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Neath RFC

The “Western Mail” championship is making a come-back !

The popular competition which served Welsh rugby so splendidly for nigh on 100 years and propelled the nation to the very top of the world will re-appear next season in the face of the “melt-down” suffered by Premiership clubs this season following the much-criticised “split” season which has dumb-founded so many of the Game’s followers.

Next year Wales’ top clubs will return to their roots in a “suits all” solution to Welsh club woes. It will also be seen as a boost to the newspaper which has lost its position as Wales’ best-seller since it turned itself over to a non-stop diet of sanitised speak from the public-relations departments of the professional entities instead of the popular clubs.

From next season, Wales’ leading clubs will play each other when they want to – and as often as they want to – providing a welcome boon to hard-pressed club treasurers.

Clubs like Aberavon, Neath and Swansea might play each other 3 or even 4 times a year as might the clubs in Gwent in fully meaningful fixtures thereby ensuring a flow of income via the turnstiles. Midweek rugby – so popular from the 1960’s onwards – is also likely to make a come-back thus bringing into play the vastly under-utilised, yet expensive, floodlighting systems which the clubs must maintain.

On the other hand, clubs who feel their squads are stretched beyond breaking-point by regional and national calls will have the freedom to play fewer games if they wish – although it is felt that eventually they too will come around to playing more games.

The only constraint upon clubs is that they must play the other clubs in the Division at least once. The overall placings will be determined on a percentage basis – like it used to be – and, as before, Welsh Cup games will not count. There will be no “friendlies” with nothing at stake.

Cross-border fixtures against opponents of national league standard from the other home unions – although difficult to get – will count towards the table thus encouraging an outward-looking culture rather than the rather parochial, inward-looking structure which currently exists.

The new table also provides a ray of hope for aspirational non-Premiership clubs and numbers will be augmented by other clubs who share the aims and ideals of the existing 16. This could spell a return for Pontypool, other clubs who have fallen from grace or rising new entities like Narberth.

Bob Bank, chairman of the Welsh Rugby Supporters Association said, “It is great news. The flexibility of the new system will be a big boost for supporters who have become fed up with a reduced diet of rugby played at irregular times with huge gaps in fixture-lists. Now every game will count and Welsh club rugby can start to win back its appeal. At last people are beginning to wake up to the fact that rugby’s popularity and club viability depends upon far more than a small group of elite professionals. I can’t wait for September.”

… As told to our Special Reporter, Miss April Foole !