The Wales vs England rugby league international this afternoon made for embarrassing viewing as another nail was hammered into the international rugby league coffin. I sincerely hope i am wrong but given this time next year the World Cup kicks off today’s 14 try thrashing of Wales does the international game no favours.
The sport needs teams other than Australia, New Zealand and England to perform well, France, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa seem to be in the middle ground where they seem too strong to be classed as minnows but only occasionally give the big boys a game for 80 minutes. As for the minnows at the level before those teams i worry that today’s result will send organizers into a panic and just like in 2000 the Wales, Scotland & Ireland teams will suddenly fill up with Aussies and Kiwis who upon realizing they have no chance of playing for their country of birth will discover they have a granny from Aberdare, Ayr or Armagh and switch countries for a month then back in time for the new season when they might just have a chance of becoming a Kangaroo or Kiwi. A 10 team World Cup has to be questioned, perhaps a better idea would be for a five/six nations tournament to take place under the guise of the World Cup featuring Australia, New Zealand England plus a couple of qualifiers meaning only the very best will compete and hopefully mismatches would be avoided.
To see Wales plummit to such a low is sad to see, in the era of professional rugby union Wales have barely managed to be competitive vs England for a half let alone a full 80 minutes which tells you everything you need to know, long gone are the days of the very best Welsh players switching codes for various reasons. The salary cap is perhaps the number 1 reason i can think of because after the majority of top Superleague clubs, i’m sure, can compete financially with the Welsh RU (and for that matter the Scottish RU and maybe Irish RU) when it comes to wages but such a small salary cap (around £1.7million) makes signing a player with no rugby league background on a big contract a major gamble but several Superleague have decided to take the cheap route by signing Welsh and Irish teenagers and educating them in the ways of rugby league so maybe if all that works out maybe in 5 years or so there will be more Welsh born players in Superleague hopefully creating a strong Welsh national team, the fact that all the English Superleague teams rather than just a few aren’t scouting south Wales, Ireland and Scotland for the best young rugby players is a missed opportunity at the moment. The Crusaders Superleague franchise did unearth a couple of decent Welsh players such as Ben Flower, Gil Dudson and Elliot Kear who were snapped up as soon as the Crusaders imploded but one must consider their tenure in Superleague as a failure because they failed to deliver a squad mostly composed of Welsh players, that is were the Catalans franchise has delivered because they have a squad were the French players outnumber the imports and them challenging for a grand final place would no longer be a surprise.
To conclude, i admit i have been somewhat negative about international rugby league but its hard not to be after today, England have gained nothing, if anything a big win vs a minnow gives them false hope when it comes to matches versus the Aussies and Kiwis but what can they do? The NRL objected to England touring New Zealand and the Pacific islands this autumn because they didn’t want their players getting even more tired so England were left with the choice of no matches or a mismatch vs Wales and perhaps a tough 40/50 minutes vs France and they took the second option. I will finish with my suggestion for a better Autumn series, i think a tri series between Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria/rest of England rep. teams would provide far more competitive end of season matches, the only problem would be players not playing together as England but it would almost be like a trial for players hoping to be selected by England for the World Cup, given that rugby league is now a 17, rather than 13, a side game a tri series would also create a pool of the 51 best English players.