Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

01st January 2013 15:05

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New Year s Fireworks

Happy 2013 from Planet Rugby!

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Wales, Sale, and the coming year...

As if November's defeats and a steady stream of players departing to the uncertain availability schedules across the channel weren't sign enough, CEO Roger Lewis' hint at the cutting of another Welsh region ŕ la Celtic Dragons eight years ago is the surest sign yet that 2013 might be a miserable year for Welsh rugby.

It would be a last-ditch resort, but that Lewis is even contemplating the move is indicative of how uneasily the franchise concept has sat in the principality.

Money is tight, possibly even more so now that the star players are drifting away, taking the spectators willing to part with a limited supply of pounds to watch with them. The national side is struggling for continuity and will do so a lot more with the cream of the internationals playing in a very different league.

Uncertainty over the Heineken Cup, especially the likelihood that Welsh participation is set to dip if the merit-based qualification reforms are pushed through, is creating a deep insecurity in the minds of the budget-makers, who are unable to create scenarios where the best players might earn as well as they could in France. Thus the players go where they are assured of a good wage, a simple economic reality.

Money rules. The current chain of events happened in Scotland and we all know in which direction that has gone.

The RaboDirect Pro 12 has not offered a suitable preparatory platform upon which international players feel themselves able to build for their greater aspirations. Nor, despite the best efforts of those promoting it, has it been a commercial success, relative to the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 - which is starting to eclipse soccer as France's most popular sport according to reports a couple of weeks ago. Nor has it proved to be a breeding ground for a new generation of players. Nobody knows what will happen to the Welsh scrum when Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins are gone, but everybody knows it will not be good.

The relative success of the Premiership soccer teams in Wales - it looks more and more as though both Cardiff and Swansea will be playing in the Premier League next season - has also had an effect. While rugby is still the national sport, soccer is not all that far behind. People follow success, especially in a nation state feeling recession hard and depending on the government of their biggest sporting rivals to pull it out.

Cardiff... Swansea... there's the rub really. Cities, not franchises. Local identities, not diluted ones. Tribes with history, not uneasy amalgams between tribes with individual tribal history consigned to fond memories.

It seems to matter not a jot in soccer that half of the Swansea soccer team is foreign - it might not matter to rugby fans if many of their teams' players were raised abroad or in the neighbouring valley rather than in their own city, so long as they could support their town's team.

The Dragons are the franchise most likely to be slain, so to speak, leaving active teams in Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli. If the Dragons are to disappear from the map, it night behoove the powers that be to be equally as merciless with the naming of the remaining teams and insist that they return to being actively named after the places they play in, even to the extent that those three teams disappear from the Welsh Premiership.

A far-fetched idea. But then if you had suggested that professional rugby would look like a sick and dying sport in Wales a couple of years ago, you'd have called that far-fetched too.

The Welsh administrators are not renowned for pulling together in a crisis or taking individual hits to help the greater cause, but some sacrifice, teamwork and progressive thinking is very much needed if Welsh rugby is to avoid a Scottish slide over the next couple of years.

2012 lurches to a close for Sale as well, with the cracks becoming more and more evident. The social media lady is gone, having referred to frustrated fans as "absolute f***wits" on facebook. Stupid, yes, but not something you do unless you are deeply unhappy for some reason.

Now John Mitchell is gone almost as soon as he arrived, leaving the coaching post open once again.

Mitchell cited 'personal reasons' for his departure, which does not lead really lend itself as a reason to fans who were hoping that Friday's win over Worcester might be the start of a Mitchell-led revival. Sale have officially stated that Mitchell, who has consultancy and punditry obligations in South Africa for the Super 15 was only ever a short-term solution, also not a concept that fans might be satisfied with given the club's tos and fros this season.

Either way, it's hardly the steady hand of continuity that players fighting uncertainty and relegation need. Sale's first move for 2013 has to be a positive one.

But leaving aside the unitary problems, the sport is shaping up for a belting year. We'll have a Six Nations chock-full of players scrapping against counterparts for Lions spots. The Heineken Cup has been tight, but the fourth round saw teams really hitting their straps, and the tournament is building to quite a climax.

A Lions year is always a special year, but after three series defeats in a row, the tourists are hungry for win and sense that Australia might be there for the taking this time.

Once the Wallabies emerge from that, they'll be straight into the Rugby Championship slog, one still waiting for Argentina's first win but which is now the bona fide best tournament in the world in terms of quality.

Then Europe starts again... a new Heineken Cup in whatever format the suits decide for us...a raft of November tantalisers... it isn't going to stop for 12 months. Would we have it any other way? Happy 2013!

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , October 3
Bath vs Saracens19:45
Saturday , October 4
London Irish vs Northampton15:00
Harlequins vs London Welsh15:00
Gloucester vs Leicester15:15
Sunday , October 5
Sale vs Wasps14:00
Newcastle vs Exeter15:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Rugby Championship
Saturday , October 4
South Africa vs New Zealand16:05
Argentina vs Australia23:40
More Rugby Championship fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , October 3
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues19:35
Ulster vs Edinburgh19:35
Zebre vs Ospreys19:35
Saturday , October 4
Leinster vs Munster18:30
Sunday , October 5
Benetton Treviso vs Glasgow14:00
Scarlets vs Newport Gwent D'gons16:00
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Friday , October 3
Oyonnax vs Toulon18:00
Saturday , October 4
Bordeaux-Begles vs Clermont Auvergne18:00
Racing Metro Paris vs Brive18:00
Toulouse vs Stade Francais18:00
La Rochelle vs Lyon18:00
Castres vs Grenoble18:00
Bayonne vs Montpellier18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Friday , October 3
Pumas vs Blue Bulls15:00
Sharks vs Lions19:10
Saturday , October 4
Cheetahs vs Western Province14:00
Griquas vs Eastern Province Kings15:00
More Currie Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 28
Wasps 35 - 18 NewcastleWasps vs Newcastle Report
Exeter 36 - 13 HarlequinsExeter vs Harlequins Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Newport Gwent D'gons 33 - 15 Benetton TrevisoNewport Gwent D
More Guinness PRO12 results
ITM Cup
Tasman 32 - 24 OtagoTasman vs Otago Report
Canterbury 26 - 28 SouthlandCanterbury vs Southland Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 27
Leicester 19 - 22 London IrishLeicester vs London Irish Report
Saracens 40 - 19 Sale SharksSaracens vs Sale Sharks Report
Northampton 31 - 24 BathNorthampton vs Bath Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Rugby Championship
South Africa 28 - 10 AustraliaSouth Africa vs Australia Report
Argentina 13 - 34 New ZealandArgentina vs New Zealand Report
More Rugby Championship results
Guinness PRO12
Zebre 13 - 6 UlsterZebre vs Ulster Report
Munster 14 - 19 OspreysMunster vs Ospreys Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Toulon 40 - 17 MontpellierToulon vs Montpellier Report
Grenoble 27 - 25 Racing Metro ParisGrenoble vs Racing Metro Paris Report
Brive 34 - 24 Bordeaux-Begles
Oyonnax 8 - 19 Clermont Auvergne
Stade Francais 43 - 10 La Rochelle
Lyon 28 - 18 Castres
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Sharks 53 - 24 Eastern Province KingsSharks vs Eastern Province Kings Report
Griquas 8 - 46 LionsGriquas vs Lions Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Waikato 20 - 22 ManawatuWaikato vs Manawatu Report
North Harbour 28 - 25 Hawkes Bay
Counties Manukau 55 - 7 WellingtonCounties Manukau vs Wellington Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 26
London Welsh 10 - 46 GloucesterLondon Welsh vs Gloucester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Leinster 37 - 23 Cardiff BluesLeinster vs Cardiff Blues Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens418
2Northampton416
3Bath415
4Exeter414
5Wasps411