WELSH legend JPR Williams has launched a withering attack on regional rugby, claiming it must be dismantled for Wales to build on Grand Slam success.
Williams insists three Slams in eight seasons has been achieved in spite of the regional game rather than because of it – and has called for the current RaboDirect Pro 12 competition to be scrapped.
Instead the 55-times capped full-back wants the Welsh Rugby Union to revert to an eight-team domestic club championship with promotion and relegation at stake.
Welsh teams, he says, would then qualify for the Heineken Cup through this new competition.
Williams believes the Union could fund this competition by reducing the number of coaches, while he feels the change would provoke greater interest in the game and subsequently produce far healthier attendances.
“You only have to look at how the players perform for Wales and then see how they play for their regions to see what I mean,” he said.
“I hope regional rugby will fold soon because it is a complete disgrace.
“Our national side is showing the way forward. Our regional rugby is absolutely dire and everyone in Wales knows that.
“Why do you need to have six coaches for 60 people in a squad? That’s a lot of money being spent with crowds of only a few thousand.
“I’d like to see eight clubs competing in a strong league with promotion and relegation.
“I don’t see why the union can’t fund that and it would be far more exciting.
“Welsh fans grew up on the club game. It’s not like in Ireland, regions are not for Wales.”
The Welsh Rugby Union is currently awaiting the findings of a review of the professional game in Wales.
A squad salary cap of £3.5m for the four Welsh regions comes into force next season, but that might be the first change of many.
WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis said last week there could be “blood on the floor” as the professional game in Wales gets to grips with the financial challenges ahead.
Whether that means the regional game – which was introduced in 2003 – is under some threat remains to be seen, but Williams is adamant that something must be done now to protect top-class rugby here.
“When these Wales players go back to their regions they look poor,” he said.
“Why is that? It’s down to a lack of spirit and almost a lack of interest in regional rugby.
“The great thing about this Welsh side is that they play like a very good club side.
“They play for each other and they’re comfortable in what they’re doing.
“They’ve had seven weeks together and they are all mates.
“It’s great to see at international level that we can still do well but the coaching staff must take a lot of credit for that.
“Warren Gatland doesn’t suffer fools gladly and success is down to him, his coaching staff and his players rather than the system.”
But Williams admits the three-Test summer challenge in Australia is a huge task for the Six Nations champions.
However, he feels this group of Welsh players can back up Grand Slam success and a semi-final place at the World Cup by shining Down Under.
“They’ve got to win at least one of the Tests in Australia to keep progressing,” he said.
“The big challenge for these players now is to go out and back up what they’ve done it.
“When we won the Grand Slam in 2005 we finished fifth the following year, when we won it in 2008 we finished fourth the next season.
“It’s all about consistency. That’s the next challenge for this side but they’re growing as a team and they’re capable of it.
“When you’ve got Jamie Roberts at 25 the oldest back in the team and they’re all so powerful then you really can do things.
“This side don’t believe in losing, they have an inner belief and play for each other. And they can also handle the tag of being favourites which we haven’t been good at in the past.”
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