Welsh rugby’s winners and losers in 2021
Who are Welsh rugby’s winners and losers in 2021? Plus, what were some of the standout moments of the year? Wales triumphed in this year’s Six Nations, but did it have a bit of a ‘meh’ feel given the lack of crowds, and the somewhat fortunate nature of some of their victories? What followed was a difficult and unsuccessful series at home to Argentina (with many first teamers touring with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa). Then came the Autumn Series, Wayne Pivac and his side finishing with a 50% win ratio against Southern Hemisphere opposition.
The best player amongst Welsh rugby’s winners and losers in 2021, has to come from the women’s game, and has to be Jasmine Joyce. She’s in line for one of the first professional contracts being offered by the Welsh Rugby Union. The contracts will start on January the 1st, 2022. This will be a huge boost to the women’s game in Wales. There are twenty five deals being offered which will run for twelve months. Ten are full time, with a further fifteen being of a semi-professional nature. As well as the contracts, there will be match and training fees available.
Joyce’s performances in the Welsh shirt and for the Bristol Bears, have resulted in her being selected in a World Rugby 15’s dream team for 2021. The Sevens dream team is yet to be announced but Joyce has also excelled for Great Britain (who have paid her to play her rugby) as well as Wales. Although relatively diminutive in stature, Joyce has plenty of power as well as the pace that has got everybody talking.
In Jamie Roberts’ book ‘Centre Stage’ the ex-Wales and current Dragons player argues for scrapping the failed experiment that is the Welsh “regions”. During its twenty years of existence, there has been little silverware to show for it. Is it time to go back to our historic old clubs sides to re-invigorate Welsh rugby?
Also widely travelled and the holder of several degrees, Roberts argues for the scrapping of the divisive and disliked 60 cap rule. He suggests that it doesn’t do what it was prescribed to do. That is protect and enhance domestic Welsh rugby, which in turn assists the development of the international sides.
Players to get Welsh fans out of their seats
Two young players for Welsh fans to get excited about are Gloucester’s Louis Rees-Zammit and Exeter’s Christ Tshiunza. LRZ has just about cemented his place in the Wales first fifteen after a breakthrough Six Nations where he weighed in with some important scores. It got him on the plane to South Africa with the British & Irish Lions. Perhaps fans need not put too much expectation on his shoulders so early? In the Autumn Series, he again showed tremendous pace making it difficult for supporters not to get carried away.
Tshiunza made his senior international debut off the bench in the Autumn Nations Series. With Alun Wyn-Jones’ powers possibly on the wane, and with Father Time catching up on the captain. It’s good to see some long-term second row options emerge.
Losers in 2021?
It is nice not to have to be negative at all, especially after what everyone has been through because of a pandemic (and the reaction to it), and in an online age where it is easy to carp and criticise. Perhaps if we are going to go there at all, then something needs to change for the Welsh regions to improve.
There appear to be two options available. Stick with the regions as they are and back the Indigo Group Prem to the hilt. In this scenario, the level below (available to view on S4C clic) the big four regions improves and strengthens, which in turn could see an improvement at the top level. At the present time, no Welsh region has won the Champions Cup or Heineken Cup in its previous guise.
The other option would be to scrap the structure altogether and return to the clubs of old, as Roberts wrote in his book this year. Names to conjure up memories and emotions: Neath, Pontypridd, Llanelli, Pontypool, Cardiff etc. These names exist now but Welsh rugby has been tinkered with and pushed and pulled around.
The introduction of the regional structure had good intentions, and there is an argument that eventually it ushered in the success of the Welsh international sides of the noughties and teenies. However domestically it has been problematic in terms of identity and also performance/success. Ripping up the structure may be the more difficult of the two forks in the road. What’s not really up for argument is that the model isn’t working. Comparatively speaking Welsh regional rugby is weaker than other domestic set-ups.
Phoenix from the ashes
An honourable mention for Ryan Elias here, who had a bit of a torrid time against the All Blacks and Springboks in the Autumn Series opening fixtures. He didn’t let his head go down though, after some press and online criticism. Solid showings against Fiji and Australia, plus touching down for three scores will have done his confidence the world of good.
To sum up
There’s much to be excited about for 2022. Although there are issues with the regional game, Welsh rugby will always be a big draw and will always have a place in rugby fans’ hearts worldwide. Get behind the boys, girls, men and women playing the game at all levels!
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