THE traditionalists have been calling for it for years.
Ever since authorities decided to scrap the old Pembrokeshire League system in the early 1990s, and enter our county sides into the national set up – many have longed to re-live the days of full club houses, large local crowds, and fierce derbies.
Therefore, it was of little surprise last month that when the WRU revealed their proposals for the 2014/2015 season – including regionalised leagues for all teams below the Premiership and Championship – there was widespread approval in Pembrokeshire.
However, the idea has not been universally accepted by everyone. Indeed, a host of clubs in Wales have called for an Emergency General Meeting with the WRU – citing a lack of communication during the process and the probability of one sided contests next season.
That EGM will take place on Sunday, June 15, and it would be of little surprise if there was another twist in the re-structure plans thereafter.
Personally, I think the WRU need to be commended for listening to the majority and acting upon what they’ve heard.
I was always one of those who was vehemently opposed to returning to localised leagues in Wales, or more specifically, Pembrokeshire
I felt the gap between the top and bottom sides in our county had become too great, and that throwing them back into the same hat would not only produce mismatches but restrict the clubs who had fought hard to climb the divisions in recent years.
But in the last two years, my opinion has changed.
Too many sides are struggling. For the smaller clubs, simply raising a squad appears to be the priority for away games. And for many, the days of staying for hours on end in the opposition club house, and enjoying the camaraderie that was so prominent in the amateur era, are long gone.
Of course, there are many reasons for this. The financial climate has changed in Wales – and being able to work full time is now imperative for most. Therefore, the thought of turning down overtime pay to travel several hours on a bus and risk injury in a game of rugby has no doubt pushed many potential players away.
And of course, the long travelling on a weekly basis is not appealing to those with other priorities or families.
As a result, the situation in the lower leagues was beginning to descend so rapidly that something had to be done, or at the very least, trialled – before it became too late.
However, you cannot restrict those players who do wish to dedicate the required time and are prepared to travel the extra miles, and who have goals to ultimately play at the top level.
That is why it is crucial that the Premiership and Championship remain national and elitist, so that a pathway remains for players with the ability to springboard into the regional set up.
And also, there must be the chance of promotion for clubs in the lower leagues who harbour ambitions to move forward.
Whether the move proves to be a successful one will of course, remain to be seen. But at local level, the introduction of Division Three West B should at least re-invigorate players and supporters who have become stale and disenchanted with the game.
How it works?
The Premiership and Championship will continue with the same set up. Next year’s Premiership will consist of Pontypridd, Carmarthen Quins, Cross Keys, Llandovery, Llanelli, Cardiff, Bedwas, Newport, Bridgend, Neath, Aberavon and Ebbw Vale. The bottom club will go down.
The Championship meanwhile, will consist of Swansea, RGC 1404, Cardiff Met University, Pontypool, Narberth, Bargoed, Tata Steel, Tondu, Bridgend Athletic, Llanharan, Blackwood, Newbridge, Glynneath, and Merthyr. The champions will be promoted to the Premiership, the bottom two will be relegated.
Division One will split into four separate divisions – east, east central, west central, and west. Whitland, Crymych, and Tenby will play in west alongside Llangennech, Carmarthen Athletic, Gorseinon, Kidwelly, Newcastle Emlyn, Felinfoel, Ammanford, Amman United, and Loughor.
The winners of the west division will play the winners of the the west central division, with the winner being promoted to the Championship. The same format will apply to the winners of the east and east central division. The bottom two clubs in each legue will be relegated.
Division Two will split into four separate divisions – east, east central, west central, and west. Haverfordwest and Cardigan will play in west alongside Penlan, Penclawdd, Pontarddulais, Tycroes, Llanelli Wanderers, Llanybydder, Llandeilo, Aberystwyth, Gowerton and Hendy.
The top two from each division will be promoted to division one, and the bottom two will be relegated.
Division Three will then split into 16 different leagues in east, east central, west, west central, and north Wales.
Division Three West B will consist of Fishguard, Milford Haven, Pembroke, Pembroke Dock Harlequins, Neyland, Aberaeron, St Clears, Llangwm, St Davids and Laugharne.
The winners of this league will then go into a draw with the winners of west A and west C, and enter a play off format to see who gains promotion.
What it means for our clubs?
We spoke to each Pembrokeshire club who has been placed in Division Three West B, to gage their thoughts on the new ‘Pembrokeshire’ league.
Fishguard chairman James Morgans: “I can understand the reasoning behind it.
“But clubs like us have built to get away from the bottom tier in recent seasons, and now we are back where we started so to speak.
“Although on paper it looks like we’ll have a very good opportunity to get promoted, my biggest reservation is that there seems a big gulf between Division Three and Division Two. My worry would be if we did go up that we would have to bring boys in from elsewhere to survive – and we wouldn’t want to do that.”
Milford Haven RFC Youth team coach Alan McClelland: “It’s very positive and I think we will have more people playing rugby for us now.
“With the long travelling cut out, you are going to have people who are able to combine work and rugby. In recent season, if someone was working until 1pm on a Saturday, and people do have to work, its been impossible for them to make an away game.
“Also, you will get more local derbies which will generate more interest, and the good sides can still make progress and win promotion.”
A Pembroke committee member: “As far as we are concerned the new format suits us – and I hope it suits the other Pembrokeshire sides in our league as well.
“There will be less travelling and more local games, and at our level that can only be a good thing.
“It’s a positive step.”
Pembroke Dock Harlequins secretary Dean Maiden: “This is definitely good news for us.
“We struggled last year with boys being unable to travel but now on a Saturday, people can work a half day and still play.
“We also lost a few boys for various reasons – and we hope this new league will now entice them back to the club.
“There will be more local games which are more enjoyable – the atmosphere is always a lot better when we play the likes of Pembroke, Neyland, Llangwm, or any other Pembrokeshire side.”
Neyland player coach Andrew Slark: “It’s definitely a big positive for us.
“The boys are already talking about travelling less miles. And it will also make local rugby more sociable and improve the revenue in club houses.
“Also, it sometimes good to have banter with your work mates if you are playing them on a Saturday and there will be a lot more of that.
“We definitely welcome the announcement.”
Llangwm team manager Richard Scriven: “Having played Pembrokeshire League rugby before it disbanded 24 years ago, I think this is definitely a step in the right direction from the WRU.
“When we play other local teams the support, travel and everything else is put into perspective. It is nothing for us to have 500-700 people watching the games with the club house full for hours after.
“We have struggled to travel away in the past and it can be as far as 140 mile round trip for some games.
“Local rugby means bigger crowds, more money in the club houses, younger players seeing their senior teams play against the same teams they play on a Sunday morning, and more people supporting and volunteering to help.”
St Davids team manager Jack Dudley: “It is good news from a financial and travelling point of view.
“It is expensive to keep running away buses and we’re now hopeful of having more boys available on Saturdays.
“People have said will it be tough because we will be playing Division Four and Five sides – but Division Six West last season was a very misleading league.
“We were playing the likes of Burry Port and Llandybie, who had been relegated for differing reasons, and they were easily as good as some Division Four sides so I don’t think there will be much difference.”