Principality Premiership finds its role in Welsh rugby

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Principality Premiership finds its role in Welsh rugby
CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 17: A Wales fan waves his flag as Wales win the Grand Slam after the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and France at the Millennium stadium on March 17, 2012 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

After several years of turmoil and change the Principality Premiership finds its role in Welsh rugby going forward. Crucially, giving the league consistency will aid in its development and help it in its bid to attain WRU aims.

Principality Premiership messed around with for far too long

The league has been messed around with for several seasons now. The Principality Premiership has had everything from Six point tries, the loss of the British and Irish Cup, East and West conferences, an increase from 12 teams to 16 – and now back to 12 – the playoffs being dropped, and of course ring-fencing.

All of this has taken place in the Principality Premiership over the last five or so years.

A league that’s come under heavy scrutiny for its lack of a role in player development, but a league that is expected to do this whilst having its structure messed about with. The WRU have seemed to finally see sense, in making it a straight ‘home and away league’. Planned on being 12 teams from next season onwards, and open to relegation-promotion.

TV a huge addition to the league

S4C have supplied some coverage of the Premiership for numerous years now, but due to the BBC losing their right to air the Guinness Pro14, they chose to televise the top club level. The weekly coverage has been a fantastic addition to the league, bringing it into the light of many rugby fans who may not be aware of the product, or what it’s about.

Phil Steele as a presenter has brought a passionate and knowledgeable aspect to the game alongside the team of former players and helps give the league the respect it deserves.

The coverage has allowed the clubs to earn more from sponsorship income, but when the next TV deal is struck the clubs really should get some cash from it. Given this deal was dealt several years ago it would be unfair to say they needed to input cash this season but going forward it’s certainly something that should be considered.

This will not only allow the clubs to see some backfill on the money lost from WRU funding cuts which will be taking place over the next few seasons, but it’ll reward them for their services.

There has been an issue around some scheduling with the recent RGC vs. Pontypridd game called off due to the Friday kick-off being an unfriendly time for the working staff at Pontypridd.

Super Six showdown seems unlikely to happen

Last Word On Rugby understands that talks are still ongoing regarding the Super Six Scottish teams playing against the top six Principality Premiership teams but, looking at it based on a Welsh view alone, it seems logistically impossible.

This would be played in a cross-country border competition similar to the BIC of a few years ago, but with fewer nations. Firstly, with the funding cuts taking place at the Premiership level, it doesn’t seem costly for clubs to travel to Scotland several times a season when some already have trouble paying bills; etc.

Clubs would also need a larger squad to compete with the Scottish teams which again increases financial strains on the sides.

Looking at the competition from a purely financial aspect, it’s hard to see how clubs can properly compete unless they have a significant backer behind them.

(Look forward to more reporting on this subject, from Robert Rees).

Scrapping ring-fencing makes the league credible

The initial stage of resetting the structure was always going to be re-opening the league. Dropping four teams (Possibly five if the Championship winner wins the playoff game) seems harsh, but in reality, it was needed as a 16 team was no overly competitive as the player pool expanded and thinned out. 12 is the right number to go forward with and a simple up and down for the bottom team will make it sustainable.

It has taken away any hint of sides taking it easy as they’ve all had to fight to avoid the drop zone so not only do you have the title race going on, but the bottom half of the table is also battling for something meaningful.

It’s allowed the top of the Championship to become more competitive, with Pontypool leading the charge of several teams looking at promotion. This will only expand as they gain four more teams at the end of this season.

More positive points are:

  • Having a more competitive and meaningful structure is key to making fixtures intensity and physicality better which in turn will only help with player development
  • It also helps develop better coaches and officials who have to play a major role in the system.

While there are positives to be found, some negatives are obvious to Welsh rugby supporters.

Premiership Operating Costs need to lower

The major issue surrounding the Principality Premiership since it’s turn to semi-professionalism has been funding for clubs. Not just the WRU funding, but private backing as well. Teams often struggle to make ends meet, with low crowds across the board [bar from a few teams]. Benefactors are hard to come by and only a handful of clubs have some who are willing to ply a serious handful into that club.

Paying players is something that doesn’t really need to happen but does and that’s affected the entire system. If the Premiership is to pay their staff, then it would surely be wise to pursue a salary cap of sorts. Players transferring to teams within the Premiership for large five figure sums are sadly not all that uncommon. Set a salary cap that is a sustainable amount, and more clubs will be able to survive.

Examples of other difficulties by clubs include;

  • Neath have found trouble under former owner Mike Cuddy, but will look to survive and regrow in the Championship now that survival looks nigh on impossible for them.
  • Merthyr’s backer Stan Thomas has plied a heavy amount into his hometown club – and why shouldn’t he – developing excellent facilities at the Wern Sportsground.

There have also been reports of several other sides struggling to fund their season, but none yet have fallen into the shadowy depths that have forsaken Neath. With WRU funding set to drop from £90,000 to £50,000 from 2019 it’s easily foreseeable that if clubs pay at the current rates, then several more could well enter administration.

Clubs need to work together to sort this out and bring together a sustainable strategy going forward.

Premierships ‘developmental role’ needs improvement

The funding cuts to the Principality Premiership are set to help fund the U23 sides which may well end up fitting in with regional A sides. A great possibility to get them going with the Irish A teams and Scottish Super Six as part of a new BIC competition (Just without the English teams).

The funding was cut partly due to the WRU looking at the league as not fit for purpose when it came to preparing players for professional rugby. The debate on how true this has been long and arduous but it’s true that the gap is far too wide to be reasonable.

You can see a true professional talent a mile out at this level. The physicality isn’t close and why would it be when your players have only trained twice a week and come straight from work.

The topic rose its head most recently when Wayne Pivac moved Ken Owens to number eight. Talk of who could have stepped up from one of the feeder clubs began, but no names were put forward.

Llandovery back-rower Richard Brooks explained his views on social media recently;

Now, whilst the forward physicality has been respected by some academy players who have spoken about their experience it really is only the front row who have seen true development against hardened players.

Premiership finds its role in Welsh rugby

Being able to drop players into club sides from the regions is useful, as its regular and competitive rugby and with the changes discussed above it could easily get better. Increasing the platform for these players is crucial, but the clubs must also find their place as the focal point for the community they lie within.

Giving the competition the consistency it deserves, and it certainly requires, will do this and is something the WRU have finally seemed to get right. Not perfect, but the Principality Premiership is looking to find its role in Welsh rugby.

 

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