Wales need to look forward for success Posted almost 4 years ago

A big bash is being held in west Wales on Halloween night. Some 1,200 guests will pile into Parc-y-Scarlets for a dinner to mark the 40th anniversary of Llanelli’s victory over the All Blacks.

Wales are good at celebrating the past and, below international level, that seems to be all they have at the moment with the four regions struggling financially and making little impact in the opening two rounds of the Heineken Cup, a trophy that only crosses the Severn Bridge when the final is held in Cardiff.

The four home unions last week all announced their squads for next month’s series of international friendlies. England and Ireland are able to prepare without any complications because all their players are domiciled, but nine of Scotland’s squad and five of Wales’s are based in England or France, meaning they will only be released for international duty when the regulations make it obligatory.

It is a growing problem for Wales. It was not that long ago that their head coach, Warren Gatland, decreed that any player who moved to England or France would put his international career at risk, but given that their leading three loose-head props are not with a region, the risk now is sticking to it.

Wales have defied the indifferent form of their regions in Europe over the years, winning three grand slams in the last eight years and reaching the semi-final of last year’s World Cup: as the leading international team in Europe, they should be in line to be in the top four of the world rankings come the beginning of December and avoid the likes of the All Blacks at the 2015 World Cup group stage.

Wales face Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia in the coming weeks, but to get into the top four they may need a clean sweep of victories. While they have been successful in the world they are accustomed to, their most significant victory in the World Cup was against Ireland, losing to South Africa and Australia.

Since Gatland took over at the end of 2007, Wales have recorded just one victory against a Sanzar nation, the Wallabies losing in Cardiff in 2008. Otherwise, apart from the odd one-sided match, they have been close encounters, with Wales finding various ways of coming up short.

In that period England, who last achieved a grand slam in 2003, have won in Australia and drawn in South Africa and it is they who sit fourth in the world rankings. The 2015 hosts are handily placed, even if they have to play Australia, South Africa and New Zealand before the World Cup draw is made.

England have reduced the exodus of national squad players to France to a trickle, their academy system is productive and their union is the richest in the world. They are well on their way to becoming a consistent force again.

Wales are in a more uncomfortable place, even if their union this year recorded a record turnover and profits. A plan to centrally contract the national squad was rejected by the regions, making it more likely that players such as Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Lydiate and Alex Cuthbert will move out of the country.

Their main asset is Gatland, but he is on secondment to the Lions this season, although he will be involved in the build-up to the Tests against the Wallabies and the All Blacks.

They need a major victory, otherwise the next big celebration will be next year to mark the victory over New Zealand in Cardiff in 1953, the last time the men in red won the fixture.

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Paul Rees was born in Cardiff and has been a full-time writer on rugby union since 1986, first for the South Wales Echo, then Wales and Sunday and, from 2001, the Guardian and the Observer, having contributed to the former on a freelance basis since 1988. He has covered every World Cup since 1991 and five Lions tours. When time allows, he also write on cricket, mainly Glamorgan. And away from work, he a season-ticket holder at Arsenal, watching them home and away, including the European Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris in 2006.

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