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Welsh Teams Struggling In The Era Of The Ugly Scoreline

By Graham Thomas

It looked like a misprint.

But it was true. Gloucester did indeed lose 90-0 away to Northampton.

That’s 14 unanswered tries against a club with a proud reputation as representing one of the hotbed areas of English rugby, where regulars in The Shed are renowned for their noisy allegiance.

The Cherry and Whites have always had strong Welsh links, too, and next season Wales outside-half Gareth Anscombe will be wearing their colours.

How could they have lost 90-0? 

Well, some context is needed as Gloucester did rest all their big guns ahead of their European Challenge Cup Final appearance next week against the Sharks.

And if you think they are capable of a quick return to form, then you’re not alone because DragonBet make Gloucester huge odds-on favourites to beat Newcastle this weekend at 1/11.

But even that rotation selection decision tells only part of the tale. Lopsided scorelines in rugby are becoming more common. On-field collapses are now mirroring the structural collapses of many aspects of a troubled sport.

Only three weeks ago, Bristol hammered Newcastle, 85-14. 

As well as last weekend’s Gloucester gloom, Harlequins were crushed 58-26 at Exeter and the Ospreys – who have been far and away Wales’ best team this season – were battered 61-14 by Leinster.

Munster beat Connacht 47-12 and even across the Channel in France, Toulouse beat the normally hard-nosed Stade Francais, 49-18.

You don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to detect that something strange is going on.

Rugby seems to have reached a tipping point. It was thought that the collapse of Worcester, Wasps and London Irish in England would concentrate playing strength with more players on the market.

But there just seem to be more ordinary players on the market. Sometimes, it’s not a case of less is more. It’s more like more is less.

The four Welsh regions have long grown used to suffering heavy defeats, so the Ospreys’ hefty loss at Leinster did not raise many eyebrows.

Leinster, Northampton, Saracens, Munster, Glasgow, Toulouse and a few others have managed to withstand the financial problems and built reliable, robust squads, capable of rolling on from week to week.

At the same time, the Ospreys, Cardiff, the Scarlets and the Dragons all look weak and vulnerable by comparison.

When the weak meet the strong, the scorelines are now getting ugly.

The Welsh regions all have big holes in their squads caused by player departures, gaps they cannot cover. They can look competitive for 20 minutes – as the Ospreys did in Dublin – but then things start to fray.

When the tipping point comes in a match – anywhere between 20 minutes in and 20 minutes left – like ships taking on too much water, they sink without trace.

The four sides have only managed a collective 17 wins in 64 league games this season so far, with only eight successes against non-Welsh teams.

Will things get better next season? The Dragons’ recruitment suggests they might do at Rodney Parade, at least.

But with playing budgets being reduced further, more players leaving, no leadership or vision from those running the game in Wales, former international Tom Shanklin voiced the fears of many at the weekend when he predicted things would get worse before they get better.

Professional rugby players are resilient people, though, and bad memories can quickly be replaced by good ones.

When Gloucester coach George Skivington was asked about the bus journey back from Northampton after that 90-0 horror show, he admitted: “Not a great bus journey home at all. Very quiet, that would be the way to sum it up.”

But then the players started watching the Quins v Exeter game on TV – the other hammering – and maybe things didn’t seem so bad.

Who knows? By the time the Gloucester players play the Sharks in that European final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next week, they may have forgotten all about their sinful day at the Saints.

They will certainly forget if they lift the trophy.

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