Wales v New Zealand fixture under the microscope as it’s branded ‘stupidest game ever’ – Wales Online

Posted: October 7, 2021 at 3:35 pm

Wales annual out-of-window autumn international has long been a problematic and contentious event.

Year after year, it has been the same story.

The WRU arrange a fourth match against one of the south hemisphere big three - New Zealand, Australia or the Springboks - on a date outside the official November dates sanctioned by World Rugby.

And every year the same issues arise in terms of player availability.

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As the match is not covered by Reg 9, teams outside of Wales dont have to release their players for it.

The policy of PRL - the umbrella organisation for the English Premiership clubs - has been pretty consistent on the matter.

They dont allow their clubs to release players to other countries for out-of-window Tests.

In fact, back in 2013, they actually fined Northampton 60,000 for doing so in the case of Wales George North, firmly laying down the law.

This policy has seen some people criticise the Premiership clubs for denying players the chance to play international rugby.

But the rationale is quite simple.

The RFU pays the clubs for access to England players above and beyond the requirements of Reg 9.

If they were to release them to other countries for free, how could they justify continuing to charge their own Union?

The WRU, for their part, have never been willing to pay for additional access to English exiles, so the cycle has continued and here we are again.

On October 30, Wales will open their autumn international campaign against New Zealand at the Principality Stadium.

Thats the out-of-window game this year and once more that means no England-based players are available to coach Wayne Pivac.

So he will have to do without the likes of Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit, Taulupe Faletau, Callum Sheedy, Nick Tompkins and Ioan Lloyd.

That presents a particular issue at No 10, with Biggar and Sheedy being the two first-choice fly-halves.

But, this year, the situation has been further compounded by an ever mounting injury list. You can see all the details and what the Wales team is now likely to look like here..

North, Justin Tipuric, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Lydiate, James Botham, Rhys Patchell, Josh Macleod and James Davies are all out of the equation, while there is a major doubt over Liam Williams, with Jarrod Evans also facing a race against time.

It means Pivac is set to be without an entire team of players and something like half a dozen nailed-on starters.

Clearly thats not ideal when you are taking on the mighty All Blacks.

As the absentee list has grown, so have the mutterings of discontent over Wales going into a game of this magnitude with such a depleted side.

What were the Union thinking of? has been the general theme.

Now the issue has been addressed by Daily Telegraph sports writer James Corrigan, who has penned a coruscating attack on the WRU.

In his article, he describes it as the stupidest fixture ever and offensive to fans who have paid out up to 95 for tickets for this sold-out fixture.

He writes: Some accountant genuinely thought it acceptable to play the worlds best team while knowing Wayne Pivac will be without some of his most notable players. And what is yet more scandalous is that those on top agreed.

He goes on to accuse the WRU of actively making it harder for its side to achieve a feat they find impossible anyway.

Welshman Corrigan continues: The Kiwis are the scalp we crave. They should not be first up, in the unofficial slot. It demeans the occasion, which is a crying shame because it is difficult to quantify what it could mean to the country.

The All Blacks will show up, the stadium will be packed and the tills will ring to the strains of Bread of Heaven.

A few debts will be paid and so the farce continues. Yet for how long and to what purpose? Keep prioritising the bottom line over the try line and Welsh rugby will soon be bankrupt regardless.

Strong words indeed.

There is also the impact on our pro teams.

With the autumn campaign beginning on October 30, players will be in camp with Wales the previous weekend, so will miss a round of United Rugby Championship matches.

As a result, the Ospreys and Scarlets will be significantly depleted when they take on full-strength Munster and Benetton sides respectively, while the biggest bone of contention is that the derby between Cardiff and the Dragons at the Arms Park will now go ahead with a host of star names missing.

One of the biggest fixtures of the season will be devalued and undermined, much to the anger of the two sets of fans.

So why do the WRU keep on arranging games outside of the window given all the problems it creates?

Well, there has been a desire to play the top teams as often as possible, something Warren Gatland was very keen on from a rugby perspective.

But, more than anything, it comes down to money.

The New Zealand game is a sell-out, with all 74,500 tickets having been snapped up.

So just how much cash will that bring in, with TV revenue and all the food and drink sales on top?

I spoke to a trusted source on Union matters for an idea of what we are talking and also what the thinking has been over the years with regard to the fourth autumn Test.

A game like this would bring in between 3m and 4m in clear profit, he estimated.

Thats from one day.

You think what you would have to do to make that kind of money by some other means? You would have to have a lot of Ed Sheeran concerts!

On the attitude of the four pro teams to the out-of-window fixture, he said: To be honest, nobody at the regions has ever pushed back on it.

It was a non topic really.

It never came up because people knew how material it was to the whole financial model.

If you could make the numbers work and play one game less, then you would do it, all day long.

But, at the moment, you cant balance the books without it.

The reason the regions dont push back on it is the profit goes straight to them. It is as simple as that.

It doesnt impact the Union if the game isnt played. It just means the regions get 3m less.

As for the question of paying the Premiership clubs for player release, that was discounted as it was seen as opening Pandora's box and undermining the domestic game, as players may be less likely to stay in Wales if they knew they could be available for all international matches while being based in England.

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It would be unwise to call a game against New Zealand a necessary evil as there are a lot of people really looking forward to the occasion, despite the number of Wales players that will be missing.

But it is fair to say that the annual out-of-window Test is a necessity under the current financial model and more so than ever this year following the huge impact of Covid on income streams.

People have asked why start the autumn campaign against the All Blacks when we know a number of top Wales players will be absent then.

Well, that out-of-window weekend is the only date the Kiwis were available, so it was either then or not at all.

If the Union had opted for not at all, you would be looking at a massive dip in income at a time when the pro game is so desperately in need of additional cash.

Now there is a valid argument that the whole financial model needs reappraising and reconsidering.

At present, the focus is firmly on international rugby as the primary source of income generation.

You could make a case for that already being a saturated market and that the club game is the potential growth area.

On that point, increasing income from domestic rugby is, of course, made that much more difficult when star players miss league matches due to international commitments, thereby devaluing the competition as a product.

So theres a bit of a chicken and egg situation going on.

Its also worth noting that Wales were not the only country to organise out-of-window Tests for October 30.

Scotland are hosting Tonga on that date, while Ireland were due to play the USA in Nevada, prior to that game being cancelled due to ongoing border restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In summary, pro sport costs money, big money, and it has to be paid for somehow.

So, until there is a pretty seismic shift in emphasis in terms of attitudes towards income generation, the fourth autumn Test looks as though it is here to stay.

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Wales v New Zealand fixture under the microscope as it's branded 'stupidest game ever' - Wales Online

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