Last season was a season of rebuilding in Welsh Rugby under new CEO Martyn Phillips, and as domestic rugby draws to a halt for the summer, Last Word On Sports asks ‘was any progress made within Welsh rugby?’
It has certainly been a long and exciting season for Professional and Semi-Professional rugby sides in Wales, and a season that for many sides can be built upon and progressed from, heading into next year, 2016/2017.
CHAMPIONSHIP AND PREMIERSHIP
The championship was opened up this year to promotion and four sides would be joining the twelve elite clubs in the Principality Premiership next year. There was always going to be a dilemma however, with only four getting promoted and five remaining sides holding the necessary A license criteria (RGC1404, Merthyr, Bargoed, Swansea and Pontypool).
The campaign for all was an exciting one, with Merthyr enjoying success via winning the league, followed by Swansea, Bargoed and RGC. Pontypool were left disappointed and missed out on promotion after RGC beat Glynneath RFC in their final game.
This has raised questions over the ‘ring-fence’ which is now in place for a planned three year spell. For a team that finished over 20 points ahead of their nearest rival, to be stuck in the second division is a blow to Pooler, and doesn’t reward their efforts at all. Ring-fencing is not good if done in this manner, as it can allow complacency amongst clubs or players in the Premiership.
It doesn’t allow for ambition because ‘why would anyone invest in new infrastructure or players if there are no increasing opportunities ahead?’ They are the only side left in the league currently with the A license and so surely, we need them up–unless some other sides show that they can and will get the required criteria in place.
Ring-fencing should be removed to allow the competition to flourish with a simple one-up, one-down scheme. The current regime and Premiership clubs in a ‘closed meeting’ discussed the topic and for now, however it will remain in place–despite it not being a benefit to the leagues.
Twelve sides kicked off the year knowing they couldn’t get relegated. There were new laws in place too: six points for a try, two points for all kicks and eight points for a penalty try with no kick needed. These have not benefited the game and just resulted in lots of kicking to the corner and driving mauls. Not a great spectacle! This has been noted by those in power and hopefully it will be under review for next season.
There have been a lot of good sides in this years league and with three weeks left; give or take an odd replay, there were still six sides in the title race. Eventually resulting in happy endings and play-off games for Pontypridd, Llandovery and Ebbw Vale. The season for Ebbw Vale was obviously the highlight; league-wise, with them picking up the Principality Premiership title for the first time in Welsh rugby history.
Llandovery and Pontypridd both enjoyed cup rewards with the ‘Drovers’ picking up the SWALEC Cup and Pontypridd taking the honours of the Fosters Cup.
At the end of season awards dinner, Cross Keys, Llandovery, Aberavon and Ebbw Vale all had players and staff taking home awards and so the majority of clubs had a good year to build upon. Congratulations to them all, and to all clubs and teams within the Welsh Rugby system.
It must be said it has been a great year for those involved in club rugby and Ryan Jones and Geraint John, along with the help of Welsh rugby union CEO Martyn Phillips, seem to be getting the semi-professional and amateur games moving in the right direction once again.
It has been a year of rebuilding for Welsh rugby and its ‘Regions’. It’s fair to say that it has been a disappointing season, results wise for the professional teams. However the Cardiff Blues, Scarlets and Ospreys have all had a season that can be built upon and are moving in the right direction, with signings such as Nick Williams and Johnny McNicholl proving that pro teams in Wales can develop and improve.
For the Dragons however, this season has been a season to forget, losing a record 10 league games in a row. The current owners and board also announced that they would be putting the regional side up for sale with the WRU’s blessing behind this. The Gwent side have always been the ‘black sheep’ of the regions, as they have had the most problems surrounding their name, coaching and playing squad since they were formed 13 years ago.
The Scarlets made some good investments in McNicholl and after a [sadly] poor ending to their Pro12 season, meaning they finished in 5th spot after a prolonged period within the Champions Cup slots throughout the season. However, a positive is that they are in Europe’s Challenge Cup and look to be building a good side for next year. Positive vibes from Llanelli.
The Cardiff Blues finished in 7th place and didn’t really shine in European campaigns either. However this season has been one of rebuilding and getting used to a new coach. Head coach Danny Wilson came in and has transformed the capital-based side, pushing them higher up the table and making signings such as Nick Williams and George Earle. A good side is forming, ready to battle for next year and along with the Scarlets, they could both be challenging for top four slot.
The Ospreys had a positive year at the turnstyle, boasting a six-figure profit sum. Their campaign on the pitch though was a bit of a sorry affair however, finishing 8th and totally missing out on European competition for the upcoming 2016/17 season. One can say however, the 2015 Rugby World Cup was a contributing factor behind their loss, Ospreys losing a larger number of players to international duty. They cannot use this as a ‘sole excuse’ and following such a poor year, will look to rebuild next season and aim for top four once again. A target they can achieve with the squad being full of internationals.
Overall a season to build from and next year should be a positive year for the Ospreys.
Newport Gwent Dragons have a had a ‘shocker’ this term. Boasting a dreadful 10th place position in the Pro12, a for sale sign hangs over the Region and a need to shake-up the playing and coaching system. If it wasn’t for the Italians, they would sit rock-bottom and after their capitulation away to Zebre, it must be asked whether 11th place is their destiny looking forward.
A season to forget for Gwent. Over the summer, they must look at reforming playing stocks, coaching roles and a fresh boardroom at the region, whilst finding a buyer that can help them kick-start a climb back-up the competition ladder in the future.
Welsh rugby has gone through a tough period in recent seasons, but for three of the regions it must be looked at as a ‘season to build and develop from’. Newport Gwent Dragons however, have a busy summer ahead if they want to be anywhere near the other sides.
“Main photo credit”