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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Valleys wasteland envisaged
By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

The culling of the Celtic Warriors regional side has led to fears for the future of Welsh rugby's heartland.

THE BACKGROUND
The Bridgend and Pontypridd side have enjoyed a successful first season on the pitch, but off-field problems and financial strictures have condemned the team to a short page in the history books.

The move leaves regional rugby in Wales hugging the south coast of the country, from the estuary of the Usk to the Loughor, with little consideration for the game's valleys strongholds.

Neil Jenkins is a product of Pontypridd
If you take their regional team away there are no icons for the kids to look up to
Ex-Wales and Lions wing JJ Williams
"I don't think (Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive) David Moffett understands what Welsh rugby is all about," said former Wales and Lions wing JJ Williams, who started his career at Bridgend.

"Places like Pontypridd and Bridgend are the real hot-beds of the game, the valleys are the main area where people play rugby.

"Just look at stars like Gareth Thomas, Rob Howley, Scott Gibbs, Dafydd James and Neil Jenkins, they've all been produced in the Pontypridd and Bridgend school areas.

"Bridgend have won the Under-11 Cup 20 out of 30 times, Brynteg Comprehensive has been our best rugby school for the past 50 years.

"If you take their regional team away there are no icons for the kids to look up to. Frankly it's an insult.

"We should have gone with four rather than five regional teams 12 months ago, but a valleys team has to be part of that.

"We need a team from the west, the east, the capital and the valleys, the small clubs and people of Wales must make themselves heard."

Warriors coach Lynn Howells
The valleys always seem to take the brunt of it
Warriors coach Lynn Howells
Warriors coach Lynn Howells, who could be left out of a job by the developments, believes the Union have chosen to cull a successful team.

"It hurts because we've fought to get into the Heineken Cup, the players have become a squad and forged an identity, and the fans were starting to buy into it," said Howells.

"This smacks of being a financial rather than a rugby decision. The WRU always wanted a big four, but the side they've picked on was the one with the structures in place to really take things forward.

"It's the valleys again, they always seem to be the ones to take the brunt of it, but it will leave a big hole in Welsh rugby.

"It's not just the Warriors but the whole development side and academy structure that will be lost, it's sad."

What worries me is the idea that four regional sides is a panacea when it smacks of a quick fix
Ex-Wales captain Gareth Davies
Former Wales captain and chairman of the Sports Council of Wales Gareth Davies is equally concerned at the impact of the Warriors' disappearance on the game's grass roots.

"What worries me is the idea that four regional sides is a panacea when it smacks of a quick fix," said Davies.

"We may get stronger Heineken Cup sides, but the lifeblood of Welsh rugby is in places like Bridgend, Maesteg and Pontypridd.

"They are the breeding grounds that have produced the most internationals, not places like Cardiff.

"If you can't generate enthusiasm in the valleys towns there is a chance that the game will die and I don't think we have a strategy to counter that.

"There is still a great deal of support for Welsh rugby, with a full Millennium Stadium and 30,000 travelling to Dublin for Six Nations games.

"But we can't go on expecting that without working for it to continue."




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