Rugby in Wales – Part 2

Rugby in Wales – Part 2

A good example of the relationship between the close-knit communities of Wales and their rugby tams was at LLanelli RFC, the club that produced both Phil Bennett and JJ Williams. It was a hard working steel town which was dominated by the rugby club. Men would finish a hard week’s work and go down to Stradey Park and support their workmates playing for the club.

This was in the amateur era and although the players did receive unofficial payments, they still had full time jobs. In 1972 Llanelli beat the All Blacks at Stradey Park 9-3 in front of 26,000 supporters. The atmosphere created by the community provided the back bone to the victory and also goes a long way to explaining how these world class players were produced.

Stradey Park packed to support their local heroes

The local sides reflected their community and the battles between the top clubs were as keenly contested as international games. During these times all of the Welsh sides would play teams like Bath, Gloucester and Bristol from the West Country of England. With rugby turning fully professional it has changed completely the club structure of Wales. There are now four regional rugby sides that play in the Pro 14 League. The other sides in the league come from Scotland, Ireland, South Africa and Italy.

The Scarlets are made up from the old club sides Llanelli, Carmarthen Quins and Llandovery. The Ospreys saw Neath and Swansea coming together. The Dragons is a combination of Newport, Ebbw Vale and Cross Keys. The last team are the Cardiff Blues which was formed as a result of Cardiff joining forces with Pontypridd.

There is no doubt that the club rugby has lost a lot of the community spirit that it had with the older system but it has resulted in better facilities and better foreign players being attracted to play in the region. Also the standard of rugby has been improved from week to week as the Welsh teams are playing the other country’s top club sides.

The Principality Stadium, Cardiff

There has been a similar transformation with the International team. The side now play their home fixtures at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff which was built in 1999. It is home to many sporting events but the 74,500 capacity venue is principally the home of the Welsh RFU. The venue is fast becoming many rugby players favorite international stadium and has the benefit of being able to close the roof when wet weather is forecast.

The Welsh team also has its training home just down the motorway at the Vale Resort. Located just 10 miles from the center of Cardiff the resort consists of 2 championship golf course a hotel and the largest spa in Wales. The Welsh team now have their own indoor training facilities plus outdoor pitches as well. The construction of two administration blocks means that the whole of the Welsh Rugby Union is now based here. The transformation of ruby in Wales in recent times has had no effect on people’s perceptions of the game in Wales as it is still the national sport of the country. As well as the Welsh sides having the reputation of being very good they always play with a certain style.

The recent form of the national side is inconsistent. On their day they can beat any side in the world but at the current time they do have the same standard of players available to them that previous generations have had. When a Welsh player plays rugby for his country he is left in doubts the enormity of the occasion.