Saturday, April 25, 2015

Judgement Day III - An Irish verdict


When the acronyms "JDIII" and "JD3" first began circulating among the Welsh rugby twitterati, I have to admit I thought they were referring to some young player at one of the regions named Jonathan Davies who promised to become every bit as famous as the commentator who shouts "Nuhm-buhz!!!" and "Foxy" who is looking forward to a European final with Clérmont.

But now I realise they actually referred to a marketing entity called "Judgement Day III", which basically means all four regions playing in two Pro12 fixtures on one day in the Millennium Stadium.

It is definitely an interesting title, because since the regions were formed over a decade ago, there most certainly has been plenty of judgement by Welsh fans and not much of it has been good.

Of course I am and always have been well aware of the need to hype up the Welsh involvement in the Pro12 - while some on these shores try to push the prospect of a "British & Irish League", I personally think this is fanciful (can't see the PRL going for it...they prefer changing rules to make sure their clubs win trophies to creating a possibility they won't) so we absolutely need the WRU, SRU and FIR to "up their game" on the marketing front, as Leinster Branch CEO Mick Dawson said on the "Down The Blind Side" podcast recently.

And with more and more stars leaving the Guinness Pro12 for the lure of the big money on offer in England & France, putting bums on seats in domestic competition is bound to become more difficult as the years roll on unless a big player on the TV stage swoops in with deep pockets to save the day.

Yet while it's not my intention to poke fun at JD3 (I mean as a title it sure beats Fever in the Aviva!), I'm wondering just how effective it can be to patch up the very clear rift between the WRU, the regions and the fans.

From my view (admittedly well outside the Welsh bubble) it seems that their problems stem from the creation of the regions, a move which essentially took a whopping amount of power from the clubs and handed it to four new bodies which were being run as businesses.

Given how in many cases Welsh rugby clubs are more like the community entities that Irish GAA ones are, it really does look as though the project was doomed from the start unless it could somehow be sold by the WRU and as we have seen in recent years by the (at times extremely childish on all sides) public bickering, the hearts and minds were never won.

I'm sure the Welsh don't imagine for a moment that simply one double header will fix everything, and the chatter around social media suggests that more is being discussed.  Just last week the notion of removing the "Cardiff" from "Cardiff Blues" was floated to help give strong rugby-playing areas outside the capital like Pontypridd more of an identity with the brand.

And naturally it's very easy for me to sit here and suggest how our Celtic cousins should proceed with their game, since a large part of the success of our professional system here was down to the fact that we already had four ready-made regions to work with on the marketing side of things.

But it's clear that something has to be done to solve the Welsh problem, and maybe here in Ireland we have to accept the possibility of a sacrifice to that end.  For example, this time last year I put forward the notion of a "conference system" similar to that used in Super Rugby.

The short version of what it does is that it breaks up the Pro12 into three tables, one Irish, one Welsh and one Scots/Italian (last one is makeshift I know but isn't the entire league itself that anyway).  The downside of this from an Irish view is that it removes the possibility of all four provinces qualifying for Europe, so I'm not so sure Connacht fans would be wild about my proposal right now!

My contention, however, is that it would make it easier for the game to be marketed in Wales in particular...for example, their media would only have to show the standings for their conference and there would always be a region in "first place" - this is precisely why American sports have worked with small conferences and divisions for decades.

These are mere suggestions and there are those far more qualified than myself to come up with the right solution.  But judging from the tweet below, which is representative of a lot being put out there by Welsh fans this morning, the hype for Judgement Day doesn't seem to be have won everyone over.
Plus I'm not sure it helps that from a WRU perspective they badly need wins for both the Ospreys and Scarlets today...the former would seal a place in the playoffs while the latter would keep up with Connacht & Embra in the race for Euro qualification.  While I'd never suggest that professionals would "fix" a result, neither the Blues nor the Dragons would be doing Welsh rugby too many favours with victories.

But that's just one Irish fan's view from outside the bubble.  Here's to Judgement Day III being a success, I hope the 50k+ fans have a great day out and most of all, here's to Welsh rugby eventually coming up with a product that everyone can enjoy.  JLP

PS - to be fair, not all the tweets from Welsh fans have been negative, as you can see below.

UPDATE Sunday evening : Going by this article by WalesOnline's Simon Thomas, Judgement Day 3 was a resounding success, which I am delighted to hear and long may it continue in the future.  Oh, and both Ospreys and Scarlets won after all, with try bonus points as well. 
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