s second division. None of the back row – Parkes, Thomas and Morgan – would get in a Welsh professional team and their mixture of has-been Scots with overpaid southern hemisphere geriatrics feeding their pension funds are consistently walloped in the Guiness Premiership. There is simply no comparison with the Gloucester team of 2001 and the Biarritz team of 2003.

Historical Perspective

The inability to learn from previous mistakes and to react is a classic indicator either ineptitude or complacency. This is the third major game in as many matches where Young has failed to coach his players to improve their performance at the breakdown. Against Llanelli, Perpignan and now Leeds, a failure to commit players to the breakdown gifts the opposition the ball. Not too long ago, Cardiff were leaking penalties at this facet of play, but now Young’s coaching has gone too far the other way. What’s the best way to stop giving penalties? Don’t compete!

We’re just not good enough

So why is that then Dai? Is it because the players aren’t good enough, the team isn’t good enough or the coaching staff isn’t good enough? Let’s start with the pack. Well, four of the pack that played against Leeds are likely to start against England – TRT, Sidoli, Williams and Gethin. Three of this quartet featured in the team that defeated Australia. So, Dai, are you trying to tell us that the Leeds pack is better than the Australian pack?

So the team isn’t good enough? You mean as individuals or as a unit? Well, as fans have rarely seen the individuals playing as a unit, then it’s difficult to comment. Unit skills against Leeds were dreadful. The lineout was a shambles and back play haphazard and lacking in any tactical variation. Sure Cardiff weren’t good enough – any fool can read the scoreboard! The question is “why”?

The ability to perform on the day

No supporter complains when the team is beaten by better opponents. When Cardiff lost at Wasps, sure people were unhappy about the manner of victory, but few of us seriously expected a win. But what makes supporter fume is a lack of application and commitment – some call is passion – on the day. For the Headingly game, there must have been around 1,000 Cardiff supporters in the ground. Most would have traveled up from Cardiff – a round trip of 700 miles. Some came on the supporters bus, others in minibuses, and some with their kids. Now taking your kids for nine hours in a car on a Sunday isn’t an easy commitment! Then there’s the money spent on petrol, tickets – accommodation in some cases – food, entertaining the kids. All this takes more than a little application and commitment.

Supporters have every right to ask whether the players on the pitch showed sufficient application and commitment.

Frankly speaking, the collective commitment on Sunday was insulting. The team lacked hunger and aggression as a unit. Their commitment to the tackle was dreadful – most players waiting for the ball carrier to hit them, rather than to attack the ball carrier. There was no sense of urgency to support the ball carrier on the few occasions when Cardiff did go forward.

The way teams chase kicks is often a very good way to judge the professionalism and application of a side. This is a skill you can teach kids – it’s not inherently difficult but a good benchmark for how the team is working together. Good sides chase the kick in a line across the pitch, but throughout the game Cardiff simply failed to work together. The kicker and Powell were often the only two in a dog leg attempt at defence that was easily beaten. There are very few clearer examples of the poor discipline and lack of mental application within the team than this simple skill.

Lack of ambition at the club

“I’m certainly not going to get rid of him Dai Young. We are damn lucky to have him”

Cardiff chairman, Peter Thomas saying that Young is the best he can get

Let’s try and ignore the propaganda that’s pumped out from Thomson House and Llandaff, and look at what ambition the club has. When Peter Thomas says Young won’t get the sack, that means he believes Young is the best they can get. He believes that Young is getting the best out of the players, the team is coached well and Young’s team of coaches are best of the club

Sure Thomas can talk about signing better players and we’d all like to see that, but a coach’s job is to get the best our of the players he has. Can anyone say that Young did that at Headingly?

Clearly Thomas and Young believe that this is the best we can hope for. They look for excuses at every opportunity – and their not alone in this, by the way. Lyn Jones and Paul Turner are full of excuses. Blame every one else other than your own failure to deliver. So Thomas and Young think the only way to improve things is to sign better players.

But isn’t real ambition about pushing players to perform? Isn’t it about challenging existing players to improve? Sure they will come up against better individuals, but shouldn’t the team – as a unit – be able to defeat oppositions who play as individuals?

Dai Young – Peter Thomas

poodle

Why does Thomas defend Young’s inadequacies so vehemently? Clearly that is because Young is the sort of coach that Thomas wants. Now why would that be? Young is everything Thomas wants in a coach – he never complains about a lack of support in the press, he’s happy to let other board members dabble in the signing of players, his placid persona fits exactly with Thomas’ ego. Thomas does not want another coach at CAP because any strong minded leader would clearly challenge Thomas’ position.

Coaches want the best players to work with and build the team. So let’s look at what’s happening at CAP on the player/recruitment side. You may think that the signing of Lomu was commercial genius but that was not down to anything actively done by Cardiff RFC, let alone Young as coach. The Lomu deal was set up by Steve Hansen – Peter Thomas was on a golf course at the time and knew nothing about it! Hansen called Norster and offered him the deal – all the club had to do was sign.

Lee Thomas’ imminent move to Sale comes as a direct failure of the club to recognize his talent over the grossly ineffective Macleod. Against Gloucester last season, Thomas showed his potential and more importantly his mental toughness. He underlined that again against Leeds with the best performance of any of the back line. But players with mental toughness are not what the coach wants – more poodles please!

Quinnell is not being offered another contract for next season. So yet another player with a passion for the club and a hard edge so sorely lacking in the pack. Hence Young’s failure to give the big man a start this season and hence why Cardiff are so often overpowered in the maul.

The signing of Matthew J Watkins – not a bad player – is another mystery. Players get touted around the clubs in an effort to boost their salaries – as happened with Stephen Jones – but surely the coach should be making a shopping list of what he needs, not allowing Norster to sign up players just because they become available?

The Future

Perhaps the expectations of fans always outweighs the reality of clubs to deliver, but in this case the fans are clearly getting short changed. We don’t expect a squad of word class players, but we expect the squad to improve on their weakness, approach every game with a self belief that anything can happen on the day and play their hearts out on the pitch.

We fans know the limitations of the present squad. We can also see the cliques emerging which means players like Lee Thomas have no option but to leave the club having suffered the public humiliation of being told that Macleod is a better player than he. But we also know that Leeds are a poor side – Llanelli stuffed them and they are at the bottom of the league …. that is no accident.

Players at Cardiff are underachieving – ignore what Young says about not being in the top eight in Europe. What counts is the performance on the day – defeating Leeds – not whether Cardiff should be in the top eight. At Headingly, the selection was wrong, the performance abysmal and the application dreadful.

Talk is of the players working hard, but clearly not enough of that is happening on the pitch! Young players like Czekaj and Macleod are simply not improving at the necessary rate. Others – like Nick Robinson – are betraying mental weakness which reflects the complacency at the club. Players are being sheltered instead of being toughened by the club. This can be the only explanation for insulting away performances which mock the efforts made by so many supporters.

And this is the biggest problem Cardiff face – the lack of professionalism of the players.

This stems from the culture at the club where a weak coach is protected by a dabbling multi-millionaire who keeps his money in his back pocket. What the club needs is a coach who is far far tougher and far more demanding of his players. What sort of message does it send out when Young says Cardiff are not good enough to compete with the top eight in Europe? Are Leeds in the top eight??

Will Dai Young be coach next season? Too right he will!

Mark Stcherbina signs for Cardiff Rugby

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Mark Stcherbina has signed a two year contract with Cardiff. The ex-NSW Waratahs player turned out for Australia A before enjoying two seasons with Biarritz in the south of France. Despite staring in the 75-25 demolition of Cardiff and scoring a try in that game, Stcherbina has chose the capital city club over other offers, mainly because of his desire to play regular first team rugby.

Despite signing a new two year contract as recently as March with Northampton, “Stitch” felt compelled to move on. Carlos Spencer’s arrival in the midlands would mean that the club could fall foul of Premier Rugby’s rules on only one overseas player allowed on the pitch at any time during a game.

Last season, the hardened centre was a regular for the Saints, starting 29 games during the season – more than any other player in the squad. When playing in Australia, Stcherbina developed a reputation as a utility back, so it will be interesting to see in what position he features for Cardiff next season. At the Waratahs, he was one of the quickest players in the squad.

The versatile centre has represented his country at many levels – from Australian schoolboys (which he captained) and Australian Sevens, all the way through to Australia A. He is one of the few players to make three Australian schoolboy teams and captained the team in 1994 and 1995. He played most of his Super 12 rugby on the wing, and only really switched to centre when he moved to France.

When Stitch played for Biarritz against Cardiff, he excelled at offloading the ball in the tackle, working well in tandem with Cassin (another player with rugby league experience). Such skills could prove a huge bonus to Cardiff if the new recruit’s strength can partner the rejuvinated pace of Jamie Robinson at outside centre.

So are there any similarities with Cardiff’s other recent southern hemisphere centre, Pieter Muller? Well, both enjoyed a brief spell playing Rugby League, with Stcherbina playing for the Manly Cannons side in the 2002-3 season.

Like Cardiff’s other closed season signing Xavier Rush, Stcherbina has a reputation for doing the basics well and is a model of stability. In a youthful midfield of talented but sometimes wayward players, this could be another excellent signing from Dai Young.

Interestingly, Stcherbina could become EU qualified within a year as he will then have been playing rugby in Europe for four years. He will become the second centre to join Cardiff from Northampton – following in the footsteps of Matt Allen. If Stcherbina proved to be the 100%-er that Allen was, then Northampton’s loss is very much Cardiff’s gain.

Did you know?

  • Stcherbina represented Australia at the 1998 Commonwealth games
  • He is one of the few players to make three Australian schoolboy teams and captained the team in 1994 and 1995.
  • Stcherbina played for the Manly Cannons side in the 2002-3 season

Xavier Rush signs for Cardiff Rugby

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Auckland Blues captain – Xavier Rush – has signed a three year contract with Cardiff and looks set to head for Wales in November. The big ball carrying number eight has an illustrious career behind him with caps at junior and senior level: U19, U21 and eight All Black caps secured in a career stretching back to his first appearance for New Zealand against Australia in 1998.

Rush has a reputation for doing the basics well, and is a born leader of men. Unlike some recent signings by Cardiff, Rush could prove to be the astute addition that the club has been missing since the departure of Peter Muller. Rush could provide the vital ingredient missing from recent seasons when there’s been a marked lack of control at the back of the scrum. The team has cried out for a physical presence to hold the youngsters together and instill some much needed confidence, and Rush could well provide the lift the club needs.

Rush captained New Zealand at U19 and U21 before going on to be selected by Graham Henry to play for the Blues when still playing U21 rugby. Having secured his first U21 cap, later on that season he went on to make his All Blacks debut. Captain of the Auckland Blues since 2001, Rush successfully led his province to the NPC title in 2002 and 2003 and also to victory in the Ranfurly Shield in 2003. In the same year, Rush led the Blues to their first Super 12 title – their third title and the first for six years. So 2003 was a big year for Rush, completing the coveted treble – Super 12, Ranfuly Shield and NPC titles.

Also in 2003 he returned to play for New Zealand after an absence of six years. But his star is on the wane and there’s tough competition challenging him for a place in Henry’s All Blacks. Rush’s eighth cap against South Africa last season would seem to be his last, with Mose Tuiali’i the favourite to inherit his crown.

Rush has always been one of Henry’s favourites, and the former Welsh coach is on record as claiming that both Rush and Carlos Spencer were the most influential players in Auckland rugby over the past seven or eight seasons. Rush has played 95 times for the Blues.

Rush’s his salary is rumoured to be as little as 100,000 Euro a year – a relative bargain in the current climate. It’s hardly the strength of squad that has attracted Rush to his new employers. He’s already admitted he hasn’t a clue about who play for Cardiff.

It seems that the number eight will not join Cardiff until November when the Celtic League will break for theautumn internationals. So it could be as late as December before we see the Auckland man wear the blue and black jersey for the first time.

Rush claims that he is not after a retirement package in coming to Cardiff and still has much to offer the capital city-based club. Having only yesterday officially announced his departure to the Cardiff Club, he can look back on a career in New Zealand where he played more than 165 matches for the Blues and Auckland.

It seems that he consulted with Henry before making his decision, and Cardiff can be thankful that the strong ties between Henry and Dai Young remain. Last season, Henry drafted Young in to work on the All Blacks scrummaging, and now it seems that Henry is repaying Young’s support.

Did you know?

  • Rush once played an exhibition mixed doubles tennis match partnered by Martina Navratilova.
  • Xavier Rush’s sister- Annaleah – has also represented New Zealand at rugby?
  • Rush was severely reprimanded by the NZRFU for being photographed drunk and asleep in a public place?

Discredited

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Back in October, Tom took a look at the failing Celtic League and asked whether we are anywhere near to reaching viable attendance figures based on Dai Moffett’s target of 8,000. The conclusion then was that gates had actually fallen since the days of the village league, when a well funded Newport were regularly attracting over 6,000 per game, the pre-amalgimated Swanseas and Neath were both attracting over 4,000 and Cardiff’s home gates were not far from those enjoyed at Dave Parade.

Two seasons into the Celtic League, have things improved? Uh, no. We are still along way from the 8,000 figure. But all credit to Dai, at least he’s admited his mistake and is now finally trying to get some involvement with the English teams – something the WRU refused to do in the past when they had a golden opportunity to buy into the English market and grow Welsh rugby.

All the data used to calculate the figures below comes directly from the Celtic League web site – don’t believe the figures? Work it out for yourselves.

European Nightmare

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european_nightmare_s

european_nightmare_s
As the disjointed and heavily disrupted Celtic League season draws to a close, all Cardiff supporters will be frantically trying to work out what is going to happen at the end of the season.

What is perhaps even more bewildering, is that players are signing extensions to their contracts without the certainty of in what competition they will be playing next season.

If current form continues, there is a real danger than Cardiff could fail to qualify as of right for next season’s European Cup. Worse still, could fail to qualify for a play off place against the third Italian side.

Next year’s European Cup

For the 2005 / 2006 season, the 24th place will go to the winners of a play-off between the highest placed non-Heineken Cup qualifying team from Scotland, Ireland or Wales in the 2004 / 2005 Celtic League and the third-placed side in the 2004 / 2005 Italian Championship. This game will be played the weekend after the 2005 Heineken Cup final at a venue in Italy.

With the final of the European Cup to be played at Murrayfield on Sunday 22 May, the Italian game will be on the weekend of 29th May – the week of Whitsun Bank Holiday. In a further twist, this will be a week before Wales’ game against Canada, and the week before the Lions opening game against the Bay of Plenty. Could be an interesting tug of war over a number of players – Martyn Williams and possibly Shanklin and Gethin Jenkins in New Zealand, and a whole host of others in Canada. Will Ruddock try to force players to rest? If he does, and Cardiff comply, then the team playing in Italy could be seriously weakened to the point of rendering them underdogs.

Italian Club sides
Treviso
Viadana
Calvisano
SKG Gran Rugby
Catania
Rovigo
Parma
Padova
Leonessa

The best Cardiff can realistically hope for this season is to qualify for this play off game (over the season, the table doesn’t lie and if that’s where Cardiff finish, then they don’t deserve better). The latest status in Italy’s Super 10 competition shows Calvisano in third place. But the competition is only half completed and there are nine more games to play. Should we start planning a trip to Italy? Well, Calvisano play at Brescia – between Milan and Verona. Ryan Air fly to Brescia pretty regularly from Stanstead – that’s the good news. The bad news is that we won’t even know who Cardiff will play until mid May – so how do we organize our flights?

Should Calvisano (or the team who finally finishes third in Italy) face the game on the weekend of the 29th May, then they will benefit from fixtures right up to the weekend of the qualifying game. Moffett and the WRU have failed to provide a fixture list that will give the bottom finishing Welsh team such a luxury. Should Cardiff fail to qualify for the Celtic Cup competition, they will play their last fixture six weeks before the Italian game.

If Cardiff can reach 8th place in the Celtic League, they will play the first game of the Celtic Cup on the last weekend of April – still one month before the play off game.

The run in

The next home fixture will be against Munster, and like far too many games this season, the policy of the respective Unions is the first thing to consider when trying to predict the result. Will either club be allowed to field their best XV? Last season, Munster were thrashed 60-14 at CAP, but earlier this season Changalang-supported Munster gave Cardiff a going over. The only good news for Cardiff is that with such a big gap in the fixture list, there’s an opportunity for the walking wounded to recover. Next up is a trip to Stradey. Cardiff have won only once in Stradey since September 30th 1995 (but what a victory!)

With only one victory away from home all season, it’s unlikely that Cardiff will win in Glasgow either (where they’ve at least one twice in the last five years), but the final two games should see maximum points with near to a first XV available.

Given the state of the league table, Cardiff’s best hope is to catch Connacht – Ulster are too far ahead, as are Llanelli. There are two key Connacht fixtures approaching – one against Llanelli and one against Leinster. But once more it seems that the Union will have final say over the competition. With the Leinster game mid-Six Nations, it seems likely that Leinster will be forced to face their second XV and given their lack of strength in depth, Connacht should win this game. Should they gain victory against Llanelli and Leinster, it seems unlikely that Cardiff will quality for that game on the weekend of May 29th.

For the club to finish 8th, they must finish above Ulster or Connacht and Edinburgh which is more than unlikely. With victory in Stradey and Glasgow very unlikely, Munster at home even less likely, then victories over Borders and Ulster seem all that’s left. Cardiff will need results to go their way to even qualify for the game in Italy, but to qualify for the Celtic Cup is unlikely.

Cardiff don’t qualify – so what?

Well, this time everyone suffers. All money from the Heineken Cup will be equally shared equally amongst all four professional teams, and next season that means completely equal funding (and the Ospreys will loose the £0.5m funding advantage next season). So ERC money will be reduced, so less money will flow into the game in Wales. Lack of high level competition means that Cardiff’s internationals could spend the peak of next season playing games against Spanish or Portuguese sides (and all this the season before the next world cup). That will hardly bring the punters through the gates, and so revenue from attendances will also fall.

Sadly, Moffett and his chums have agreed to a further impoverishment of Welsh rugby with the decision to allow only three teams of right into the Heineken Cup. A few seasons ago, Wales had five.

So what led Moffett to give away a place for one of Wales’ teams at the top level of the sport? “The WRU is very grateful for the on-going support it has received from its ERC partners. This is a very important decision for our regions and we are delighted with the outcome for not only next season, but also for the format put in place for future qualification,” said Moffett.

So reduced revenue for the sport (from the ERC and Sky), reduced gates and reduced exposure for Wales’ top players to top European competition and what does Moffett say – “The WRU is very grateful”. What sort of madness is this?

 

Remaining fixtures in the Celtic League

Border Reviers

Ospreys vs Borders (L)
Newport vs Borders (L)
Edinburgh vs Borders (L)
Ulster vs Borders (L)
Borders vs Munster (L)
Cardiff vs Borders (L)

Ulster Rugby

Newport vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Glasgow (W)
Munster vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Borders (W)
Cardiff vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Llanelli (W)

Connacht Rugby

Connacht vs Llanelli (W)
Edinburgh vs Connacht (L)
Connacht vs Leinster (W)
Connacht vs Ospreys (L)
Newport vs Connacht (L)

Cardiff Blues

Cardiff vs Munster (L)
Llanelli vs Cardiff (L)
Glasgow vs Cardiff (L)
Cardiff vs Ulster (W)
Cardiff vs Borders (W)

European Challenge Cup Teams

 

2004 / 2005

10 French (Seeds: Brive, Beziers, Montferrand, Montpellier, Agen, Pau. Non seeds: Narbonne, Grenoble, Auch, Bayonne)

5 English (Seeds – Sale Sharks, London Irish, Saracens, Leeds Tykes. Non seeds: Worcester)

8 Italian (Seeds: Viadana, Rugby Parma. Non seeds: Rugby Rovigo, Petrarca Padova, GrAN Parma, L’Aquila, Leonessa, Amatori Catania)

1 Irish (Seed: Connacht)

1 Scottish (Seed: The Borders)

2 Spanish (Non seeds: Cetransa El Salvador, UC Madrid)

1 Portugal (Non seeds: RC Coimbra)

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