Paul Williams (Pontytpridd Programme Notes)
Posted by Paul Williams on 14/04/2018
So, what can one say as we approach the final weeks of yet another Principality Premiership with a cloud of uncertainty once again hanging over the future of club rugby in Wales? If what has emerged in the press is to believed, those of us (and I am sure there are many) who completed the WRU’s survey some time ago overwhelmingly expressed the opinion that we were fed up with stop-start fixture lists and wanted to be able to support our beloved clubs regularly on Saturday afternoons, just like it used to be in the good old days.
So, in response to this, it seems that our collective wishes are to be granted via a reduction back to twelve clubs the season after next, after apparently giving us what we’ve wanted all along (sixteen teams, playing each other home and away, with whoever finishes top of the table being proclaimed champions – what a novel concept) for just one season.
Forgive me for sounding a little sceptical, but does this not sound somewhat counter-productive? Just a couple of years ago it was made clear that a programme of eleven home league matches in a season was not a financially viable model. The response to that was to increase the Premiership to sixteen clubs (hooray, we all thought) but then come up with a bizarre mid-season split that still yielded only eleven home league matches (what was the point of that?, we all thought).
Personally, I await with interest to see how it’s going to pan out, and also to hear what plans will be drawn up to generate interest in supporting the proposed Regional Under-23 teams, not to mention who they’re going to be playing against. If the idea is that the inevitable gaps in the Principality Premiership programme will be filled by U23 fixtures, I rather suspect that to be a somewhat forlorn hope – I imagine those who choose to stay away in their droves from senior Regional matches aren’t likely to be enthusiastic supporters of their Regions’ teams of young rising stars.
Still, what do I know? I’m just someone who’s supported his club through good times and bad for more than half a century, with an emotional attachment to his club of a kind that cannot just be switched to another entity because the WRU says it should be.
I should, I am told, be looking at the bigger picture… this is all about what’s best for the development of Welsh rugby on the international stage, apparently. However, from my own viewpoint, the international stage doesn’t sit at the core of my leisure time and my social life (in fact, along with many others, I am in the habit of viewing the international stage from the comfort of a seat in the Aberavon clubhouse, thus supporting my beloved club even while watching Wales play). Club rugby, not just at Premiership level, has been at the centre of community life in Wales for approaching a century and a half, and it seems to be heading for a slow, lingering death.
This is, of course, just the opinion of a single volunteer who cares deeply about the welfare of his club, and should be read as such, rather than viewed as an official statement from the club. I am sure, however, there will be others such as me scattered throughout the loyal masses of club supporters throughout the land, who feel the same.
But onwards to this afternoon, and the visit of Pontypridd. Last season’s corresponding fixture (I use the word ‘corresponding’ in its loosest sense, as very little about the structure of last season corresponded with anything before or since) produced a cracker of a match, although our visitors will understandably view it with less pleasure than will those of us who were thrilled to see the Wizards produce one of their best performances of the season that day. I would just say, having seen the opposite happen on countless occasions, that I know how they feel.
Enjoy the game.