Leinster forwards coach Robin McBryde has touched a nerve in Wales after an interview he gave on the BBC’s Welsh rugby podcast, Scrum V, in which he questioned how successful the regional set-up had been.
McBryde joined Leinster in 2019 following Wales’ fourth-place finish in the Rugby World Cup. Since then he has had a ringside seat on how perennial champions Leinster operate, yet he didn’t limit his praise for his employers, admitting he was jealous of how professional rugby has been embraced in Ireland in general.
“What I’m envious about is the rugby in general in Ireland, when you look at how well supported the four provinces are,” said the former Wales hooker.
McBryde, a former Llanelli and later Scarlets hooker who played over 250 games for his region, suggests that the regional model in Wales has failed to connect with fans. McBryde, who is helping prepare Leinster for a match with his former side this weekend, pointed out how Welsh rugby has struggled to attract fans in anything like the numbers enjoyed in Ireland.
“I think they were very lucky and very fortunate in that those four provinces were already established when professional rugby came in, so your borders were already set I suppose, whereas in Wales we have struggled with it, haven’t we?
“I still know supporters who haven’t gone back to watching rugby since regional rugby came into being.
“That model, from a supporting point of view, is clearly not working, is it?
“You look at the attendances in those games and they are struggling and they have been struggling for a while.”
McBryde was capped 37 times in an eleven-year international career for Wales and played in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. A no-nonsense forward who prided himself on the set-piece, he was called up to the British and Irish Lions tour in 2001 but had to withdraw due to injury. He was also part of the 2005 Grand Slam-winning Wales team.
McBryde claims the Welsh regions don’t have the sense of identity that exists for the Irish provinces, who have been in existence long before the advent of professional rugby.
“We have lost that sort of connection and maybe the regions have lost that identity or maybe didn’t have that identity right from the word go really.
Former Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde says the Welsh regions "aren't working" from a supporting point of view ? pic.twitter.com/FgW4xJ1bIy
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) January 28, 2021
“It’s a big thing here with Leinster with regards to having that identity and that link with the public and the supporters. There’s a lot of emphasis on driving the legacy.
“Ultimately when you’ve got a really strong identity, that can carry you as a team and make up for a lot of deficiencies. It’s fantastic when you see the crowds that turn up week-in, week-out to watch rugby.”
“It’s questionable whether regional rugby has ever taken off.
“I don’t think we’re going to go back to the clubs, but I think there’s room for the Premiership in there because of the history attached to all of those clubs.
“They’re already formed so I think they should make that league as strong as possible and use it as a breeding ground for young talent. I know what the club system gave me.”
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