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Dave Snowden; Life, work, rugby (June 2014)

(June 03, 2014)

Dave Snowden; Life, work, rugby

Probables v Possibles, Liberty Stadium, 2014Probables v Possibles, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, 30 May 2014

The season ended for me at the Liberty Stadium Friday, 30 May, for what became the story of the two Matthews. The return of Matthew Rees to something approaching full form, after treatment for prostate cancer, was inspiring and his selection of the tour of South Africa a due reward. The other and more romantic story was Matthew Morgan’s devastating cameo appearance in the final twenty minutes, in a performance reminiscent of Shane Williams, Phil Bennet and any number of Welsh backs over the years, who have used agility rather than brute strength to weave their magic - literally and figuratively - on the field. What was even more remarkable was the response of the Welsh management in picking him for the tour. That may indicate, at last, some willingness to have different styles of play. In a tight match, with play breaking up in the last twenty minutes on the hard pitches of South Africa, that decision could prove inspired.

Otherwise, the trial was a good evening out and well attended. The fact that no Welsh side had reached the Pro12 final, or even the playoffs, provided a gap and the stadium was more or less full. The game was predictable, in that the Probables had played together for the six nations and, not insignificantly, in part for the Lions, so we had an established first-choice team against an ad hoc assembly of hopefuls. The refusal of the English to allow Henson and other English-based players was a disappointment, but that would not have stemmed the one-way flow of tries in the first half. And for that relief, much thanks. The last time I was at a trial, in the old St Helen’s ground, the paucity of the main team was all too evident. The crowd got behind the Possibles, who responded with a delight of running and passing rugby but, with one exception, the defensive line held firm.

So a good end to an otherwise very mixed year. The fatigue in the players post-Lions was evident in the Irish and English matches. Normally, France benefit post-tour, but this time the dominance of the Welsh in Australia, made the elusive third championship in a row all too difficult to achieve. Mind you, a slightly tighter defence in the first ten minutes at Twickenham, and we might be telling a different story. So overall, I remain optimistic for next season and the world cup, at international level. I also feel we have a strong chance against South Africa in Durban, but altitude makes the second test more problematic. I may even make it out there (depending on one possible client project coming though in time). Some truly great new players are coming through, and I suspect Cory Allen may well displace Jamie Roberts by the time we get to the World Cup, if not before. He has most of the strength, but greater guile and flexibility.

Blues v Munster, Cardiff Arms Park
Blues v Munster, Cardiff Arms Park

On the club side, the story remains one of conflict and, for a Cardiff Blues supporter, a story of feast and famine. We had the glory of an unexpected victory against Toulon, coupled with the ignominy of a double defeat at the hands of Exeter, when little was really needed to make the Amlin quarter finals. At the end of the season, the Blues suddenly went on a winning run that took them to 7th in the league. Next season, that would have put them in with a shout of making the Heineken Cup - but not this year - and the Amlin Cup with a new coach (thank God, one with a track record) is probably a better starting point. I renewed my season ticket on the final deadline, to retain my seats. I would have done that anyway, but it was good to do it in hope of better times to come. For an Ospreys fan, it must be frustrating - always a bridesmaid never a bride. Never hopeless, but lacking any brilliance. Llanelli made it, just. But a more consistent performance from the Blues would have seen them in the second tier, and the Dragons' status as a development side was confirmed after the failure of early season promise to sustain itself.

Overall its not a year that will be remembered in the annals of Welsh Rugby for play and performance, but for politics. Well, that is a different matter all together. The English saved the day for European Rugby (according to the Daily Telegraph, that is). The narrative of the English Press being that the Welsh Clubs, having seen the success of their more capitalist and independent English compatriots, stood up against the tyrannical state socialism of the WRU. The dominance of a neo-liberal at Westminster is bad enough, but now it seems that the Randification* of rugby is the next step. I’m also sorry but I cannot take Moffat seriously or trust him. He ran Welsh Rugby for long enough and messed up professionalisation and regionalisation. Now he seems to be taking a populist stance - the UKIP of Rugby - in order to gain power, regardless of consequence. The baying pack of anti-Roger bloggers is creating a level of polarisation that seems intent on a zero-sum game, which is the last thing Welsh Rugby needs at the moment. Yes, I know they are well intentioned. Yes, I know the frustration of the grass roots and its legitimacy, but this is not the way to go forward.

 

Blues v Munster - attack Blues v Munster - try Blues v Munster - score

Personally, and with great personal distress, I think the solution is true regionalisation. New Zealand does this well, and because the second tier is not conflated with the first tier, both levels thrive. Maybe the time has come to cut the umbilical and have North, East, West and Valleys sides, each of which have thriving local rivalries playing on different time periods. Cardiff and Newport would be stronger club sides with them in turn combined at regional level. Imagine the Osprey’s pack with Llanelli's backs at a dedicated Rugby Ground not a half empty soccer pitch. Why, oh why, should north Wales not have its own team? The support given to the under 20s in Colwyn Bay is testimony to their interest. Neath, Ponty et. all are Valleys clubs with Valley’s loyalties and deserve top tier status. It is time to be radical and just as the ossification of the WRU is to be opposed, so is placing all the power into the hands of a limited number of wealthy club owners. Play at the club level would be freer and more intense and if it was the only rugby, either before or after the Pro-12 season, it would be well attended and supported.

Now in honesty, as a long term Cardiff supporter, from a family of Cardiff supporters, I find it very difficult to live with what I have said above. I may even recant and apologise of such appalling heresy within days of publication [too late. Ed]. But aping the English or French Club scenes will not work in Wales, we have a different culture and a different average income level. The Irish were lucky, they could build on an established set of provincial and club loyalties. The Scots are a mess; focused on the two cities at the expense of the rugby heartland of the Borders. Treated by the inhabitants of the Central Belt rather like the south Wales coastal towns treat the Valleys and the north. On the basis of this last year, Scotland may not have long at the top table in European Rugby. If the French attempt to manage European Rugby as a whole, (something which I think is highly commendable) comes off, promotion and relegation are inevitable. Yes, a tradition may be lost. But we may otherwise end up as a 7s sport, with the 15 a side game a nostalgic reminder of the past. Think what has happened to the five day game in cricket, if you want an example of what can happen. The Olympics may be the making of 7s as a new, dominant sport.

So, as the times are anew, so we must think and act anew, to paraphrase Lincoln at the end of the American Civil War. Our issue in Wales is that we are still in the killing fields of Gettysburg and there is, as yet, no end in sight. The light at the end of the tunnel is the oncoming train, driven by the club owners, and in our rear we have the light from another locomotive in the hands of Roger et al. The ordinary Welsh supporter is likely to be crushed between the two.

Dave Snowden, 3 June 2014
Founder & Chief Scientific Officer
Cognitive Edge Pte Ltd

* Follower of American libertarian polemicist, Ayn Rand

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy these by Dave Snowden:
     Life, work, rugby; March 2014

     Life, work, rugby; June 2013

     Life, work, rugby; March 2013

     Life, work, rugby; December 2012

     Life, work, rugby; September 2012
    
Life, work, rugby; December 2011
     Life, work, rugby; September 2011
     Life, work, rugby; June 2011
     A sense of belonging: Wales and rugby; August 2010
     Dave Snowden's blog at Cognitive Edge

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