The WRU argues that we need regional rugby in Wales to produce elite teams that shine both as clubs in international tournaments like the Heineken Cup, as well as when the players play for their international sides, such as Wales. I am willing to accept the premise that few teams with more permanent elite players will increase standards in rugby, as we have seen happen with Wales’ successes in the last few years with the international players from the regions getting better and better.
There is one thing about the current set-up though, as I said in the case of Bishop v Powell (2006) regional rugby is killing Valleys rugby – This is something Mike Powell and I agreed on. I do however have a solution for this travesty which is keeping the club I support, Pontypridd RFC, out of top flight European rugby where they deserve to be.
The current regional sides could exist as separate legal entities with permanent ‘elite’ players and no affiliation to existing clubs, which are then ‘captained’ by the best Premiership club whose existing players would join forces with the elite players. The team that captains the region would be determined by a play-off between the incumbent team captaining the region, and top performing Premiership side for that region from that previous year. So for instance, this year would have had the regions captained as follows:
‘Blues Region’ – Pontypridd RFC
‘Scarletts Region’ – Llanelli RFC
‘Dragons Region’ – Cross Keys RFC
‘Ospreys Region’ – Neath RFC
We could even have a fifth region which would be the top performing team from outside of the Premiership, such as London Welsh, or the team formerly known as UWIC.
By playing alongside the elite players, who probably also play for Wales as internationals, will increase the standards of Premiership side players, on the same basis that the regions on their own have increased the standards of rugby in Wales.