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
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)

Ceptic League – cut the cr@p

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As we forecast more than four years ago even before the first ball was kicked in anger, the much hyped Celtic League still remains sponsorless. Over the years, the Union has shown itself manifestly incompetent in running the sport in Wales, running up huge depths and overseeing the decline of playing levels to such an extent that Wales is now firmly second division in rugby terms. So how should we reward this mismanagement of the international game? Simple. Allow the Union to control club rugby as well! Obvious, isn’t it?

We’ve strongly advocated a professional structure separate from the confines of Union control, with clubs given the freedom to market their own player and their own team. Clubs should be allowed to generate the own sponsorship. The clubs’ role is to provide players for the national team – those good at it, should be financially rewarded by the Union, and those who do nothing for the national team should not receive Union handouts. We’ve been saying for years that the Union should stick its nose out of club rugby and instead invest in the grass roots of the sport. Player development should be left to clubs where competition for places will provide the necessary impetus to player development.

But the argument has moved on in the last four years. We always knew that Cardiff Rugby was run for the benefit of ex-players and the privileged few, and now this old boys club is under serious threat from the biggest old boys club of all – the WRU.

Sadly, neither party is interested in the future of the sport – increasing spectator numbers, more sponsors and better facilities. Far from it. The battle ground is over control of the sport – and the Union is winning.

We take a look at the Celtic League and ask the question, who is benefiting from this structure? Supporters? Coaches? Players? Investors? The Media? Or is the league more Ceptic than Celtic?

Supporters

Local rivalry in Welsh rugby is as old as the hills. The strength of the top teams may have changed – no Neath vs Aberavon and Maesteg vs Bridgend capturing the attention of thousands – but intense rivalry has been one of the traditional strengths of the game in Wales. The “new” buzzword has been intensity – but we’ve had it for decades! What is more intense than a Cardiff-Newport game, or a Neath-Llanelli game? These are the games that have traditionally drawn the biggest crowds. So what’s happened since the start of the Celtic League – are there any significant changes?

Well, the good news for Moffett is that attendances are on the increase*. The Celtic League – although sponsorless and overexposed on our TV sets – has seen attendances in Wales rising consistently from 2001 onwards. It’s probably too early to judge this season, but if we plug in the averages, the results are clear – average attendance is now approaching six thousand (not so far from Moffett’s target of 8,000). Last season, Celtic League attendances in Wales approached a quarter of a million. So everything’s rosy? Right? Well, not quite.
capcrowdsLooking in more detail, the biggest growth in attendance has been the stand alone kings – Llanelli. Average gates have more than doubled between 2001-2 and this season – now standing at an average of over 7,200. In fact, ALL the growth in attendances has been at the home of our Turkish brothers.

At CAP, attendance has fallen from an average of just under 6,000 to 4,500.

Rodney Parade has seen a similar dip in average attendance – though there are signs that the disenfranchised are returning in an effort to reclaim their club from the hands of Moffett. What about that model of regionalism – the Ospreys? Well, two into one doesn’t really go, and they’ve also lost around a thousand supporters a home game from when they operated as two separate teams. But the biggest loss of spectators (of course) is as a result of Moffett’s demolition job on Pontypridd and to a lesser extent Bridgend. During the 2001-2 season, an average of 6,000 spectators was watching these two clubs. Inevitably, when they merged, the figure dropped to less than 3,000.
rodneycrowdsAnd the conclusion to all these facts and figures?

Rationalisation at the top of the sport was much needed, but Moffett’s tactics have alienated thousands of Welsh rugby supporters, and driven them away from the game. Where are these missing thousands? Will the remaining professional clubs be able to entice these fans to return to the professional sport? The figures suggest otherwise – with the negligible gates at the Brewery Field, and the missing thousands who should be supporting the Ospreys.
ospreyscrowdsThese missing supporters have little identification with the new clubs. Franchises were the obvious solution, but the WRU missed the chance to make the system open and fair – smoke filled rooms and dodgy deals are the preferred solution leading to unsubstantiated rumours alleging all sort of dirty dealings. Clubs used to represent your community – your home town or city. It was the club you first supported as a child with your father …. an identification that grew up over years and decades. Now, that very same club has either disappeared, or been taken away by the Union. There is no identification with a club born out of a bad marketing dream – as a result, supporters lose their loyalty, and there is no passion for the club. No passion in the stands matched by no passion on the pitch and this removes that intensity which set us ahead of the competition.

The away fans have gone from the game and that special buzz that stood Wales aside from the dry and insipid atmosphere of English rugby are gone. There is no banter, no sense of rivalry, no atmosphere, and yes that word again, the “intensity” of parochial rivalry is gone. A total lack of occasion diminishes the experience of watching rugby and reduces it to pantomime. No pyramid in the sport means no competition for places in Europe, no reward for excellence (clubs not rewarded for producing top players and not penalised for failing to qualify for Europe), and no relegation. A guaranteed place in Europe is bad for the sport.

Coaches

In appointing Ruddock, the WRU sent a clear message out to Welsh club rugby. Vocal for many years in his support of the Irish system of Union-control, Ruddock was the perfect appointment for the WRU and he quickly began his constant assault in the media with his mantra of Union-controlled “regionalism” (whatever that means). Gareth Jenkins – the most successful and skilful coach in Welsh rugby with a proven record of success – never stood a chance of the job. He is a club man, Llanelli through and through, and would never support the increased control by the Union over the sport.

With the demise of the Warriors, Jenkins was further cut out – deprived of a chance to strengthen his ageing squad by the politics of the Union. All this is never out in the open never open to public scrutiny and only open to the charge of underhand tactics.

So is this Celtic League good for our coaches? Well, one thing is for sure, the Union-controlled Irish structure has lost at least two class coaches in recent season – Alan Solomons and Warren Gatland. Why did they leave? Could it be that they wanted more control over their charges and wanted to coach the way they wanted to? What new excellent fresh coaches have joined the Celtic set up? Uhm ….. none. And who would want to? Even Irish chief executives are complaining about a lack of support from the IRU.

Coaches can’t chose their own squads – Union interference in the running of the clubs means that squads will now be limited to two foreigners. Is that a good thing? What we need in Wales are experienced foreigners who can have an educational influence on Welsh players. Tiechmann and Percy have been/were excellent additions to the game, boosting interest and crowds as well as acting as role models. Who can forget the influence of Peter Muller at Cardiff? Now we have “open warfare” by the Union against “foreigners” – hardly an atmosphere conducive to attracting the best. The result is that more and more foreigners are signed as cheap solutions to budgeting problems.

Coaches have no guarantee that players are available – Ruddock’s control over Welsh squad players causes an intolerable disruption for club coaches. How can Dai Young plan his training sessions when he doesn’t know how many players will be there and how many will be with Ruddock? It wouldn’t be so bad if the Welsh coach had a positive influence on players, but for Cardiff in recent season we’ve seen players confidence ruined by the mismanagement of Henry and Hanson.

Coaches have no guarantee that the players in their squad actually want to be there. Gareth Williams was told to play for Cardiff – Alfie was told not to and we can only speculate about Sidoli who clearly looks like he wants to be somewhere else. Players are already being “forced” to play where they don’t want to. We already have central control and central contracts in all but name.

Players

Is this structure good for player development? Central control means there’s little identification with the club they are forced to play for. The days when players saw clubs as their own – playing for their home town or city – are fast disappearing. The Union is trying to replace this sense of identity with a circus of mercenaries drifting around from one allocated club to another. They can no longer chose which club they want to play for.

The Celtic League is fast turning into a graduation school for the Zurich Premiership and French Leagues. Stephen Jones, Alfie, Gareth Llewellyn, Gary Powell(!), Richard Parks, Christian Loader, Darren Morris and Colin Charvis are all playing “overseas” with the “foreigners”. When the stars of our game leave, who attracts youngsters to the sport? With Rhys William’s and Jamie Robinson’s contracts coming to an end, will these players chose to stay in WRU-controlled Welsh club rugby?

Investment

There is now no incentive for private capital or benefactors to invest in the sport. Moffett and his chums have already alienated two of the biggest inventors in recent times – Leighton Samuel and Buy As You View – and he’s now working on forcing another investor away (Tony Brown). For Moffett to feed Thomson House with more propaganda about the dangers of losing Welsh stars overseas is frankly ridiculous, when he – almost single handily – bullied Samuel (and his stadium investments and best pitch in Wales) out of the sport. What have you done to increase funding for the sport, Dai?

Forcing out investors like Marcus Russell and Leighton Samuel is frankly criminal – the sport in Wales is desperate for more funds to compete with the Irish, English and French and by putting control in front of development, the WRU is only further impoverishing the sport.

This is ALL about control. If it was about developing the sport, where is the extra money that a Chief Executive is supposed to generate for the sport? Recently, Moffett secured a rumoured £70,000 increase in his salary – not so dissimilar to the £125,000 a year he cut from the sport when he got rid of the A team. The Union are well on the way to destroying great club names like Newport and Cardiff – completely marginalising all support in a concerted effort to remove any barrier to their total control.

What does “together” mean? “Together” for those who agree with you, and stuff those who want to invest in the sport?

No – Moffett set out with an idea in his mind (mainly taken from his experiences in New Zealand) and has steamrollered it through. He has taken no account of local culture and circumstances. His dogmatic approach has alienated those whose interest in Welsh rugby does not come from a career move, but comes from a passion that they will take to their grave – long after Moffett has left for his next job.

The Media

The media gravey train in Wales is firmly behind the Union. The Union feeds the media with wall to wall coverage on the television, and a press office in Thomson House fed daily with the party line. In turn, the media is assured of the exposure it craves and a chance to hob nob with Moffett’s cronies. But of course the ultimate irony is that as a direct result of Moffett’s refusal to include Samuel in his plans for the future of the game, European Cup TV revenue will actually fall this season.

Where have all the real journalists gone? Where is the investigative reporting into what happened to the Warriors? Why are no questions asked about the secrecy surrounding WRU holdings in rugby infrastructure in Wales? Doesn’t the media feel it should ask why investors in the sport – Sameul, Russell and now Brown – are being driven away precisely when the Union has such huge debts and has a responsibility to develop the sport in Wales?

Sure the TV people are happy. Viewing figures keep them in the limelight and they can justify the ridiculous kick off times by claiming they are investing in the sport. But at what cost? Kick off times keep the opinionated armchair fans who don’t invest in Welsh rugby (no season tickets, no match tickets, no merchandising) happy, but discourages attendances (as the facts show).

Conclusion


The Celtic League has provided the perfect platform for the SRU and the WRU to assert their control over top clubs in their countries. And the results in Scotland should be a warning for us all. North of the border, the sport is dying on its knees. Their Union-controlled solution has been a disaster as attendances fall off a cliff. Their three professional clubs roam from one soulless empty stadium to another, playing out defeat after defeat. The Union’s only remedy is to search the world for anyone with a Scottish aunt in a desperate attempt at a short term fix. There is no partnership with local clubs, and no investment from local benefactors.

In Wales, the megalomaniac’s rule – control at all costs and the alienation of thousands of supporters and private investors. Far from increasing the popularity and inclusively of the sport, the WRU is driving people away. Perhaps most importantly, it is also driving away our star players. By alienating non-Union funding, the limited resources mean our best players will leave Wales. And the worse thing of all is that the Union doesn’t care! Far from it! It actively rewards those who leave by giving one the captaincy of a country he no longer lives in!

Pre-Season Results of Celtic League vs Non-Celtic League Sides

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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.

Who the hell are the bloos?

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It seems as though the dictat from the WRU is for the media to refer to each professional team in Wales solely by it’s nickname, rather than it’s full title. The Western Mail is full of gaffs on this subject: constantly writing Blues and then slipping the word “club” into the article, but the club themselves are also slipping into the style by writing just Blues on the web site and other material.

Indeed, the confusion over the name of the team that plays at Rodney Parade led the new Chief Executive to issue his own press release detailing how the press should refer to the team. Of course, they have mostly ignored it and followed the line from Moffett of just using the nicknames. It is also alleged that, when meeting with the disgruntled Warriors supporters after their shutdown, Moffett instructed those guys that all the teams will only be known by their nicknames.

So here is the problem: the media and politically correct public relations lot are following Moffett’s line and only using the nickname of the team.

This leads to an important question that all stakeholders and shareholders in Cardiff RFC must ask themselves: what damage is being done to my investment by this naming and reporting? It’s quite obvious that removing the name “Cardiff” from the team will do commercial damage to the club. If they become known in the popular press and media as just the “Blues” then it is difficult to see what the company represents, where it is based and how it can benefit any potential investors or sponsors. More importantly, it throws away a strong brand name established over the past 128 years.

There is no distinguishing the “Blues” from Chelsea (nicknames the Blues) or even the Auckland Blues. The club has sacrificed a global brand – Cardiff RFC – for a South Wales, media generated brand. Only in a narrow strip around the M4 will the word “Blues” ever hope to mean a rugby team playing in Cardiff. To the rest of the rugby world, the “Blues” play in Auckland. Since when did Cardiff become a pale imitation of some NZ team which has only recently come into existence (a long seven years after CRFC was born)? Rebranding in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but to pick a brand name already in use by another rugby team is ludicrous!

Without doubt it has long been the WRU’s aim to maximise revenue for themselves and impoverish the clubs (depriving the clubs of their best players, no reward/compensation for clubs who provide players for the national side, a suicidal TV contract that puts short term financial gain over the long term development of the sport). But if Moffett and the WRU-puppies in Thomson House and Llandaff are affecting the financial future of the club, who will speak out? Is the political pressure that the club is succumbing to also affecting the commercial viability of the club? Is the Board at the club defending the clubs shareholders, or merely capitulating to Moffett driven media-pressure?

We would reason that this naming issue is affecting the club and is affecting the marketability of that global rugby name – “Cardiff”. The correct name of the team is the Cardiff Blues, not just the Blues. It represents Cardiff, is owned by Cardiff RFC, plays in Cardiff and is supported by Cardiff. It should be the focal point for rugby supporters in and around the City and it should be using the famous name of Cardiff Rugby for its own benefit. Instead, it is allowing the press and the Union to ruin the identity and dilute the brand. Once more, instead of rewarding excellence, the structure of Welsh rugby says if one is weak, everyone must be weak. If some clubs are forced to amalgamate because they lack the financial clout to survive alone – everyone must surrender their identity.

This must not be allowed to continue. It is time for Peter Thomas to take control of the issue and ensure the club is referred to as Cardiff. Indeed, dropping the Blues altogether would be extremely beneficial, even replacing Blues with “Rugby” if a subtitle is needed. This is the only way to secure the brand, to increase commercial interest and to protect our invested moneys. After all, that is their job.

How a siege mentality drives customers away

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Over the year’s we’ve been big critics of the club and the way it almost seems to set out to deliberately alienate fans. Full credit to Dai Young for answering points raised by fans – this is a first – but once more, even when trying to take one step forward, the club has succeeded in taking two steps backwards.

Cardiff supporters are rightfully justified in feeling indignant about some dreadful performances by Cardiff under Dai Young’s leadership. Who can forget the humiliation at home to Northampton last season, the slaughter in Biarritz? Fans pay good money to follow and support the team and feel let down when substandard performances humiliate their efforts to be real fans.

So let’s look at Dai’s points.

  • “I don’t have to justify myself to anyone.” Criticism of Dai is not done by true Cardiff supporters.

Here begins the first lesson. Never ever openly criticise your customers. They “buy” your product, and pay your wages. You may think they are imbeciles and that you know far more about everything and anything than they do, but never EVER show an arrogant streak. Comments like, “I am answerable to the supporters”, “I fully understand the fans frustrations”, “We have to improve – and improve quickly” will find a more sympathetic ear.

  • “Critics of Cardiff have no sense of reality.”

Clearly Dai’s sense of reality is different from those who complain about Cardiff’s performances this season (and last). Cardiff fans believe defeating the worst team in the Celtic League, a team that conceded over 100 points in their previous two Celtic League games is a realistic expectation. Dai does not. What does that say about how low Dai is aiming this season?

  • “Putting Cardiff “on top” will not happen overnight.

We’ve seen a constant slide in Cardiff’s performances over the last four seasons. From European Quarter Finalists (hey! We even made the final, once!), to European no-hopers in the space of three to four seasons. What on earth makes Dai think that the fans are expecting to be “on top”? A win away to the worst team in the Celtic League would do fine for starters, and to arrest the constant decline would be nice. “On top”? That’ll be the day!

  • “When the full squad is available, things will turn around. I will not blame the players.

When the full squad is available, snow will fall in the Sahara. All squads have injuries. Well conditioned squads have fewer injuries. Draw your own conclusions. As for not blaming the players, well, a good coach would never say we lost because the players are rubbish. But, a smarter coach would say, “Our performances have been sub standard. The players know that if they do not improve, we will face severe problems this season.”

  • “Hardly any of the signings have played yet.

This is an interesting one. Fester has played and his crass behaviour let himself, the club and the supporters down. Gareth Williams hasn’t played because he was injured. Wasn’t this checked before he signed? Andy Moore took one games to get injured – conditioning? Why was Shanklin signed given the weakness elsewhere in the squad and the obvious fact he’ll barely play for Cardiff this season? Crompton – likewise – is another sick note specialist. Dan Baugh was offered a new two year contract. Why? Isn’t it obvious he’s past his best? Likewise for Matt Allen – both good soldiers for the club, but injured and lacking the impact of old.

  • “Last season, I didn’t see it (losing away from home) as a particular problem.

I really can’t follow this comment at all. Three words for your Dai – Northampton, Ulster and Biarritz. There, now please explain again why you can’t see this as a particular problem.

  • “True fans should take time to see what is happening at Cardiff.

How much time, Dai? Given the decline over the last four seasons, and this being your second year at Cardiff, how much time do you need to beat the worst club in the Celtic League?

  • “When the World Cup is over, we will be more than a match for anyone.

What at? Rugby? Come on Dai. Wake up! Every other team in the League will be strengthened. The vast majority have far more players at the World Cup than Cardiff!

 

I’m in a minority in that I’m prepared to give Dai the benefit of the doubt. Blaming him for the ills at the club severely misses the point. The comments made in the press show how poor the club is at speaking with supporters, and how incapable they are of attracting new ones. The lack of dialogue between fans and the club has worsened. As I’ve said before, familiar faces are no longer there on the terraces.

It’s about time the club came clean and stated it’s aspirations for this season, otherwise fans will become even more disenchanted with substandard performances against pretty dire opposition.

Good luck against Edinburgh, Dai! You going to need it!

 

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