Tuesday Dec 11th: 10:30
I am going to start in the home town of my father, and the town where many of my relatives still live. That town is Neath. A town with a great rugby history having provided many Welsh internationals of yesteryear and a ground synonymous with "pain"; The Gnoll. Neath are about to go out of existence. There are many factors for the demise but at the heart are two; the regional set-up with the Ospreys and money. As with many clubs in South Wales the regional sides, originally five now four took the best players from the clubs and there followed the fans. As the regions grew so the money drifted that way too leaving clubs like Neath and Maesteg floundering in their wake. Whilst there is the Premiership, and some of the rugby is pretty good and most of the big name clubs of times gone by are still there, it was never going to be possible to keep it as a fully professional league.
Neath's main benefactor Mike Cuddy saw his business slide into administration along with his health. This at a time when Neath were struggling on the field and crowd numbers were dwindling. Outcome: bills couldn't be paid, players became unsettled, coaches start to worry and all of a sudden there is no team to put out, no coaches and no medical staff. It is likely in the next few days Neath will no longer survive.
I write this as I believe Neath's demise will not be the last, in fact I fear not just in Wales but across the UK clubs for various reasons will implode, and those who rely solely on the largesse of benefactors are most at risk, especially at this time of economic uncertainty.
By the way my great grandfather was a stalwart and former captain of Neath RFC. The Gnoll, based on it is location in the town it is perfect for a nice housing development.
Keeping it Welsh the WRU have finally got agreement on the "new start", Project Reset, with the regions. It is a very complex agreement but in essence it is about having fewer highly paid professionals thus reducing the wage bill of the regions. It rewards those at the top very nicely thus keeping them in Wales but stops fringe players and journey men taking limited funds out of the system. There are risks that the lure of cash from England could make the deal backfire but it seems like a good plan. Overlaying this is an agreement that the better the regions perform in the Pro 14 and Europe the more money they get. The more Welsh internationals they provide the more money they get. The balance sheets of the regions have been "cleaned" up so debts are much more manageable. This along with the reduction in the Premiership means the WRU is able to spread its funds more evenly at the top of the game, and free up cash to invest in the grassroots where it is much needed.
Both stories can be read in WalesOnline.
The interim CEO of the RFU Nigel Melville has voiced his concern about the £200m deal about to be agreed with CVC and Premiership Rugby. He quite rightly sees that amount of money being injected into the game as a positive thing. However, he is 100% right to suggest the money should be used wisely by the clubs to either reduce their indebtedness, to invest in improved facilities for spectators and players alike, or into developing home grown talent for the future. His fear is that the clubs will fritter the money away by buying in more marquee players, who fall outside the salary cap which Melville and possibly the clubs want to keep as is. It means the £10.5m or so each club will receive will benefit just a few and not the many (sound familiar) and do nothing to reduce the risk the high levels of debt pose. Time will tell. By the way I am led to believe this might turn out to be a deal with the devil. The strings attached and the expectations of CVC are very high and they are not investing for fun, they are investing for a return. Watch this space.
Melville has also mooted the idea of two eight team top flight leagues. This is an interesting proposition. The idea would be to have a proper geographical spread of teams and to have a proper reason for a play-off with each league going into a NFL style end of season with a reason for a final; the Premierships "Super Bowl". It isn't going to happen anytime soon but by increasing the number of top flight clubs then splitting them into two leagues then getting rid of mickey mouse tournaments like the A league and Premiership Cup you reduce the number of professional players and reduce the number of games played. There are MANY reasons why this would take a long time to get off the ground but there is some sense in it. SKY Sports for the full article.
Stuart Lancaster is more likely to work for Andy Farrell and Ireland than return to the England job. That is my view. Much in the papers about this. He could also consider the Aussie job if Michael Cheika gets axed in the coming weeks. I say stick with him but what do I know.
Talking of the axe, Theresa Maybe dodged it by cancelling today's crucial Brexit vote. She has stepped back from the abyss but in my mind the abyss is still there and it has suddenly become deeper, wider and more horrifying. There are 600 plus MPs who have our futures in their hands and right now top of their minds is their own self interest. That is not right. We have got ourselves into a situation where common sense has gone out of the window and self-preservation is the order of the day. The problem with that approach is the 600 plus might end up sitting pretty as the remaining 68m or so of us find ourselves in an economic wasteland run by................. I dread to think. Perhaps Harry Redknapp could come to our rescue.
Whilst we are beating ourselves with birch twigs President Macron has not only played his fiddle while Paris burnt, not only done a U-turn on tax reforms, but he has now caved in completely by increasing the minimum wage. He has given in to the hostage takers. It is no wonder the French economy struggles. Still can't work out why all those migrants don't want to stay in France, or maybe I can.
Monday Dec 10th: 09:30
Thankfully it is forecast to be a little drier in the week ahead than it was last. Whilst the weather was pretty dire and the pitch very heavy Crowborough and Folkestone served up a game that kept you out in the rain. The result, which we had to battle extremely hard for keep us atop the table. Folkestone are in eighth but just a point behind Lewes who were beaten at home by Old Willies 6-22. There are just four points separating Beccehamians in second and Old Dunstonians in sixth. Beccehamians came away from Hastings & Bexhill with a 10-15 win. Vigo are now in third after beating Park House 27-8. Pulborough remain comfortably in the hunt after their 20-12 win over ODs. It was sad to see a HWO against the Bromley v Hellingly fixture. For Bromley it gives them some breathing space from the three teams below. It is even sadder to say as we go into the second half of the season that Hellingly 19 points adrift at the bottom are looking dead certs to return to Sussex 1.
I am going to assume league leaders Uckfield in Sussex 1 had their game called off due to the weather as there is no result showing. Plumpton v Crawley was an AWO. East Grinstead beat Seaford and Eastbourne lost at home to Burgess Hill. With three / four games still to be played there remains much to play for before the league splits into the two mini leagues. (I got that info wrong last week...... sorry!).
In London 2 South East some relief for our friends The Greenies as they claw themselves off the bottom beating Aylesford Bulls 6-5. They are still a little adrift of Maidstone who were well beaten by table topping Beckenham. Horsham came second at home to Old Colfeians 7-10. This a surprise result for me. Charlton Park go second after an easy win over Dover. Gravesend beat Deal & Betteshanger and in the other game our Sussex friends Haywards Heath travelled home from Thanet Wanderers (no easy journey that) with a 15-15 draw. Horsham remain the best placed Sussex side in third.
Up in London 1 South Brighton continue their charge for promotion with a fine home win over Chobham. Sevenoaks are now in second spot after beating Chichester fairly comfortably. Medway are in third after their away win at Camberley. Hove remain rooted to the bottom of the table after what can only be described as 83-10 mauling away at London Cornish. Still 13 games to go in this league so don't write anybody in or out of the promotion or relegation races.
Upwards into the London & SE Premier league. A losing bonus point for Tunbridge Wells after their 9-8 defeat at Sidcup. Wimbledon remain top after beating Hertford. Shelford remain bottom after another heavy defeat at Dorking. TWells are in 9th but only four points clear of Chingford in 13th.
In the national leagues Worthing came away from Old Redcliffians having suffered a 33-22 defeat. Better day for Tonbridge Juddians as they beat Redruth 22-7. (Another crazy journey home). TJs are now 5th. Worthing 10th.
No Monday would be complete without the Bridgnorth and Salisbury results. The former drew 21-21 with Scunthorpe. The latter came away from Newbury having been beaten 51-17.
I watched Saracens blow away Cardiff Blues yesterday. Let us not kid ourselves Sarries are one hell of a side. Cardiff are not playing well at the moment but I don't think anyone could have competed against the men in black in that second half. I then settled down to Racing 92 v Leicester. That is one fantastic stadium. What an atmosphere, what a build up. You expected U2 to come and perform not two teams of enormous rugby players. It was a cracking game. The best I've watched for some time. Lots of tries. A high degree of skill. Some outrageous passages of play. Tremendous stuff.
Then it was time for the NFL. Go Saints. Divisional Champions for the second season running. Hoorah. There were some excellent games and some amazing last minute wins. That Miami touchdown against the Patriots was something else. By the way watching a single game can be painful so if you have SKY use the red button and find Red Zone. All the action as it happens from all the games and not a single break for an advert in three plus hours.
More rugby news tomorrow. Make a note of where you are tomorrow as in years to come you'll be asked where you were when the United Kingdom fell over the cliff and into the abyss of despair. It could be the date that signals the start of the country becoming a Marxist wasteland. It could be the day that blood is spilt across the Commons floor. It could be the day that sees the biggest U-turn since ..................... yesterday when Macron conceded defeat to anarchy and said he would reverse his countries tax increases.