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.

Fantasy Rugby

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With the start of the season only six weeks away and the transfer merry-go-round well under way, based on a salary cap of £1.5m, here’s our estimation for how the present squad structure breaks down and how we would spend the money. Most of the salaries are guess-work, but some we know for sure. As for our Cardiff team, what we think we’re lacking are two French backs – Stefan Glas and Christope Lamaison would be money better spent than the moeny wasted on Jenkins’ form last season. In the forwards, we’ve gone for Rubens Kruger as an essential experienced head in the back row.


CRFC’s spending Tom and Phil’s spending
(Based on a budget of £1.5m)
Back Three
Paul Jones £20,000 Paul Jones £20,000
Rhys Williams £30,000 Rhys Williams £40,000
Mike Rayer £25,000 Mike Rayer £25,000
Craig Morgan £25,000 Craig Morgan £25,000
Nick Walne £40,000 Nick Walne £40,000
Richard Newton £15,000 Richard Newton £15,000
Gareth Thomas £100,000 Gareth Thomas £100,000
Pieter Muller £60,000 Pieter Muller £60,000
Jamie Robinson £25,000 Jamie Robinson £25,000
Stefan Glas £75,000
Half Backs
Neil Jenkins £200,000 Christophe Lamaison £120,000
Lee Davies £25,000 Paul Burke £60,000
Robert Howley £150,000 Robert Howley £150,000
Ryan Powell £25,000 Ryan Powell £25,000
Back Row
Greg Kacala £25,000 Greg Kacala £25,000
Emyr Lewis £40,000 Emyr Lewis £40,000
Owain Williams £25,000 Ruben Kruger £80,000
Martyn Williams £35,000 Martyn Williams £35,000
Phil Wheeler £20,000 Phil Wheeler £20,000
Dan Baugh £25,000 Dan Baugh £35,000
Second Row
Craig Quinnell £125,000 Craig Quinnell £85,000
Martin Morgan £15,000 Martin Morgan £20,000
Mike Voyle £100,000 Steve Williams £40,000
John Tait £25,000 John Tait £30,000
Steve Moore £35,000 Steve Moore £25,000
Spencer John £50,000 Spencer John £50,000
Dai Young £80,000 Dai Young £80,000
Gary Powell £20,000 Gary Powell £20,000
Damien Geraghty £20,000 Damien Geraghty £20,000
Andrew Lewis £60,000 Andrew Lewis £60,000
Jon Humphreys £60,000 Jon Humphreys £60,000


Tom and Phil’s Lions XXXVII

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Everyone’s at it – so here’s our Lions XXXVII. Thirty seven players is a very large party, but the flexibility of players to play in a number of positions could be the key for this tour. England have demonstrated that an over-dependence on skill in one position limits attacking potential.

To give balance, we went for a non-English captain, and Keith Wood is one of the few players guaranteed to be in the starting line up for the tests.

The English full backs pick themselves with Perry the starter for the first test. We’ve gone for speedsters on the wing (who can tackle – of course) instead of the donkeys Gunner Woodward likes to pick. Craig Morgan is chosen because he’s better than Shane Williams. Our test wingers would be Robinson and Healy

Gibbs’ days are past – crash ball inside centres are a thing of the past. Likewise the ponderous and clumsy Greenwood is omitted. We prefer the option of Townsend or Catt in an extra SH role at inside centre. O’Driscoll is class and looks to start with Catt.

FB Perry, Balshaw
WTB HealeyRobinson, Craig Morgan, Hickie, Thomas
C CattO’Driscoll, Townsend, Henderson, Taylor
OH Wilkinson, Jenkins
SH Howley, Dawson, Bracken
Props SmithVickery, Morris, Young, Leonard
H Wood (c), West, Greening
SR JohnsonGrewcock, Murray, O’Kelly, Davidson
BR DallaglioQuinnellBack, Hill, Charvis, Poutney, Wallace

Four half backs are so far ahead of the competition, they pick themselves, though we’d start with Wilkinson and Howley.

Tight head props in the Six Nations have been thin on the ground, and we’re banking on Smith-Wood-Vickery as our Test front row. Dai Young get’s the nod for the tough mid-week dirt tracker fixtures.

Competition in the second row is very tough indeed with any two from five likely to make the tests, though we’d probably pick Johnson and Grewcock.

Our back row looks as strong as any the Ozzies can put on the park, but we’d probably start with Back, Quinnell and Larry.

What will decide the test matches will be the platform the forwards give and that extra bit of unorthodoxy and inventiveness that players like Healy, Robinson, O’Driscoll and Howley can provide.

No Celtic League next season

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With all the concentration on the incompetance of Gethin, Peter Owens, Trevor James, David Pickering and yes – unfortunately – Graham Henry we’ve all failed to notice that the Irish Rugby Union has rejected a Celtic League next season.

If players are dropped for poor performances and not winning points for Wales in the Six Nations, what sanction should this gang of five suffer for their incompetance and amatuer approach to checking players’ eligability?

So within the space of a year, the WRU has precided over the decimation of a winning squad and failed to deliver a competitive structure for next season.

Why do we need this bunch of parasites? Their rank incompetance is destroying our national game and making us a laughing stock on the world stage. Their abysmal organisational skills have produced an imbalanced domestic league where overweight and overpaid players are not capable of competiting with the best in Europe, let alone the world. And where has that 14 million gone …..?

Our only hope is with club leaders with business sense who can run our clubs on a professional basis. Whilst the heart of those running clubs like Neath is to be admired on one hand – putting their hand in their pockets to help the club – this is surely not the answer. Professionalism in Wales is not only lacking on the pitch – it is clearly lack in off it as well!

We need a system where players and administrators are accountable to the fans – for it is we who pay their wages. All power to a Welsh Supporters Association!

Whilst in the wake of the string of defeats we’ve suffered this year, many people have said “we’re simply not good enough”, no one seems to have worked out why the same players who beat South Africa have fallen to such poor levels this year.

The answer is clear. It’s the lack of real domestic competition. So-called “top games” this season have been woeful in the standard of rugby played. Players can coast along 2 stone heavier than they should be (where are all those people who said Pies Snr would play Dillydallyo off the pitch?) in the Village League, but against AD Premiership players, they can’t handle the pace.

Last year, our players were either in the AD Premiership playing rugby for English clubs (Howarth, Bateman, Rogers, Pies Snr and Jnr) or playing against them (Thomas, Taylor, Howely, Charvis, Young, Jenkins).

The WRU are to blame for this defeat. They had the opportunity to have five teams in a British League this year and they turned it down. Now the chance may be lost forever as the English say “why do we need Welsh clubs?”.

Without a British League, Welsh rugby is destined for the second division.

Will the Union ever change?

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The pasting handed out to Swansea by Leicester should ring alarm bells in WRUin Head Office. The Committee should assemble, bringing the best of Ammanford, Aberystwyth and Talybont Rugby Clubs to solve the problems associated with the professional game in Wales.It’s alright Peter Thomas – the boys in Morriston Rugby Club will solve all your problems and make sure that Welsh Club Rugby will be strong for years to come.

So we have the problem of the Welsh/Scottish League leaders being embarrassingly outplayed and basically anhilated by the leaders of the Zurich Premiership in England. Or is it a problem?

The boys down in Narberth have a new club house with a nice bar, Morriston will have a new scrummaging machine, so of course the ticket revenue and sponsors money is being well spent.

Hence the problem that Peter Thomas faces.

He wants his club to play at the highest possible standard every week – and that means the Zurich Premiership. To allow this to happen, League rugby in Wales must admit to being weak and, therefore, making the players ill prepared for the big European games.

So all that needs to happen is for the better teams in Wales – the Candy Assed Four + One – to approach the Committee and say “Send us on our way and Wales will be saved!”.

But this will never happen.

Because, should this meeting ever occur AGAIN, it will mean that Mr Morriston does not have his new scrummaging machine, and Mr Narberth will no longer have his nice new bar to prop up.

In short they will vote themselves out of existence. Money generated from sponsors and international ticket revenue should be spent supporting an elite of no more than 120 professional players in Wales, or 4 squads of 30. This money is presently available, but is spread across too many teams.

The Zurich teams will be guaranteed £1.8m per team if they agree their deal – the Welsh teams receive less than £500,000.

To guarantee that the Welsh teams would be on sure footing, the WRUin would have to find an extra £1m per season for its top teams, and this will be done from saving the money it wastes in Division 3 and television sponsorship deals for games played in Wales.

Then Welsh teams could compete on an equal level, Peter Thomas could compete at the level he desires, but Mr Narberth wouldn’t be able to pay his wobbling prop £30 a game . . . . . . . . . oh dear!

Corporate Sponsorship

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There’s been a lot of rubbish written in the press lately about corporate sponsorship and the way the strawberries and cream set are running off with our tickets. The evil Mike Burton is pictured as depriving the good honest fan of tickets for the big game. But all this is far too superficial.

Let’s look at the real cause of the problem, and once more, its our friends in the WRU.

Can clubs be blamed for selling their ticket allocation on to people like Burton, or to allocating tickets to sponsors? The money raised is pumped back into the club, whether to maintain wages for the type of players we, as club supporters, want to see, or to maintain club facilities. Either way, the money is used for the benefit of the club. As rugby supporters, do we really expect it any other way? Should we expect magnanimous clubs to guarantee their supports all the tickets allocated by the WRU? Wouldn’t this deprive the clubs – all clubs – of a valuable way of raising revenue to invest in the game?

No, the real cause of the problem here is the WRU. If they were really committed to looking after the typical supporter – those that loyally follow their club week after week – and not so-called rugby fans who wouldn’t know one end of a club house from another, then why don’t they legislate that all tickets released to clubs must be sold to members and not the likes of Burton and his ilk? So the press attacking Burton misses the point. They are attacking the symptom and not the root cause of the problem. The WRU is quite aware of the service Burton and other corporate sponsors offer smaller and poorer clubs. They condone the selling of tickets to non-fans. That’s professionalism, progress and capitalism for you bois! If you’ve got the wad, you’ll get the ticket and the WRU is quite happy with the situation, thank you very much.

Yet another area where the WRU have been quite happy to take the back seat and do nothing about next year’s fixture list, has been their Trappist silence on the attitude and actions of the RFU. The talk in the press recently, was that the Celtic Nations may only get £12m of the Sky money that the RFU unilaterally secured. The RFU have also unilaterally decided the winners of the Tetley Bitter Cup will qualify for Europe. Now they’re deciding to move the Six Nations. But what’s worse, they’re deciding on our fixture list for next season and there’s no one from the WRU standing up for Welsh clubs at their closed door meetings.

So let’s look at what we’ve got in Wales. A sponsorless Premier Division, a sponsorless knock out competition and a future devoid of any leadership from the WRU. On the pitch, in Llanelli and Cardiff we have two of the best teams in Europe, but what will happen next season? If the WRU allow the RFU to dominate and decide next year’s structure, then how long will the money last in Wales? Unless Welsh clubs get a hold of some television money, their future is bleak. If the RFU sign a multi-million pound television deal enriching the English clubs further, how long before the wealth they will accumulate will result in a talent drain of Welsh players across the border? Already the national press and television is dominated by English club rugby, can Wales continue to hold onto its best players in the future? Our view is that we either create a British League now (as proposed by the Scotsman Walkinshaw) or the gap will widen. The 57 old farts are determined to hang on to their privileges, so unless real pressure is put on them from the start, they’ll pick up the ball and run away with it!

Our plea to the WRU is talk with the RFU now, try and influence them now, before they set the agenda and the English dominate our domestic rugby, not by beating us on the pitch, but by beating us in the board room and the wallet.

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