Welsh rugby unease – Is the party well and truly over?

Welsh Rugby Unease: Wales' Head Coach Wayne Pivac on March 19, 2022
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Have you ever woken up after a big party wishing you hadn’t drunk so much? You wander bleary-eyed down the stairs. There’s a stale smell of smoke emanating from the cigarette butts in a discarded tumbler on the coffee table.

To compound that, the aroma of smoke is intermingling with that of sweat. You have a terrible headache and you spot your mate crashed out on the couch. It’s nearly midday and you’ve got to go to work in a couple of hours. What do you do, and by the same token, now the party is over, what do the WRU do to alleviate Welsh rugby unease?

Open the curtains – Welsh rugby unease

Well, you open the curtains for a start. Let some light in, even if it’s cloudy outside. You open a window so that the air in the room clears. Let’s dispense with this analogy and get to the point. Welsh rugby needs to do open their curtains, as well as a window. Some liver salts for the hangover might be a good idea as well.

Italy came to Cardiff and played the role of party-poopers to a tee. Alun Wyn-Jones and Dan Biggar’s milestone celebrations were somewhat tarnished and will be remembered for Italy’s deserved victory.

It nearly evaded the Italian team’s grasp after Josh Adams took advantage of some mismatches in the Italian defensive line, late in the game. However, the Azzurri wrestled the lead back following an exceptional counter-attacking try in the last seconds, begun by the Italian full-back Ange Capuozzo and finished by Edoardo Padovani.

Sack Pivac pre-World Cup?

Chronologically speaking the party being over for Wales can be dated back to 2019. This coincided with the departure of Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley’s parting of ways after news broke of him breaking gambling rules.

The WRU may have thought that appointing Wayne Pivac (seen in the main photo above) would see a repeat of their successful trick of appointing a New Zealander. Thus far this has not been the case. Will the WRU sack Pivac pre-World Cup? For them to do so they will have to pay him off as he is still under contract.

To re-visit the earlier analogy, can Pivac be blamed for the wine stains on the carpet, or that your drinks cabinet is down to a nearly empty bottle of Drambuie and nothing else? Not completely, is the answer.

He’s partly culpable due to inconsistency of selection, lack of game plan and folly (disrespect?) in treating the final game against Italy as AWJ’s testimonial, as well as a friendly in which he could experiment with his first fifteen. Click this link for Thomas Booth’s take on the hubris of some of the decisions made prior to the Italy game.

First of all, we have a top-heavy structure in Wales. The national side has succeeded as the regions have faltered. This must change. Even if it means Wales goes through some lean years. Pivac could still lead Wales to a successful World Cup. Whatever the case, the focus must shift to domestic rugby and away from the international arena.

It may upset a few people but that can be a sign of positive, rather than negative developments. A structure without solid foundations is not a sustainable structure long term.

Closed shop?

Secondly, Welsh rugby needs to stop being a closed shop, at all levels. There are no doubt many positive things happening at the community/grassroots level. Still, clubs, regions, boards etc need to be more welcoming to outsiders, alternative thinkers and people of diverse backgrounds.

The maintenance of the Welsh identity needs to be nurtured and protected whilst remembering to embrace newcomers. A difficult, but not impossible balance to achieve.

Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones

When thinking about some of these issues, Neil Jenkins, the Welsh kicking coach came to mind. It pains me to say this and @LWOSRugby isn’t in the habit of singling individuals within the rugby family out for criticism, but consider the following. Jenkins has been a coach within the Welsh camp since 2004!

Continuity can be a plus but sometimes you have to open that metaphorical window after the party is over. Is his longevity within the set-up one of the (albeit minor) symptoms of a closed-shop malaise in Welsh rugby?

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Jenkins was best known for his kicking. He was a member of Welsh sides who themselves had more low periods than up ones. He was memorably a member of the 1997 Lions-winning side to South Africa.

As a result of his kicking prowess and his closeness to the Welsh national side’s inner circle; is his influence too strong on the Welsh backs? How about Jenkins offering kicking support to Wales on a more one-to-one, part-time basis apart from the national team get-togethers?

Stephen Jones is also being scrutinized at the moment due to Wales’ disorganized and malfunctioning attack. Does Jones need more chances, assistance from someone outside, or should Wales look elsewhere and let Jones develop his craft elsewhere?

In Jenkins’s case, why not change tack and share your knowledge with an up-and-coming developmental domestic or international side? Just to show that we’re not critics without heart. Watch below how Jenkins played a starring role in a Welsh victory over France in Paris, in 2001.

Welsh rugby unease

None of this self-examination and pressing need to change is easy. The loss to Italy is disappointing but not catastrophic. Key to all this is the rejuvenation of the Welsh regions as well as the support and nurture of schools and college rugby.

A lot is also currently being heard about the need for separation between the professional and amateur game, in terms of governance in Wales. This issue relates to the point made earlier in this article about openness. Decision-makers and people who hold the purse strings at all levels of Welsh rugby need to be open to fresh ideas and new faces. They also need to be creative and versatile regarding those purse strings.

Now is not the time for the movers and shakers to close ranks and protect their own patch. Let’s cherish our shared Welsh identity whilst changing and adapting for the better at the same time.

 

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