'On the brink' Wales face chilling ultimatum - Barnes
Rugby columnist Stuart Barnes believes Wales face a chilling ultimatum this July: put in a performance that does the nation proud or face being left behind by the rising tide of Welsh football.
Despite winning the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, rugby in Wales has found itself stumbling into crisis. Having placed fifth in the 2022 tournament and with the regions underable to meaningfully compete either domestically and in Europe, many worry that the nation is once again entering the doldrums.
To make matters exponentially worse, the Welsh football team has qualified for the FIFA World Cup and in doing so, has swept up a huge amount of national support and fervour for the game.
Barnes, who always had a flair for hyperbole, even went as far as suggesting that the weekend Gareth Bale and co qualified for the round-ball World Cup may well be looked back on as the day “one of the greatest of traditional rugby nations began their inexorable descent from rugby legends to modern-day leftovers.”
“It wasn’t as if rugby union was the undisputed No 1 sport before Welsh qualification for the World Cup,” Barnes wrote in his Sunday Times column. “Football has long eclipsed rugby as a participation sport. Cardiff City and Swansea City pull bigger crowds than their oval-ball rivals and on Sunday the Cardiff City Stadium may have been half the size of the Principality but it sounded twice as noisy as fans belted out their national anthem.
“Supporting the rugby team has always been an act of unbridled patriotism. Supporting the football team is now every bit as patriotic.”
Barnes believes that if Wales are hammered consecutively by the Springboks and then the All Blacks this November, it will lead to further fan leakage to the monolith that is Association Football.
“Rugby is tiny compared with football. Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar are dwarfed in the marketplace by Gareth Bale. Football qualification comes with a concern at a time when the rugby team are struggling. A generation of pre-teens are set to be turned on to football in a massive way in Wales.”
Should Wales beat England in a FIFA World Cup? All bets are off for rugby, according to Barnes.
“They’ve won plenty of grand slams but never reached a football World Cup final. Rugby will be washed away on the populist tide of patriotic sporting fervour.”
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