Rewind two months and it’s the start of the second round of group matches at the Rugby League World Cup. In the first round both Wales and Scotland faced heavy defeats by teams who made them look slightly amateur. Having watched both of these games it only left me wondering why the national RL teams of Wales and Scotland aren’t able to compete at International level.
In Wales there are around 85,000 registered rugby union players and only a couple of thousand registered rugby league players. Now this may be an unpopular statement but to me the core skills of both union and league are at least similar. So why in Wales are players who are dropped by union academies settling on playing semi-pro union instead of trying their hand at the other code. I’m not suggesting that league should have to feed off the scraps of union but in a country like Wales, union is always going to be more popular.
Wales and Scotland are breeding grounds to some of the most natural rugby talent irrelevant of the code, but the Scottish national team don’t even play their home games in Scotland. The divide between union and league in Scotland is even more significant than that in Wales, with there being hundreds of union clubs and only four league clubs. The gap between the two codes in these two countries is worryingly significant and in current circumstances it’s only going to grow.
What is required from Wales RL and Scotland RL in my opinion is a bit more hands on work. Scotland needs to start trying to integrate league into primary schools and should try and offer it as a summer sport and something for off-season union players. Again, as in Wales, league is an inferior sport in Scotland so it really has to start from the bottom and build up. In Wales the situation is a little bit better, the WRL have developed links with secondary schools and have teams playing in national age group competitions. They also now have sixth form colleges who now offer League as a target sport. Wales also has two semi-pro RL teams with West Wales Raiders and North Wales Crusaders. Unfortunately as good as these developments are, they aren’t enough to draw players away from union.
The semi-pro clubs in Wales often play in front of crowds less than a thousand, whereas the top union clubs often get 10,000. There is no doubt that in both Wales and Scotland the resources are there to make RL work, their independent organisations just need to push a bit more to get the wheels in full motion. A good target for example in Scotland would be to try and create a competition which would run in the union off-season, they should also try and get age group competitions going amongst primary and secondary schools in the summer.
In Wales there needs to be more advertising of the game and the opportunities it could offer to those not playing elite union. It would also boast well for Wales if either of their semi-pro clubs had a significantly strong season. There have been very strong signs of progress in junior welsh rugby league recently with the U16 national team beating England, but now there really needs to be a kick on and it needs to start in 2018.