Now this blog isn’t some BNP party political broadcast, nor is it in any way related to Brexit, so don’t click off it if you’re expecting Cardiff Blues and rugby based content!
What this is, is a somewhat pre-emptive piece in preparation for some new signings that will be announced as joining us at the Arms Park next season, and with these announcements expected in the coming days, I thought I’d get my tuppence in first.
Now, when Cardiff Blues confirm that a number of players will be joining either the first team squad or the new U23 squad, the vast majority will of course be Welsh qualified. This is a recognition that we have a role more than just to ensure we are a successful rugby team, we are a part of the pathway to the Welsh national team.
Everyone involved in Welsh rugby is acutely aware that the four professional sides in Wales and Warren Gatland’s national team are almost entirely co-dependent on each other. Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets run regional development pathways to produce players, and hopefully those players are successful in helping Wales win test matches.
Those test matches then make money which is fed back into the professional game to keep us competitive in the league and Europe, and help us continue to produce the players required by the national team. It’s the circle of Welsh rugby life, as Elton John once almost sung.
However, each of the four teams are allowed to a certain quantity of foreign players in their squads every season, with the quota worked out by the Welsh Rugby Union supposedly on how many players you provide to the Wales squad, but really dependent on your need for a player in a certain position, and the Welsh players that could be available.
The reason for allowing non-Welsh qualified players in the squads is two-fold, as far as I can see.
Firstly, on a professional teams level the benefits they offer make using up the nWq quota a no brainer. Albeit with a few exceptions down the years, the foreign players have generally been of a good quality, are available more than those regularly involved with Team Wales squads, and can often be commercial successes with sponsors and supporters.
Looking at Cardiff Blues this season, the contributions from Nick Williams, Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo, amongst others, have been vital, while going back in time many people’s favourite players in recent years have been the likes of Xavier Rush, Paul Tito, Casey Laulala or the club legend that is Taufa’ao Filise.
Aside from that, the signing of Jonah Lomu was a huge success in terms of attracting crowds for the short time he was at the Arms Park, and the other clubs have similar stories with Jerry Collins and Justin Marshall at the Ospreys, and Percy Montgomery at the Dragons.
Secondly, the foreign players on the whole do an excellent job in bringing through the young Welsh players at each team in the time that they are there.
Again focusing on Cardiff Blues, you can see the influence of Ben Blair on Leigh Halfpenny, Paul Tito on Bradley Davies, Casey Laulala on Jamie Roberts, and in more recent times, Dillon Lewis and Kieron Assiratti will have learned plenty from Fa’ao Filise, James Botham from Nick Williams and Garyn Smith from Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo.
Both on-and-off the field these players are very impressive, and in the short times they are generally at the club they can leave a lasting impression in the young players, with the nWq quotas in place to ensure that no side is swamped with overseas players to restrict the playing time of the Welsh players.
Whenever one of the four teams signs an overseas player, as Cardiff Blues will announce we have done in the next few days and weeks, there will no doubt be people having a dig that these players for having a negative impact on the development of Welsh players. These people fail to say anything close to the bigger picture though.
Would Cardiff Blues sign a nWq player that would impact on their chances of providing players for Team Wales which plays such a big role in securing much needed income? Would the Welsh Rugby Union allow us to sign certain numbers of nWq players if it even came close to harming Team Wales chances? The answer to both is a resounding no.
Dillon Lewis will still get plenty of game time for Cardiff Blues this season, if adjudged to be in good form, Seb Davies will still get plenty of game time for Cardiff Blues this season, if adjudged to be in good form, Owen Lane will still get plenty of game time… you get where I’m going with this.
So as soon as you see someone moaning about foreign players killing the game in Wales, or Cardiff Blues putting their interests ahead of Welsh rugby, feel free to point them in the direction of this blog or, alternatively, the nearest wall to bang their head against.