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Welsh regions lagging behind

Fri, 13 Dec 2013 07:46
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The regions have told the WRU that they'd prefer to play in a new Anglo-Welsh league next season
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Wales have been the dominant nation in the northern hemisphere, but it is another matter when it comes to the Welsh regions in the European Cup.

Winning the 2013 Six Nations was Wales' fourth in eight years, the team also finished fourth in the 2011 World Cup and went on to provide the bulk of the British and Irish Lions squad for the winning tour of Australia last summer.

While Cardiff made the final of the very first European Cup, going down to Toulouse in 1996, Welsh regions have suffered since.

The Blues made the semifinal in 2009 and quarterfinals in 2012 and 2008, the latter the last season the Ospreys also progressed into the knock-out phases, while Scarlets made a semifinal in 2007. Newport-Gwent Dragons have never made it out of the pool phase and are currently competing in the second-tier Challenge Cup.

On the other hand, England (Leicester (2), Wasps (2), Bath, Northampton), France (Toulouse (4), Brive, Toulon) and Ireland (Leinster (3), Munster (2), Ulster) have provided six European Cup winners apiece.

This season promises to be no different, with just the six pool winners and two best runners-up guaranteed to get through to the knock-out phase.

Cardiff Blues, who travel to Glasgow on Friday, sit second in their pool, one point behind defending European champions Toulon.

Ospreys, who host French champions Castres, are already out of the hunt, with just one point from three straight defeats in a pool that also includes Leinster and English heavyweights Northampton.

Scarlets are also unlikely to make it out of their pool, with Clermont and Harlequins ahead of them, and big-spending Racing-Metro promising a revival.

"It is an exciting game and if we can win it will open things up and be great for our campaign," Blues scrumhalf Lloyd Williams said of the game against Glasgow, whom they beat 29-20 at home last weekend.

"We can take confidence from last week. They came at us all guns blazing and the fact we won gives us confidence we can do a job up north."

Ospreys coaches admitted they were left "gutted" after being cut adrift 12 points behind Pool One leaders Leinster following their 15-9 loss to Castres last week.

"We want to give it a real crack on Friday night," said forwards coach Chris Gibbes.

"We want to be competitive. We believe we are good enough to win that game."

Scarlets coach Simon Easterby, the former Ireland flank, said the goal for his team in Llanelli on Saturday was simple: a victory.

"We've got to win. It's as simple as that," Easterby said, conceding of Clermont: "They're a fantastic force when they get the momentum.

"We were competing against a side who have far bigger budgets than we have for 45-50 minutes, then they upped the tempo a little bit and we couldn't hang on to them."

The backdrop to this season's travails is the war being waged between the four regions and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) over their respective futures amid the proposed break-up of the current European Cup structure.

All parties met up on Wednesday but talks on funding, the exodus of Welsh players and an Anglo-Welsh league ended with no deal being agreed - but further talks planned.

The regions have told the WRU that they'd prefer to play in a new Anglo-Welsh league next season rather than be forced by the WRU to compete in a re-jigged European Cup, saying they could even take legal action to push their desire through.

"At this key moment for rugby in Wales the WRU continues to work hard in the best interests of Welsh rugby as a whole," the WRU said after the talks.

"It would be unfair on the fans, the players and all of Welsh rugby to make any further speculative comment at this time."

But the WRU added it was hopeful that the regions would continue with the two-party "Participation Agreement" by the December 31 deadline. Missing that would mean losing funding of up to £16.5m a year, and the regions likely pursuing legal avenues.

AFP

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