With 2017 looming and the first game of the year being a trip to Llanelli, it conjures up memories of the first game between the sides this season and, for Cardiff, the mysterious case of the seven missing Welshmen.
Now of course Llanelli were also missing players of their own, but as this isn’t a Scarlets blog and the series is called the ’12 Days of Cardiffmas’, quite frankly I don’t care about the Turks, with the greatest possible respect of course!
The background of the story actually stretches back to August 2014 when, after many months of protracted negotiations amidst the attempts of Roger Lewis to ruin the professional game in Wales, the Rugby Services Agreement was signed between Pro Rugby Wales and the Welsh Rugby Union.
As part of that contract there was a clause in place that says the Team Wales setup would be permitted access to their players in the 13 days before an international fixture, and this is where the stumbling block was reached in October.
The final weekend of the month saw the Welsh derby showdowns of Newport visiting the Ospreys and Llanelli arriving at the Arms Park. Unfortunately, the very next weekend would see Team Wales kick off their Autumn International campaign outside of the World Rugby recognised window, and inside the 13-day period specified above.
This meant there was a clash between the derbies and when the Welsh international players would be ordinarily available, leaving the ability of the best players to play in the hands of the WRU.
The blame for this fixture mess-up was hotly contested, but it appears the end result was that nobody picked it up and therefore all of the Pro12, WRU and PRW can take some share of the responsibility for the situation that arose.
Who was at fault is a sideshow though, to the actual issue. The Welsh derbies are the biggest games of the season for the four sides, with bumper crowds, well publicised television coverage and big build ups on other media platforms giving them a real Cup final feel in a way, and as supporters they are definitely the games we look forward to the most.
Therefore, when the list of players being released by Team Wales to Cardiff for the visit of Llanelli contained just Rhys Gill and Lloyd Williams, it was a real kick in the teeth. It meant that Gethin Jenkins, Kristian Dacey, Scott Andrews, Sam Warburton, Gareth Anscombe and Alex Cuthbert were all being retained and forced to sit in the stands for the derby.
Now that instantly devalues the game, can impact on the attendance and reduce the quality of the play long before kick-off for no fault of the two teams involved. That’s all before the real big problem though, the Ellis Jenkins debacle.
Ellis wasn’t even in the squad, he was solely retained for injury cover, and as it turns out didn’t even feature for Wales at all in November! As a result, due to an injury to Josh Navidi, Cardiff had no recognised blindside flankers in the squad which was a problem for the 80 minutes of the match with no real competition being offered at the breakdown.
The game itself was actually an exciting affair, but we missed all our internationals badly, and the whole event stank of an injustice which still rankles to be honest. Yes the international game is the top of the development pathway, but that should not be at the deliberate detriment to the professional club game. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, you might say.
Not a great point to end club/country relations in Wales for 2016, let’s hope for better in 2017!
On the seventh day of Christmas, Danny Wilson gave to me, seven missing Welshmen, six Pro12 debuts, five away league wiiins, four derby wins, three derby losses, two Royal Kings and a flying Blaine Scullyyy…