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Peter Bills: Wasted money root cause of welsh failure

The Heineken Cup final this May will be held for the sixth time in its short history at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. But many Welsh rugby fans have long since given up hope of one of their sides getting anywhere near the final. Given their record, that looks unlikely to occur this side of Doomsday.

Welsh sides have been a crushing disappointment in the Heineken Cup. Only one Welsh team has ever reached the final -- Cardiff, in the inaugural tournament in 1995/96. They lost 21-18 to Toulouse.

A glance at this season's tables offers a familiar gloomy perspective for Welsh fans. Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets all occupy third place in their pools. The Dragons are bottom of Pool 6 after five defeats in five games.

All the money invested by the Welsh Rugby Union on the provinces, all the hope, all the hype has come to naught once again this season. It is time, surely, to wonder why.

The four Welsh provincial sides have collectively won just seven of the 20 pool matches they have played this season -- a shocking ratio. The three Irish provinces have won 10 of their 15 games, with Leinster through to the quarter-finals and Ulster set to join them.

There won't be any Welsh team in the last eight. Considering the huge amounts of money invested in them, it's a damning indictment of those franchises that they have consistently failed.

All manner of overseas so-called 'stars' have arrived in Wales to play their rugby. Presumably, they haven't gone there for the winter weather or special taste of Welsh butter.

Given the results, Welsh rugby officials are entitled to believe they've wasted untold amounts of money.

The Cardiff Blues are a good example. Their investment in overseas stars in recent times has been substantial, yet they languish a massive 11 points behind Pool 1 leaders Northampton. Casey Laulala and Paul Tito joined Xavier Rush in the Welsh capital, and Cardiff then awarded Rush a huge new deal to keep him from Ulster's grasp last summer.

The Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons have all recruited similarly. Players like Jerry Collins, Ireland's Tommy Bowe and Dan Parks have been given handsome contracts.

But Wales have discovered the hard way that paying out big money is one thing. Actually achieving something through the investment is something else entirely.

Welsh rugby fans have never fully accepted the forced arrival of the franchises into their game. And maybe that's not surprising.

The likes of Llanelli, Cardiff, Swansea, Neath, Bridgend, Pontypool, Pontypridd and Newport were great bastions of the game in Wales. Local pride in the town or city was at stake and it drove a ferocious commitment on the part of all who competed in such matches.

Great old players, like the 1974 Lions hooker Bobby Windsor, often used to say, and not in jest, that a Monday night floodlit derby between Pontypool and Newport was just as tough as an old Five Nations match against England or Scotland.

But all that tradition and pride was thrown overboard by the WRU when professionalism arrived. And judging by results since the game went open, Welsh provincial rugby has got weaker, not stronger.

Of course, it's important to say that Wales won Grand Slams as recently as 2005 and '08.

But maybe Wales' dire Autumn International results, in which they failed to win a single match, and their provinces' poor Heineken Cup performances, add up to a disturbing picture.

Too much money has been wasted on too many 'has-beens' and on some over-hyped younger Welsh players who perhaps thought they were a lot better than they really were.

Being a big fish in a small pond seems to have swollen certain heads in Welsh rugby. Certainly, on the evidence of results, they have little of which to feel proud.

Irish Independent