Cardiff’s new coach

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We took a look at our leading candidates.

Brad Johnstone

Born Auckland, NZ, 30 July 1950

Brad Johnson is now coach of the Italian national team. The greatest achievement to date for the man with Scottish ancestrywas leading the Italians to a famous win over the Scots in January 2000.

But his first success as a national coach came in the 1999 World Cup where he was heralded by many as “Coach of the Tournament“.

Flamboyant, yet down to earth, ex-prop Johnstone played 13 games for the All Blacks, including four as captain, between 1976 and 1979. He has coached at club level in Australia and Italy before taking up his first national coaching role with Fiji’s in 1994. There, he successfully transferred Fiji’s success in sevens to the 15-a-side game. In the 1999 World Cup, he led Fiji to a 38-22 win over Canada, a 67-18 destruction of Namibia and a narrow 28-19 loss to France. His team eventually lost 45-24 to England in the quarter finals. Famous for a hard nosed attitude, he turned a Fijian team renowned for ill-disicpline into a group with an excellent work ethic.

“Retiring” from his role with Fiji after the World Cup he tried to get a Super-12 coaching post or even the NZ national post before moving to Italy. There, he joined a team who had done substantially worse than Fiji during the World Cup losing all three games in the 1999 tournament – New Zealand (lost 3-101); Tonga (lost 25-28); England (lost 7-67). Fijian players had nothing but good things to say about him when he left for Rome.

He spent five years mouding Fiji into a competitive team and is now planning the same period of time for the Italians. However, Johnstone‘s contract is up at the end of this year though the rumours are that he will get a new contract.

Struggling with a rich union in Italy who won’t put the funds in to support him, he’s far from contented in his present role. The Italian Federation has also vetoed Johnstone’s efforts to recruit players with Italian grandmothers from France and NZ.

He has worked with a huge pool of players at Italy’s Six Nations training ground at a village on the Tuscan coast near Livorno and has imposed a discipline which was sadly lacking in 1999.

beating Scotland 34-20 in Rome in January 2000. Last year, the Azzuri put up a decent performance against the All Blacks in November only losing 56-19.

Pros: Forceful charismatic figure that Cardiff need to instill discipline into the squad. Excellent forward coach.
Cons: Another with a reputation for upsetting those in authority. Would the Cardiff job be a step down from his present role?
Verdict: Another with excellent credentials. Vast experience and hard nosed attitude is what we need. Contract with the Italian Federation may be a stumbling block.

 

Ian McIntosh

English-speaking non-Springbok Ian McIntosh was born 61 year ago in what was then Rhodesia. He started his playing career in Rhodesia where injuries at an early age saw him turn to coaching.

Between 1986 and 1999, McIntosh coached Natal for nearly 300 games. They were always “also rans” in SA, but he took them team from the “B” section to their first Currie Cup Championship in 100 years. In all, he led them to four Currie Cup Championships.

One of McIntosh’s great strengths is his ability to develop players and in his time in charge of Natal (when Wayne Fyvie was captain), he coached Gary Teichmann, Adrian Garvey, Andy Marinos, Shaune Payne and Pieter Muller. He soon developed a reputation for turning the ordinary into something more.

He also coached the Springbok teams between 1993 and 1994, but was fired by former Sarfu president Louis Luyt after the 1994 tour of New Zealand when SA lost the series to the All Blacks.

Highly regarded as one of the world’s most astute and motivational rugby coaches this man embodies the dedication, and passion required to win in today’s highly competitive world. His straight talking “shoot from the hip” approach and extremely down to earth personality won him more than a few enemies in his time, but leaves him well-equiped for life in the village. He is renown for his analytical thinking, fierce motivation and thoroughly professional approach – established well before the days of official rugby professionalism.

A vastly experienced coach – 18 years at Currie Cup level and nearly 40 in all with various clubs – Rod Macqueen has said of him that ‘ … he wears his heart on his sleeve. He lives and dies for the team.’

However, some have accused him of dull rugby with his teams grinding their way through at forwards rather than using backline flair – from entertaining to watch. He prefer to call his style “direct rugby”.

Although McIntosh, who is currently in Zimbabwe, officially retired as Natal coach two years ago, in March of this year, the South Africa Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) appointed him as technical adviser to the Springbok sevens squad.

Described by our good friends at Rodney Parade as “one of the world’s leading coaches ……. with a world-renowned reputation as a motivator” he’s good friends with Gary Teichmann – once describing the dropping of Teichmann as “shabby treatment” (by that other coach mentioned as a possible replacement for Yoda, Nick Mallett).

He is so passionate about rugby it makes him ill.”

Pros: Vast experience, motivational skills and the ability to develop ordinary players into something more
Cons: Possible lack of ambition – having done it all before – and a forward orientated style that might not suite all the purists at CAP
Verdict: In the mould of Alec Evans, could be the man to transform Cardiff’s players into true professionals.

 

Mike Brewer

Born: 06 November 1964, Pukekohe, NZ

Michael Robert Brewer – nicknamed ‘Bruiser’ – is coach of Italian club team L’Aquila. During last summer the club handed over – for a seven year period – the technical and commercial management of the first & second XV and U21 to a new company, Com.Sport chaired by the 32 times capped All Black. Italian, New Zealander, US and British backers fund L’Aquila. A career as a sports marketing manager in New Zealand gives him the business background.

One of Brewer’s deals includes a contract with the Italian Pay TV channel Stream for the broadcasting of the club’s games. In short, Brewer is very much a “Director of Rugby” which matches the position Cardiff have vacant.

His previous coaching experience was in Blackrock in Dublin and West Hartlepool (for whom he played 30 times). Whilst player-coach at Blackrock, he went on to help with the coaching of the Irish national team.

Captain of New Zealand under Laurie Mains, Brewer led L’Aquila to their first game in Europe – a 92-7 rout at Stade Français.

He joined West Hartlepool as Director of Rugby in 1997, where he played with ex-Cardiff bois Mark Ring (who he took over from as coach), Matt Silva, Chris John and yes, ol’ Teflon hands himself, Gerald Cordle.

Playing in front of crowds of up to only 2,000, he was at West Hartlepool when the club were forced to sell their ground and enter into a groundshare with the local football team – Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool FC.

Brewer was sent off in the rebel season against Swansea for showing decent to Alan Ware – good friend of Uncle Peter!

He has taken his no-nonsense playing reputation into coaching, highlighted by his decision to sack prop Virgil Hartland for allegedly biting an opponent and todrop his leading import, the outside-half Steven Vile, for not tackling (look out Jinx!).

Pros: Top class playing experience.
Cons: Junior level coaching only. Unproven track record at a major club.
Verdict: With Mallett’s eyes firmly on Super 12 coaching, Brewer seems the most likely to want to move to Cardiff of the four.

 

 

Nick Mallett

Born: Haileybury, Hertfordshire, England, 30 October 1956

During his playing days, Nick Mallet was a abrasive No 8 for Western Province. He was more of a physical than a cerebral forward. He won two caps for South Africa in October 1984. But it wasn’t just South Africa where he played rugby. He won rugby and cricket Blues at Oxford before going on to play and coach for almost eight years in France. There, and in South Africa, he worked wonders with ailing or lower-division sides. Fluent in French, he also played rugby in Italy where he quickly earned a reputation for a dogged approach to the game and the necessity of plenty of blood sweat and tears.

Famously ending his playing days with a two-fingered salute to the national selectors after being dropped, brushes with authority have always dogged his rugby career. Likewise, he has also demonstrated an unwillingness to suffer those he considers fools – so watch out the WRUin if he gets anywhere near Wales.

When he took over from Kitch Christie as coach of South Africa, he brought some radical ideas to SA rugby based on running the ball at speed, rather than the forward based pattern of previous years. During his time as national coach, he led the Boks to17 consecutive wins . But last summer South Africa seemed to implode. Injuries to several key players opened the gates for New Zealand and Australia to inflict record defeats. And he has reacted to political criticism with confrontational language. Even so, his overall record of 27 wins from 38 games is no mean achievement.

Following a run of defeats in the Tri-Nations, Mallet was forced to resign in September, 2000 during the first day of hearings into a charge of misconduct brought against him by the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU). Mallett was charged with misconduct after he criticized high ticket prices for the Test match against the Wallabies and said administrators were “greedy”. This was the excuse that SARFU needed to call for his resignation.

Famously dropping Gary Teichmann as national captain in July 1999, he inadvertently instigated the recruitment of the ex-captain by Newport’s millionaire backer Tony Brown. He was also responsible for bringing Pieter Muller’s Springbok career to an end.

Following a healthy pay off from SARFU, Mallett’s not short of a fiver and he now supplement his income by writing in the press and for Planet Rugby. Having enjoyed a golfing sabbatical since last September, is the man now looking for a job for next season?

Since then, he’s been touted for numerous coaching positions – including EnglandHarlequins and France – so seeing his name associated with Cardiff should come as no surprise.

Pros: Charismatic, energetic, enthusiastic. Advocate of free-running, total rugby. Not averse to some radical views on the game – such as the introduction of 2 referees. It has been said that “he was seen as too strong-minded and powerful by some within the [SARFU,” so unlikely to be afraid of putting Cardiff first. “Neil Jenkins has an aversion to contact” – maybe he’ll teach him to tackle.
Cons: May be looking for a National Coaching job or may be content to work on his golf handicap. The Village League may be too small a platform for the man who coached the World Champions.
Verdict: Would be brilliant for the club, but would Uncle Peter give him enough freedom? Our favourite Uncle claims that the man he’s after is on a free contract – could Mallett be the man?

 

Rudy Joubert

Rudy Joubert – he of the Nicholas Cage looks – has signed a contract to become Cardiff’s Director of Rugby for the next two years. Describing the opportunity as “unbelievable” (a clear euphemism for “what a huge wad!”), he’s obviously been fully primed by Uncle Peter that winning the European Cup is still the number one priority for the club. He will start with Cardiff on July 15th.

There is a clause in his contract which says that if he is offered the Bok job within the next two years he is free to leave. With Harry Viljoen far from secure at the moment, this is far from an unlikely turn of events for the highly rated Joubert.

He played scrum half and fly half at school but moved to centre or wing with Tukkies before his career was cut short by injury. He then took over Pretoria University’s under-19s and won the league for five successive years before taking over the senior side and again winning championships to bring him to the notice of Kitch Christie.

He linked up with Christie at Transvaal in 1992 when Joubert was made director of coaching. He went on to take up an assistant coaching roll to Christie at the 1995 World Cup. In March 1997 he was appointed SARFU’s director of coaching and is the author of several South African rugby coaching manuals.

Joubert coached Namibia in the 1999 World Cup where he was a last minute stand in when his predecessor – Johan Venter – was sacked at the last minute. Whilst coaching Namibia, his wages were paid for by SARFU. Namibia are basically an amateur rugby playing nation.

Joubert was appointed as coach of the Boland Kavaliers following his time with the Namibian national team. He soon took them from nowhere to the Final of the Vodafone Cup where they lost to the Joost’s Northern Blue Bulls in mid May.

Joubert – described as “one of the more successful coaches in SA” – coached the SA U-23 which is playing against Namibia and Zimbabwe in the African Rugby Confederation Cup. Joubert coaches Boland in the Currie Cup competition – the feeder competition for the Super 12 teams. The Boland Kavaliers are basically an amateur team who feed the Stormers.

He had been tipped by many to take over from Laurie Mains as coach of the Cats in the next Super 12 season and was also mentioned as a future coach of the Stormers. He had a contract with Boland until 2003 – so no doubt compensation will have to be paid to the club. Has degree in theology.

Pros: International experience, a developer of players, ambitious, a “winner”
Cons: Untried at a professional club – our weakness is at forward not in the backs.
Verdict: A man out to prove himself – he’s in for a shock of what’s in store!

 

Can Cardiff still win this season’s Village League?

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With a woeful try count and a season peppered with half-hearted displays, it says much for the alleged strength of the Village League that we’re still in with a chance of winning the title. However, with Newport showing signs of peaking and Swansea facing a very difficult run in to the season, there is there still a faint possibility of working a miracle?

Of the three teams tussling for the title, Cardiff have the easiest run in with only the small matter of Swansea at home and Llanelli away obstructing the chance to pile up the points – Cross Keys (A), Swansea (H), Caerphilly (A), Cross Keys (H), Llanelli (A), Caerphilly (H). This will give us a maximum possible 18 points to add to our present 33 points = 51 points

As for Newport, they too have a relatively easy run in, other than games against Swansea in St Helens and a difficult away trip to Glasgow with their “neutral” refs – Glasgow (H), Swansea (A), Caerphilly (H), Cross Keys (A), Glasgow (A). Win all these games and Newport too will finish the season with 51 points.

And so to the Mighty Whites, the team with the most impressive try count but the most difficult run in – Cardiff (A), Newport (H), Bridgend (A), Glasgow (H), Cross Keys (A), Neath (H). And then they may have that bastion of fair play, the WRUin, to thank for a tough Village Cup run in.

If Cardiff produce a miracle (on recent form!) and win against Swansea in Cardiff, then suddenly the picture looks very different. Newport too could conceivably win in St Helens, and suddenly we have three teams all with 51 points!

We all have to get behind Bridgend when Swansea visit the Brewery Field – that could be the crucial game for Cardiff.

Let’s not get too carried away here though because of the Mighty Whites prolific try scoring feats they are still favourites for the title. They can even afford to lose two of their remaining fixtures to their closest rivals, because of their vastly superior try count. Cardiff are going to have to rattle up the tries in the Cross Keys and Caerphilly games – something that is not beyond them, but on present form, unlikely. And then there’s the small matter of having to win at Stradey on the last day of the season, with an impartial referee, no doubt. Especially as Llanelli may have to win to secure a place in Europe – do you still have your boots, Mr Bevan?

Either way, expect a very tight finish this year, with try count likely to play a vital part in deciding where the title goes.

The message is that we all need to get behind the bois for every remaining game of the season. Forget Yoda, forget the disappointments of the European campaign, forget the fixers in the WRUin, let’s get out there and make some noise! Come on the bois!!!

An open letter to Graham Henry …..

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The logical future of the RFU’s present isolationism is that they will soon become so financially ahead of the Welsh clubs that the gap in playing levels will widen.As you know, one of the saddest things in Welsh rugby is the stubborn refusal of club fans in Wales to wake up to the reality of professionalism. Professionalism is unsustainable if clubs don’t have decent pitches, decent stadia and average gates approaching 10,000 at least!

You can see that Welsh rugby will mere become a training ground for the richer, sponsored English clubs unless we do something NOW. We’ve all heard talk that the English are ready to sign contracts for broadcasting rights and sponsorship that will bring them 250m!!

So when they blame you for defeat, tell them the way it is.

Sadly, Wales has a tiny economy (and a population less than Birmingham’s) and there’s simply not enough money domestically to sustain a structure which can compete with the wealthier English game. A stuborn refusal by the WRUin and supporters of smaller clubs to recognise this fact is therefore dragging us all down.

Whether we like it or not, the name of Llanelli will generate more interest nationally than Neath or Pontypridd. Therefore, the marketing boys and the corporate investers, the media and the sponsors and the press at large will show interest in Llanelli vs Harlequins – they’ll sponsor it, they’ll put it on television etc, etc. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Neath vs London Irish. With the loss of the steel works in Ebbw, one wonders how long the club can survive – there’s simply not enough money in the area to sustain professional sport.

We need to have a pool of players at the top end of the game competing for their places week in week out (as well as for the international side) in clubs who can beat the top English teams.

Sadly, too many club supporters in Wales blindly support their club without demanding more. How many fans in Wales have actually visited Leicester with their 10,000 average gate, Saracens with their excellent match day organisation and Bath with their extremely wealthy supporters? As you know, club fans in Wales struggle to look outside their own club.

We have to look outside our own borders to progress – 220 clubs in Wales will not produce a winning national side which can challenge for the Six Nations let alone the World Cup now that the age of professionalism has dawned.

I grew up thinking that the English would never beat us on a rugby pitch in Wales – we were invincible. Now they’re beating us because of their superior organisation and professionalism. Welsh rugby still has more flair, but unless we can match that level of organisation and professionalism (which means whether we like it or not, MONEY), we’re going to fall further behind.

Unless we get a British League soon, within 10 years Welsh rugby will adopt the same posture as Welsh football does now – a pale imitation of its English counterpart, feeding a couple of players to the top leagues, and woefully outclassed at international level. Anyone who looks at the gaps that have emerged in football should learn what professionalism an TV contracts does.

Some time soon the English will realise that they need the Celts for opposition. If they decide they don’t need us and bugger off to play the SA-NZ-Ozzies, then you can wave goodbye to the professional sport in Wales.

I don’t think this will happen, do you?

When they realise they need us, then they will realise that somehow money has to be injected into the game in Wales, and that means a professional league. And here’s the crux of the matter. Will the WRUin have enough humility to realise that Wales cannot stand alone against the financial power of the English game? As things stand at the moment, the WRUin are far too arrogant and full of their own self importance. How bad do things need to get before they learn some humility? How many times do we have to get thrashed by the English before the WRUin realise that maybe we need them more than they need us?

So before your contract comes to an end, Graham, have a word with those boys at the WRUin. Tell them the way it is. Tell them to swallow their petty village loyalties and look outside the village. There’s a big world out there with so much to learn!

Phil’s wish list

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With the New Year fast approaching, it is now time to start planning for next season. Player’s contracts are up for renewal or termination and Cardiff must not be last in the queue when it comes to offering contracts

Phil has, therefore, drawn up his Squad wish list for next season – including the obvious overhaul of the Coaching Team.

I know that this selection will cause many a raise eyebrow (not least Tom’s!!!) but changes must be made. Firstly, Gareth Thomas must stay but must not be messed around from week to week. He is an international winger, so that is where he must play for Cardiff. If he does not want to – then bye bye. The obvious long term replacement for Muller is Durston, whose partnership at national level with Robinson has blossomed recently. He is presently at our nursery club so transferring up a level should be of no concern to him. The only other change to the backs is the recall of Booth. As he is only a part time player this may cause concern, but fingers crossed he should only ever be on the bench, so this should not cause too many problems.

Up front it should be status quo, apart from addressing the clear back row problems. Wales’ outstanding back row forward is Charvis and with the money that Uncle Peter allegedly pumps into Swansea, his contract in return should be no problem. With sick note Budgett at a proper club with proper medical back up perhaps his sick note tab will be dropped – but he will replace the original sick note Emyr Lewis. The promotion of Phil Wheeler to the first team squad proper will be of benefit as he should become an excellent player.

The back row problems of ball retention and protection for Howley should be solved with these signings. Perhaps it is time to convert Dan Baugh to number 8 permanently next season? However, with Lyn Jones as forwards coach the back row (and flankers in particular) will blossom and be able to play a high tempo, spectator friendly game.

Under Geraint John’s leadership, the backs are always good to watch and this should not be tinkered with. Think how well they would play with an excellent forward platform!!!

The signing of John Hart as Director of Rugby, rather than as Team Coach, would allow Jones and John to develop their coaching techniques under the guidance of a successful All Blacks coach. This will be in stark contrast to this season, where Howells has been sheltered by a guy who wants to coach the All Blacks. Jones’ knowledge of Welsh club rugby and tactics to beat the opposition would also allow Hart more time to work with the Youth and Rags, to ensure more players such as Rhys Wiliams and Jamie Robinson progress to international honours.

Director of Rugby
John Hart
Forwards Coach
Lyn Jones
Backs Coach
Geraint John
Full Backs
Rhys Williams, Paul Jones
Wingers
Nick Walne, Gareth Thomas, Craig Morgan, Richard Newton
Centres
Jamie Robinson, Pieter Muller, Owain Ashman, Adrian Durston
Outside Halves
Neil Jenkins, Lee Davies
Scrum Halves
Robert Howley, Ryan Powell, Andy Booth
Props
Spencer John, Peter Rogers, David Young, Kenneth Fourie, Gary Powell
Hookers
Damien Geraghty, Andrew Lewis, Jonathan Humphreys
Second Rows
Craig Quinnell, Steve Moore, Mike Voyle, John Tait, Martyn Morgan, Luke Tait
Back Row
Colin Charvis, Nathan Budgett, Wayne Fyvie, Martyn Williams, Dan Baugh, Phil Wheeler

Tom and Phil’s Structure

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As Gwyn Jones has pointed out all clubs in England’s Zurich Premiership received the same amount from the RFU – £1.6 million. This allowed a competitive tournament that last week saw Sale – bottom last season – defeat Bath, the champions of the previous year. In Wales, though, the bigger clubs are given a disproportionate share of the Union’s money, increasing the gulf between the clubs in the premier league.

The Union should stop meddling in the financial affairs of the clubs. Clubs should be given the freedom to market their own players and their own team. The Union must allow the clubs to play who they want in order to generate their own revenue and sponsorship – indeed the Union should have supported the idea of four professional clubs from wales – with the top 120 players – playing in a British League when the idea was offered to them. This can still happen.

Saracens FlyerThe union must concentrate on developing the grass routes and invest heavily in this area. High level coaches and facilities for school rugby are the way to develop the game in Wales. They should also spend their resources in training clubs to develop their own professional management side – how to attract money to the club and to the game? How to market the club?

The sad thing is that the Union thinks it knows more about the players on the pitch – and the coaches who coach them – than the clubs. Player development must be left to the clubs where competition for places and tough competition will provide an the necessary impetus to player development.

Interfering in the finances of top clubs may provide short term gain like keeping our top players in Wales instead of them leaving to England where they could earn more money, but this is only a short term solution. The only way to keep players in Wales is to allow them to compete weekly with the higher profile and better marketed English clubs.

London Wasps vs Leicester Tigers
Just look at two initiatives for an example. Take Wasps and their plan to offer free admission to the recent Wasps vs Leicester game, Or how about Saracens with season ticket prices cheaper than Cardiff’s – despite higher costs in London and the higher salaries of both players and spectators! A quick scan of the internet sites of the ZP teams will show you the difference in professionalism between the two structures. Leicester are the best supported club in Britain because they work hard to develop their fan base with open days, weekly newsletters, promotions etc.etc. Our club – the biggest in Wales – offers a shadow of this approach. The club is still run for the benefit of the players and the privileged few. How long will it take for things to change? How long will it take for us to see players accessible to the fans? How long until we see Dai Young serving pints in the bar as Olivier Magne was doing at Montferrand?

Celtic League – Good or Bad Development

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At last the WRUin seem to have come up with an idea on how to inject some much needed life into a tired and predictable fixture list with real hope for change next season. Whilst we may not be getting a British League, it seems that a Celtic League is not so far away.

Contradictory stories still abound in the media but it seems that the first matches of the new league would be played on 25 August 2001. Fourteen teams – eight Welsh, two Scottish and four Irish will be spilt into two pools, with play-offs for the league title. Some reports say both home and away fixtures whilst others say not. The top two teams in each pool will go through to the semi-final. The Heineken Cup would not be affected and the existing Welsh-Scottish League would be moved to after Christmas, although it would be reduced from 12 to 10 clubs.

Try as we might, trying to fit all this into a season seems very difficult if there’s going to be 6 Celtic League games (no way to be home and away!) plus semi-final and final, same Europen Cup structure, and a further 18 games in the WSL. The Village Cup will have to go! Then there’s the question of the luck of the draw – firstly dictating which pool your team is drawn in, and then which teams you play away at – all a bit of a lottery! And finally there’s the prospect of playing one Welsh team five or six times in one season (once in the Celtic League pool, once in the CL Final, once in the European Cup and twice in the Village League and once in the Village Cup – if it servives!). And what about this Champion of Champions play off, we’re hearing about?

But there is a cost associated with these proposal and it has been estimated that an extra £100,000 will be needed to meet the travel expenses of the new Celtic league. Welsh Premier Clubs chairman Stuart Gallacher hopes this could be met by the increased television revenue and from sponsorship of the new league. Planely so far, the WRUin have failed to market the existing Wales-Scottish League to any potential sponsors – “We haven’t succeeded in getting a Welsh-Scottish League sponsor yet, but we are actively seeking one,” Geoff Evans said. Can we really expect anything different if the Irish join the League?

As expected there are already rumblings of discontent from amongst the amateur and semi-pro ranks. The Division One clubs association chairman, David Escott of Rumney, is quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some clubs in this division launch legal action over this.”

All this restructuring means that Caerphilly and Cross Keys (surely the two teams which finish bottom of the WSL) will be relegated to the first division – it seems Uncle Peter will get his wish! But you can’t help feel some sympathy with Dunvant’s Mark Perdue, their technical director of rugby, when he says, “The last time we were told this it was two weeks before the end of the season, so this is pretty good for the WRU. We use the Union as a personal motivation for the club. We’re determined to make ourselves as much of a pain to the Union as we can.”

A brief Introduction to rugby in Ireland

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Although the Irish Rugby Football Union was formed in 1874, club rugby had been played in the country for many years before that. Trinity College Dublin claims to be one of the oldest clubs in Ireland, having been formed in 1854, while North of Ireland FC soon followed in 1859.

Ireland played their first test match against England at the Oval in 1875, but it was not until 1881 that they first won a test, against Scotland at Ormeau in Belfast. During the 1880’s the four provincial branches of the IRFU first ran cup competitions and although these tournaments still take place every year their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All Ireland league. This was first held, with two divisions in 1990, and since then has developed to highly competitive four divisions. In the 10 seasons since its introduction the league has never been won by a club from outside of Munster, with Shannon laying claim to the title of greatest ever Irish club side by winning the title for four years in succession from 1994-1998.

The four provinces – one of which will form Cardiff’s opposition in the European Cup – have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920’s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to International level. Munster, Leinster and Ulster continue to be the strongest three with Connacht, in the west of the country traditionally the weakest. The top three provinces compete in the European Cup, which Ulster won in 1999, while Connacht take part in the European Shield.

As such, Irish rugby is based on a pyramid system – clubs, provinces and internationals. The IRFU decided that in the professional era they would make the 4 Provinces (Ulster, Leinster, Munster & Connacht) professional with the clubs remaining in essence amateur/semi professional. During the summer months, each Province is told the size of its squad (approx 26) and all but two must have Irish connections (the grandparents rule comes into play). Also, all the squad must play their rugby in Ireland and preferably within the province for which they have been chosen.

Therefore the current Ulster side shows two non-Irish players (Ryan Constable and Grant Henderson) with the rest having Irish backgrounds. Shane Stewart, Brad Free, Russell Nelson, Andy Ward and John Campbell are non-Ulster born (Stewart, Ward – NZ, Nelson – SA, Free – Australia and Campbell – Dublin) but qualify. All except Campbell play their club rugby in Ulster but only at the completion of the Interprovincial Championship and European Cup competitions (or where there is a break in them like after the October European Cup dates).

1-Sept Ulster Munster
1-Sept Leinster Connacht
8-Sept Munster Leinster
9-Sept Connacht Ulster
15-Sept Leinster Ulster
15-Sept Munster Connacht
22-Sept Ulster Leinster
23-Sept Connacht Munster
29-Sept Munster Ulster
30-Sept Connacht Leinster

So the clubs will have them for roughly 14 games just before Xmas and beyond. Local players earn a contract (with the Ulster Branch) through performances at club level while perceived gaps in talent are filled by overseas (Irish and non-Irish backgrounds). Most of the current squad were retained from last year with only Stewart getting selected on the basis of his Ballymena club displays. The seven new faces are Nelson, Free, Constable, Henderson, Stewart, Boyd (originally from Ulster) and Campbell.

The squad cannot be added to during the season except in the case of injuries such as now with the loss of Dion O’Cuinneagain and Allen Clarke. Ulster may have one gap left for either of these positions. The provincial squads are limited in numbers – unlike the Welsh, French and English clubs – with a set wage structure that someone like Peter Muller would not get togged out for. Even Ulster’s international players won’t earn near what he is on, hence the attraction of the mainland.

For the record, the Interprovincial Cup starts on September 1st when Ulster take on Munster. Only when these fixtures start will we get a better idea of the relative strengths of the provinces ….

Thanks to Alistair at the unofficial site of Ulster RFC for helping us put this short introduction together.

A Lions XV

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Well, everyone’s at it, so now we’re joining in.

Criteria are best players of the Six Nations so far, with one wild card allowed.

15. Matt Perry, Glenn Metcalfe

Big gamble but two for the future!

14. Austin Metro, Gareth Thomas

Metcalf is fast and can cover for Full Back and Wing. Austin Metro is fast and can cover for everwhere – little sh@t.

13. Brian O’Driscol, Mark Taylor

Haven’t seen too many outside centres going outside their man this year. Someone English will probably get picked in the final shout next year

12. Mike Catt, John Leslie

Gibbs will replace Catt, but Townsend is such a good inside centre and such a sh@t stand off – didn’t get a chance this year.

11. Ben who? Dafydd James

More big and ugly players needed to mark Ben Tune and Joe Roff!

10. Rubber Johnie, Ginger Monster

Johnie is the man for the tests and Jinx is the man for this kicks. Can’t see anyone getting near them.

9. Matt Paint, Rob Howley

Dawson has been the most commanding figure of the competition. Nichol put in a great performance against the Saes. Irish SH was completely non existant. Howley gets in because there’s no one else. Howley will definitely shine at Leicester away from the Villagers!

8. Larry Dilidalio, Pies Snr

Need two big ball carriers at number 8 – someone teach Pies how to tackle.

7. Neil Back, Martin Leslie

Leslie at open side is cheating, but we’re running out of Scotts! Need a mad Irishman in the back row, but couldn’t see one this season.

6. Richard Hill, Colin Charvis

Charvis awesome tackling must win him a place – Hill has the complete game and is very underated.

5. Malcolm O’Kelly, Simon Shaw

Very impressed by Kelly this season – awesome performance against Wales, similarly Shaw is a complete second row. Jeremy Davidson should be there next year, but didn’t see much of him this year.

4. Scott Murray, Garath Archer

Murray has been class for the past two seasons – Archer’s a cheat and we hate him, but who else is there? Martin Johson will get the selection.

3. Dai Iawn, Paul Wallace

Really struggling at tight head. English and Irish can’t scrummage.

2. Keith Wood, Jon Humphreys

Easiest choice of the lot!

1. Jason Leonard, Tom Smith

Still struggling here – Only Wales seem to have decent props but we can’t pick lardy big mouth!

E- 12 W – 9 S -5 I – 4

Humph as the wild card who hasn’t played in this season’s Five Nations

The options are clear – Metcalfe is a full back, Rhys Williams is too young. Gareth Thomas, despite what we know, only plays international rugby on the wing and that is where he will be selected. Catt and Leslie have had good championships and deserve their places – especially if Woodward is Coach.

Smith and Wallace were the Lions props on the last tour.

A new stadium?

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Despite the news that Cardiff city have recently received a cash injection to improve their stadium, how long will it be before we are considering a move to the Bay with our footballing neighbours and a new stadium amongst the mud flats?

With Sam Haman’s professed ambitions for the Bluebirds, he will not be slow to realise that a new stadium may do much to capture the imagination of the public in Cardiff as he pushes the club on to the First Division and Premiership beyond.

As for the rugby club, the lease on the Forte Hotel near the ground is rumoured to expire shortly, and as the area is owned by the Athletic Club, huge revenue could be generated by selling the site to a developer for a new city centre hotel. Surprisingly enough, Peter Thomas is such a developer. With the south stand suffering from an advanced state of concrete cancer, the old ground is nearing need of serious investment.

On the positive side a new all seater in the Bay would mean a better playing surface, improved access and drinking facilities we could all enjoy. The image of the club would be improved and access would be easier.

On the down side, we’d lose the roots of our tradition and the memories of all those great players that graced the turf at the Arms Park – a name that is known the world over.

How would you feel about a move to a new stadium?

Season 2000-2001 Predictions

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With the present sqaud our forecast for this season is second in the league to Newport. We are unconvinced by Lyn Howells’ ability to build a team based on commitment and desire. His selection was suspect throughout last season and so far he’s failed to build a pack which plays as a unit

With a good coach at the helm, and a more settled squad next season, Newport will be the team to beat. Despite Adrian Garvey’s strength in the scrum, they could struggle in Europe given the number of foreigners in their squad

Projected Village League Table 2000-2001
1 Newport
2 Cardiff
3 Swansea
4 Glasgow
5 Llanelli
6 Edinburgh
7 Bridgend
8 Pontypridd
9 Ebbw Vale
10 Neath
11 Cross Keys
12 Caerphilly

The big underachievers last season – Swansea – will not suffer again this season and will surely come good. Indeed, Cardiff will do well to keep them from second spot

As for the Scots, despite the disruption of constant travelling, without the presence of a World Cup depriving them of key players, this season will see them produce a higher standard of rugby

Llanelli’s squad is still not big enough to cover both European and League fixtures and with Moon destined to take more of a back seat, how will they fair with Easterby?

Bridgend and Ponty have had very different summers in the transfer market. Ponty have confirmed themselves as a feeder club with good coaches and good scouts recruiting from the amateur ranks, but will struggle next season as the top clubs do not need to rest their World Cup players. Meanwhile, Bridgend have recruited well, and a blend of experience and youth should see them as outsiders for the last European spot.

Neath and Ebbw have two good coaches, but with limited squads they will struggle from injuries to key players as the season progresses

It’s a waste of time playing against Cross Keys and Caerphilly but at least it’ll give Owain a game.

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