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Welsh clubs face daunting task this weekend amid crisis

By RugbyPass
Dai Young /Press Association

The four Welsh clubs will head to South Africa for the resumption of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship eager to salvage some of the pride that was battered by the national team’s unexpected loss to Georgia at the weekend.

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Wales, a week after beating the Argentina Pumas but just a fortnight after a chastening hammering by the All Blacks, who posted more than 50 points against them in Cardiff, lost at home to the Eastern European nation on Saturday, the first time they have done so.

The defeat brought back references to the dark days of Welsh rugby in the 1990s, which featured an almost 100 point demolition at the hands of South Africa in Pretoria in 1998 as well as seismic World Cup loss to Western Samoa.

With the loss to Georgia featuring in the same year as the Welsh lost at home to Italy, there are big questions being asked about not just the Welsh team and the future of national coach Wayne Pivac, but also the state of the club game. Wales did salvage some pride after the Italy defeat that ended a miserable Six Nations campaign by winning the middle test in their three game series in South Africa, their first ever success against the Springboks on South African soil, but the recent sequence of results has edged Wales back towards crisis point.

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The Welsh media and ex-players have got stuck into the team, with former Bok World Cup winning wing Bryan Habana, in Wales as a television pundit, joining the fray by suggesting that veteran lock and British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones should be recalled to the Wales captaincy.

But many of the post-mortems have gone much further, probing into the state of the club game in Wales. The current international results certainly aren’t out of kilter with what has been happening with the Welsh club teams competing in the URC, with no Welsh team managing last year to get into the top eight of the inaugural competition and because of that there was no Welsh representation in the play-off phase.

A curve ball for the Welsh teams this week is that they will all be traveling to South Africa with key players missing to international duty, with the under-pressure Pivac sure to want all hands on deck as his team prepares to play the final game of the autumn international season against Australia in Cardiff on Saturday.

Australia will have been decimated by injuries and club calls – the game falls outside the international window – but that should make it even more crucial for Wales to get a much needed victory to ease the pressure. Of the 35 players Pivac called up for squad duty at the start of November, 15 players were from the Ospreys, seven from the Scarlets, five from Cardiff and three from the Dragons.

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So the Ospreys, who have the tough task of going to altitude to face the Bulls, will consider themselves to be up against it, and the Scarlets too as they go to Cape Town to face the champions on Friday night.

Fortunately for the Scarlets, the Stormers should be considerably weakened by their representation in the Bok squad that is currently in London preparing for Saturday’s clash with England at Twickenham. John Dobson’s men have though shown signs of impressive growth of squad depth recently and the Stormers might welcome this opportunity to give fringe players a run ahead of a tough December and January that will feature a clutch of crucial derby fixtures over the festive season as well as their entry into the European Champions Cup competition for the first time.

The Bulls don’t have as many Boks these days as either the Stormers or the Cell C Sharks, with the latter team set to be part of a Sunday double header which in addition to their game against Cardiff in Durban will also feature the Emirates Lions against the Dragons in Johannesburg earlier in the afternoon.

Credit: URCSA

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finn 5 hours ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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