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'Rewrite the script and you'd have one apiece in the East, West and North'

By Paul Smith
Rupert Moon in his Llanelli playing days (Photo by Mike Egerton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

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Since hanging up his boots in 2002 former Scarlets and Wales scrum half Rupert Moon has held three key commercial roles within rugby in his country.

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His contribution to the ongoing debate about regional rugby is therefore extremely well-informed – and he has little doubt about his preferred structure and approach.

However, the man who headed the WRU and Millenium Stadium’s commercial team before becoming a driving force in the Scarlets’ transition from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets and the setting-up of RGC in North Wales, is also sanguine about the prospects of moving from the current set-up to this eutopia.

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“If you were able to rewrite the script you’d have one in the east, one in the west and one in the north to develop it – but whether you could get to that now I don’t know,” he said.

“You’d definitely also have central contracts like Ireland do.

“In New Zealand they have evolved Auckland into the Auckland Blues then to the Blues so change is possible.

“What is certain is that the evolution of regional rugby still has some way to go and it was interesting to see Cardiff drop the ‘Blues’ tag and grab back their history almost overnight.

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“I worked for the WRU when regional rugby all happened and what was done then was what was needed at the time.

“Change is difficult and the clubs that were in it at the time were based on the strength of the people running those organisations back then – it was something of a case of being in the right place at the right time.

“Within whatever structure is put in place I want Llanelli RFC to carry on for ever and the history should never be forgotten. The community game at places like Neath, Ponty, Cross Keys and Abertillery is key as that is really central to life in Wales where playing for your home town or village club is everything.”

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Drawing on his post-playing experience, Moon believes that a different mindset is now required when considering the Welsh national team and its component regional parts.

“When Warren Gatland created Team Wales he recognised we need to look after the cash cow that feeds the rest of the game in Wales,” the 53-year-old former no.9 said.

“Without that money being generated there is nothing to flow down and since Team Wales has been created Wales have had their most successful ever period in financial terms.

“But since our top players’ minutes on the field are now controlled, that makes it really difficult for any of the regions to perform well in either Europe or the United Rugby Championship.

“When Scarlets won the Pro-12 championship in Dublin they didn’t have that many internationals in their squad – they had lots of young players at the start of their journeys. The more players you have who are on the cusp of becoming internationals, the better.

“But are we about developing players for Wales or our regions seeking to win the Heineken Cup? When I played, we were playing for our clubs and towns whereas now the club game is a conveyor belt producing players who can make Wales successful on the world stage.”

Moon, who won 24 caps for his country in a storied career that spanned the amateur and professional eras, also believes that the Welsh regions must take a pragmatic commercial view of their immediate futures.

“However regional rugby is approached we have to accept we are not suddenly going to get 15,000 people turning up to watch,” he said. “There simply aren’t enough people of the right age available at the right time regardless of whether the games are at 3pm Saturday or Sunday at 8pm.

“Don’t forget one of the biggest sponsors is a TV company who want everyone to stay at home and watch and there’s not many places in Wales like London where Saracens have 9 million people on their doorstep, or Bristol or Dublin with populations of over 1 million.

“Saracens model is interesting. They have a small stadium which they fill every week and as a result there is a great atmosphere. Then once or twice a year they take a game to Wembley or Spurs where buying a ticket for a tenner is like having eight home games for them.

“That model is there for Welsh rugby to consider since the regions are not going to have full grounds every week given that the Lions won’t bring many supporters, neither will Ulster or Edinburgh and Glasgow on a Friday night.”

Moon remains a passionate fan of rugby in West Wales and takes huge pride in the area’s connection with the national team and the wider sport.

“Seeing someone like Kieran Hardy go right through the system from my son’s school to eventually play for Wales is how we now get our sense of pride,” he said.

“As long as we get the performances and the development of talent continues then I’m happy. Not even Man City win all the time – it’s unrealistic for anyone to expect that. I think how you perform, the spirit, skill and effort shown is more important.

“We are in the entertainment business; I remember watching Scarlets play La Rochelle and it was a fantastic performance in a brilliant atmosphere, and maybe that is what we’re about now. We’re not going to compete with Saracens or Toulon or Leinster – we’ll give them a great game and win some – but we’re about producing players for Wales.”

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