After years in the doldrums, regional rugby is on the up in Wales and there are several reasons to give cause for optimism that this growth shall continue.
The Success of Judgement Day-
The record breaking success of ‘Judgement Day’: Welsh rugby’s yearly double-header between its four regions, once again showed that if packaged properly welsh fans will turn out. 68,262 fans turned out at the Principality stadium to watch the Ospreys beat Cardiff Blues 40-27 and the Scarlets triumph 34-20 over the Dragons with fourteen tries served up in total.
— ProRugbyWales (@prorugbywales) April 30, 2016
The crowd number overtook the previous record of 52,762 from last year’s event and more than trebled the 30,000 who showed up for the 2014 edition. It broke the Pro12 attendance record as well as the record for the highest crowd attendance involving a welsh region, overtaking the 65,756 who witnessed the Ospreys beat Leicester at Twickenham in the 2008 EDF Energy Cup final.
Yes tickets were only ten pounds but the event managed to pull in people who wouldn’t normally attend regional games and gave them a decent show. The hope now is that these people will become regulars at their regions’ grounds.
Increased derby crowds-
Increased attendances in derby matches this season has also been another shot in the arm for regional rugby in the principality. High quality and high intensity games between the regions have made for fine spectacles for rugby fans with good quality rugby and strong competitiveness on show.
National Dual contracts-
The advent of National Dual contracts for Wales’ established and most talented young stars is another important factor in the improving fortunes of Welsh regional rugby. The contracts which are 60% funded by the WRU and 40% by the region are allowing Wales to keep many of its best players.
Since their inception in 2014, a mix of established stars and talented young players have signed them including the likes of Wales skipper Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues) and Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues); while eight Ospreys have signed on the dotted line in: Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Scott Baldwin, James King, Dan Baker and youngster Rory Thronton.
Five Scarlets have penned deals: Scott Williams, Samson Lee, the returning Jonathan Davies, Jake Ball and the Ospreys bound Rhodri Jones while youngsters Hallam Morgan and Tyler Morgan are the two Newport Gwent Dragons contracted.
Keeping the best talent in Wales will only strengthen the regional game and although there have been failures; apart from Toby Faletau’s decision to not sign an NDC and move to Bath, NDC’s are generally working. The only current members of the Welsh squad plying their trade outside Wales are: George North (Northampton), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Luke Charteris (Racing 92), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Rhys Priestland (Bath) and Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne). Although as written above, former Scarlet skipper Davies will be returning to Parc y Scarlets for next season.
The success of the academies-
The rich amount of talent coming through the regions’ academies is another cause for optimism. For the Scarlets, the likes of winger Steffan Hughes, and Wales U20 stars Tomas Francis and Daniel Jones have impressed this season. While at the Blues 20 year-old prop Dillon Lewis has been making waves, turning out 13 times this season having made his pro debut.
Fellow prop Corey Domachowski made his ‘Pro-bow’ this season in the Guinness Pro12, coming off the bench against reigning champions Glasgow Warriors while fly-half Jarrod Evans has looked the business in his 16 appearances for Danny Wilson’s team.
At the Liberty Stadium, 19 year-old Wales U20 centre Owen Watkin has been earning rave reviews in his eleven Pro12 appearances for the Ospreys; watch the link below of a superb team try excellently finished by Watkin for the Wales U20 side in this season’s underage 6 Nations.
Fellow Wales U20 Grand Slam winner Adam Beard has also been impressing while filling in for the injured Alun Wyn Jones, while academy graduate Sam Davies continues to go from strength to strength at 10 after another excellent season.
Dragons 20 year-old Tyler Morgan is displaying plenty of potential of developing into a player of considerate talent, having played for Wales in their World Cup Quarter final against South Africa, Morgan made a positive impression before being forced off with a dislocated shoulder. Having missed most of the season through injury, the centre has impressed on his return.
No8 Harrison Keddie, one of Wales U20’s standout performers in their Grand Slam campaign, is learning his trade at Ebbw Vale and will surely make his regional bow next season. Flying 21 year-old winger Ashton Hewitt is another promising academy product who has enjoyed a fine season, touching down seven times this season before a shoulder injury interrupted his season.
While there is still much to be done in order for Welsh club rugby to improve, if these current positive trends can be sustained then there is much to be optimistic about for Welsh fans moving forward.
Regional rugby in Wales is on the up.
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