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'It's crazy mate' - Welsh rugby reacts to Government's 'hammer blow'

By Paul Smith
Rory Thornton in action for Cardiff Blues. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

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Welsh rugby has reacted strongly to Mark Drakeford’s announcement placing all sport behind closed doors from Sunday.

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In an attempt to combat the rapid growth of Omicron, the First Minister has stipulated that from Boxing Day fans will be banned from stadiums across the country.

In addition to traditionally huge football crowds and the Welsh Grand National meeting at Chepstow this decision means United Rugby Championship derby games will for a second year be devoid of spectators.

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Ronan O’Gara coaching
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On the back of two extremely difficult years, many followers of the sport in Wales have expressed fears regarding the ongoing financial viability of the professional game within the Welsh Regions.

Dean Ryan’s Dragons team were scheduled to host Cardiff early in the New Year in front of a packed house with ticket and hospitality sales generating substantial income for the Newport-based club.

And Dragons’ Chairman David Buttress has been extremely open in his dismay at the decision.

“Nobody should underestimate this. It is devastating for professional rugby and sport. We have done everyone to support, comply and drive/support Covid community initiatives,” he said.

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“I may not be thanked for being frank, but this is horrendous news for us. This is brutal news.”

Many have been quick to question the logic of shutting outdoor events to fans while indoor hospitality remains open.

Typical of this is a Tweet from former British and Irish Lions and Wales scrum half Mike Phillips who responded to the question: ‘How can it be right that you can’t watch Cardiff v Scarlets on Boxing Day but can go to a nightclub?’ with a simple ‘Crazy Mate!’

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The Scarlets have also lost likely bumper Festive Season crowds with the Ospreys and Dragons both visiting Llanelli.

“Bitterly disappointed. After the past few weeks we were all looking to bring some festive derby cheer into people’s lives,” their chairman Simon Muderack said.

“Clearly people’s safety is paramount. However, the commercial impacts to all of us as clubs is catastrophic without significant further support.”

The Government’s announcement was accompanied by the news that it will make available a £3 million Spectator Sports Fund to support clubs and venues.

However, on the back of nearly two years of COVID-19 plenty are voicing fears that this may not be enough financial support to allow all the Welsh regions to survive.

Highly respected ex Saracens and Harlequins Chief Executive Mark Evans was typical of a number of high-profile figures voicing concerns regarding the ongoing commercial viability of the regions.

Cardiff’s frustration – following a lengthy spell with 40 players and staff quarantined in a London hotel – is especially evident in their announcement regarding the scheduled Scarlets clash.

“We explored alternative options, including postponement until crowds were permitted, however permission from URC was not granted,” they stated.

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