Next week Wales will host the Barbarians at the Principality Stadium in an out-of-window uncapped game. At the same time the four Welsh regions will be contesting important Guinness Pro14 fixtures.
Trying to find solid rugby reasons for the international game is very difficult. Wayne Pivac will learn very little about his players in what will be effectively an exhibition game, and the Barbarians team isn’t particularly star studded as well as being tired from a trip to Brazil.
It is a chance for Pivac to spend a few days in camp with his new players, there’s no doubting that, but there’s also no doubting that they could have got together without playing a pointless fixture at the end of the week.
Two or three two-day camps between now and the Six Nations would have slightly disrupted regional training, but would have allowed players to be available for crucial Pro14 or European matches each weekend.
There is of course the fact that Warren Gatland will coach the Barbarians and it’s a chance to say goodbye to him as he leaves after 12 years. All well and good, but professional sport is not really the place for romantic sentiments.
Instead the reason for playing the game comes down to one thing. The same thing that Welsh professional rugby revolves around. Money.
A Six Nations home game is worth around £2m to the Welsh Rugby Union. The Barbarians won’t earn as much as that in revenue, but it’s a fair estimation to say it will at least be in the £500,000-£1m bracket.
That’s a significant amount of money, and an amount of money that is most welcome in the game at the moment. However, I take issue with those who justify the Barbarians game purely on this basis.
A conversation quite commonly seen on Twitter is one user stating ‘it’s a disgrace that Wales are playing on the same weekend as the Pro14’ with the response promptly coming back that ‘we need the money’. That response then kills the conversation.
What I would say is that the conversation should continue with ‘why do we choose this method to generate the money?’.
Why is it that as the Welsh Rugby Union tries desperately to drive private investment out of the game, takes money earned by the Pro14 and gives it to the community and women’s game, and squanders the rest on a hotel on Westgate Street, that we should accept being considerably weakened for a dead international game?
The regions are stuck in a vicious circle whereby we require more money to improve, the international game is used to generate more money, but then the WRU massively hinder the regional game in order to ensure the national team are as strong as they can be.
Add in the fact that we don’t even see as much of the money generated by the international game as we should do, and you start to understand the frustration of the regional game at the moment.
So next weekend Wales will face the Barbarians in a money making exercise without any noticeable rugby value, meanwhile the regions will attempt to overcome significantly stronger opposition in the Pro14.
Whether we see any of that money or not we will still be on the back foot in the league having likely suffered at least two losses, we’ll struggle to compete in knockout stages or play-offs as a result, require more money to get there and be hindered by more out of window test matches next November.
Don’t accept the answer ‘we need more money’ when talking about the Barbarians game this weekend, challenge why the Welsh Rugby Union are deliberately screwing the regions, as the sign the Ospreys supporter held up at Saracens this weekend so rightly said.