Well, what a let down Friday was for a Welsh rugby fan! The awful decision to hold the game on a Friday night was just the start of it. And we already know it won’t be for the final time, with a Friday night fixture already announced for the next two championships, presumably at the behest of the broadcasters with the usual scant regard for what the paying supporters actually would prefer.
And what on earth was the “light show” before the match all about? Added to the now obligatory fireworks and the comfortable salary afforded to the CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union, anyone would think Welsh rugby has more money than it knows what to do with but of course that simply isn’t the case! Grassroots clubs must be livid when they see their own money literally being burned in front of their eyes, a lavish spectacle lasting a couple of minutes preferred to the investment in club rugby and nurturing young talent and the future generation of Welsh players. And they would rightly be annoyed when they consider what the CEO takes home for organising discos such as this one.
What is wrong with the band and choral hymns of old? If that isn’t enough of a spectacle, well what about asking youngsters to perform some traditional Welsh dances? Or getting the Under 20’s or Ladies teams to play a curtain raiser on a newly laid part-artificial turf that should easily now stand up to two games in one day? What we were left with was more pop concert than sport and meant a complete lack of respect for the anthems as large electrical units were wheeled from the pitch during their singing so as not to delay the kick off. One can only imagine what was spent on this spectacle all together.
As for the game itself, the result was certainly not what was expected from a solid and settled Welsh side, at home. For all the horseplay about the roof, England left with no reason to accede to Welsh requests to close it ever again. After a good start, Welsh fragilities began to show. A complete lack of creativity behind the scrum was exposed as Wales failed to unlock the English defence. In fact, it is difficult to remember Wales’ last clean line break and score full stop. England on the other hand settled down and destabilised the opposition with fast footed players. Ford, Joseph, Watson and Brown regularly stepped and jinked past first tackles and attacked weak shoulders.
Again Wales seemed to have no plan “B”. The most creative player in their squad, Liam Williams, was left kicking his heels on the bench having looked hungry for the 8 minutes in which he replaced George North. He, and Justin Tipuric, had the ability to at least change the style of the home team’s play but were not required on the day, even as Wales sought a way back in the second half.
Recent matches have demonstrated the big differences in the development structure of the two countries. England are bringing their Under 20’s stars through the ranks, playing them in their “A” side and affording them a step up from Premiership rugby. When they perform well, like Henry Slade, they are then added to the senior squad. England seem to value their own young and creative talent whereas in Wales we are currently confining them to bit part roles. Creative players in Wales are presently far less popular than larger physical specimens. What has happened to Welsh flair and creativity? Since the retirement of Shane Williams the team has lacked an X Factor player and is in desperate need of at least two in the backline.
Indeed what a farce last Friday turned out to be for a Welshman! The WRU though, was as proficient as always in creating a spectacle using smoke and shadows, as it did on the night. Hopefully though it was the grassroots clubs who truly saw the light and will begin to force for the changes in regime that are desperately needed in order to save our national sport.