Ever since the game in Wales went professional it has been stricken by amateur decision making that is slowly but surely killing rugby union in the country at all levels.
The latest in that long line of amateur decisions will see the the Indigo Group Premiership go up to 14 teams for the 2023/24 season, as well as the Championship split into two divisions of 12 teams based on geography.
Now the background to this sees the Premiership moved out of the control of the professional game and under the Community Game Board a few years ago when Premiership Select XVs and then regional A teams started competing in the British & Irish Cup and the Celtic Cup, so this specific decision doesn’t directly reflect the issues with the amateur game majority on the overarching WRU Board.
However, the Union’s amateur governance and subsequent reluctance/refusal to properly invest in the professional game to ensure the continued high level of the national side and secure the funding stream for the community game through that, means that the A teams in the Celtic Cup never stood a chance of being successful.
The idea was a good one; to have a professional level of the pathway installed between the regional and national age grade setups for players in the 18-23 age bracket to compete against each other in Wales and against counterparts from Ireland initially, that no doubt would have grown to at least South Africa and possibly Scotland by now.
With the WRU not investing in that though, the A team setups disappeared during covid and show no signs of returning. Instead focus has returned back to the Premiership as a development tool, only for the Community Game Board’s decision to have a directly negative impact on the league’s role in the pathway.
Put simply, expanding the league leads to a dilution of talent so the quality of the opposition and of the games decrease leading to players developing slower and the gap between the Premiership and the United Rugby Championship growing wider.
That is the reason that Nigel Walker as Performance Director and John Alder as Head of Player Development made the case for an 8-10 team league from the 23/24 season in order to concentrate the talent and make development the Premiership’s main focus.
Instead the Community Game Board has chosen to ignore that pitch and press ahead with the expansion plan that will see the quality of the league, and the Championship which Cardiff used as a development tool during the course of last season, decrease and eventually impact the standard of players coming through the pathway and into the national team.
When Team Wales performances and results get worse then so do revenues coming into the game, as we are already seeing, and eventually that will come back to the funding the community game gets and cause the grassroots of the sport real problems.
Perhaps that’s the crux that many are missing. That the “I’m alright jack” attitude suits them in the short term but they can’t, or won’t, see the medium-to-long term where the community game having a negative impact on the professional game comes back to bite the community game on it’s arse. It’s not a community v professional game battle, it’s getting the whole game working together to drive revenues up for all.
Until that is realised then I fear for the future.