Welsh rugby travelling on parallel roads as Judgment Day approaches

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This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. features Read more Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter Wales are enjoying their most successful period in the professional era, last month winning a third grand slam in 11 years to lift them to second in the world rankings, their highest ever. They are on a record winning run and will arrive in Japan for the World Cup later this year as self-proclaimed contenders.The achievement is all the more notable because the professional game in Wales below international level is heading towards the intensive care ward. The regular season of the Pro14 ends this Saturday with a series of local derbies and there is a chance that, for the first time, Wales will not be represented in next season’s European Champions Cup, 12 months after the Scarlets reached the semi-final. All four lack depth in their squads, making them vulnerable to injuries, and they do not spend as much on coaching teams as their rivals in Europe. The Welsh Rugby Union has tried to launch Project Reset, a comprehensive plan that addresses issues such as player wages, the number of regions and where they would best be located. But any change needs consensus and it suffered a setback during the Six Nations when a proposed merger between the Ospreys and the Scarlets was leaked, ending it abruptly at the conception stage.The result is that in the final week of the regular season a number of contracts still have to be sorted out, including that of the Wales captain, Alun Wyn Jones, who plays for the first time since Wales’s win over Ireland after recovering from knee ligament damage. The Ospreys have drawn up a new deal for the second row but need the financial support of the Welsh Rugby Union to honour it. This month, the Cardiff Blues fly-half Gareth Anscombe announced he was joining the Ospreys next season: the Wales international, playing at full-backon Saturday, could have the kick which decides which of the two goes into the play-off.“It is a bit unreal that we are playing the Ospreys for the play-off spot,” said the Blues head coach, John Mulvihill. “Gareth is a true professional and will be doing everything for us. Recruitment and retention should be made between December and February, not now, which is unacceptable. We need to make sure it does not happen again. The Pro14 is a league that is going from strength to strength and will get even better. We have played some really good rugby this season, but you have to be on it all the time.” Wales rugby union team Sign up to the Breakdown for the latest rugby union news Since you’re here… Cardiff Blues Rugby union Newport Gwent Dragons Topics The Dragons are in a familiar position despite recruiting with intent a year ago when they brought in experienced internationals Ross Moriarty and Richard Hibbard. It has been a two-tone season for their hooker Elliot Dee, unbeaten in nine matches with Wales but whose four victories in a Dragons shirt include the Southern Kings, Zebre and Timisoara Saracens among the victims.“It has been a good season for me with Wales,” said Dee. “It was amazing to be part of the grand slam, but it has been tough for the regions with all the stuff that has been going on in the background. At the end of the day, you have a job to do and we intend giving a good account of ourselves against the Scarlets.”Judgment Day is intended as a celebration before a near capacity crowd, but it has come to highlight the parallel roads Welsh rugby runs on, only one of which has signposts.center_img Ospreys Share on Pinterest Alun Wyn Jones close to Ospreys new deal and ‘50-50’ for Cardiff Blues game Support The Guardian Read more Share on Messenger Pro14 Share via Email Share on Facebook The country’s four regions will be at the Principality Stadium for Judgment Day VII, six weeks after Wales secured the grand slam there by defeating Ireland. The winner of the match between Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys will qualify for the play-off to determine the Pro14’s final place in next season’s Champions Cup; the Scarlets, who face the Dragons, could provide the opposition, but the side coached by Wayne Pivac, who will take charge of Wales after the World Cup, are reliant on others.The Ospreys, for whom George North returns after breaking his hand against Ireland, could finish third in their conference and qualify automatically for Europe. That would require the two teams immediately above them losing, Edinburgh at Glasgow and Treviso at Zebre. If one of the results went the region’s way, the play-off would beckon; if neither did, it would mean experiencing the Challenge Cup for the first time.“It has been a hugely frustrating season, and that is an understatement” said Jonathan Davies, the Scarlets’ Wales and Lions centre. “There was expectation and we put pressure on ourselves from within. Injuries were a reason we faltered, but with the talent we have we should be in a better position.“There is a lot at stake for us against the Dragons because the Champions Cup is part of the Scarlets’ history. The days you remember as a kid growing up are big European matches and it is vital that we are in the tournament next season. We need to beat the Dragons and hope that everything else takes care of itself; I have my Glasgow and Zebre shirts ready.”Ospreys are the only Welsh region to have won more league matches than they have lost this season. The Blues and the Scarlets have a 50% record and the Dragons are propping up their conference having recorded four victories in 20 matches. It is 16 years since Wales abandoned the club system at professional level, a move driven by economics as teams were unable to get anywhere against the playing budgets of clubs in England and France and losing players, but the financial divide remains even with four sides. They are pedalling harder and harder but falling further behind. Scarlets Share on WhatsApp Wales and Scotland made to wait in World Cup player release row Reuse this contentlast_img