Attendances in Wales are down and this concerns me. This could be the reason why the Welsh regions have played poorly in this years tournament, with the exception possibly of the Scarlets. So then, the facts are that when the Ospreys hosted Saracens on Friday night there were under 7,000 in attendance and when you consider that Saracens are quality opposition and one of the best teams in England it becomes such a disappointing figure.
I suppose it's not really that there were only 6,897 in the stadium, it's the lack of atmosphere that they can create when sat in a 20,500 seater stadium. How can the Ospreys board justify these kind of figures, it's ridiculous and there is no way a player can be motivated when the stadium isn't even half full! What's even scarier for Welsh rugby is that at the reverse fixture last weekend there were 41,000 fans at Wembley which is nearly 6 times as many that turned up to the Liberty Stadium.
In the past 4/5 years 3 of the Welsh regions have moved away from smaller, more basic grounds to larger, more modern facilities and in the case of the Blues and Ospreys entering a partnership with football teams in order to afford the new stadium. A plan which has monumentally backfired. Only 6,100 fans made it to the Cardiff City Stadium last weekend to watch the Blues face Edinburgh, a team that the Blues should beat comfortably, this left the stadium only 1/4 full and the Blues played possibly the most boring rugby I have ever seen! It works both ways.
Parc y Scarlets was near capacity last weekend at 13,000 which is promising but you have to consider that the Scarlets were playing European giants Munster for what was arguably the tie of the round. In the reverse tie at Thomond Park on Sunday there was 25,000 fans which is capacity for the ground. The facts speak for themselves.
The Dragons are the only region to have kept themselves in a smaller ground rather than a stadium, where the fans are practically on the pitch and standing in the terraces with a burger. rather than sat in the top tier of a stand. I believe that the atmosphere at Rodney Parade is better than any of the other three regions simply because the ground is always full even if they don't always bring in 27,000 like the Blues were obviously planning on doing.
Leinster switched the Aviva Stadium for their clash with Bath on saturday when 46,365 fans came to support their team, this is the national stadium for Ireland and it's capacity is 50,000, imagine the atmosphere that created for the players and Leinster ran out 52 - 27 winners whilst playing some scintillating rugby and I can guarantee you that their ground (The RDS) will be packed out for their Boxing Day clash.
These poor attendance figures could also be the reason why Welsh rugby is losing it's big names to clubs in Europe. I learned today that following Mike Phillips, James Hook and Lee Byrne abroad is Luke Charteris another man who was massive for Wales in the RWC. Also Gethin Jenkins is pondering a new contract at the Blues as is Shane Williams with the Ospreys. Gareth Baber (Blues coach) says that regions need more financial backing to keep their top billed players. I say create an environment and an atmosphere in which a player wants to play and they will stay and in my opinion this would mean moving to smaller stadiums.
It's not all doom and gloom, rumours are circulating that the Blues are planning on moving back to the Arms Park, their old stadium, where I used to thoroughly enjoy going to see the games and there was always a good atmosphere. Welsh rugby needs to go back to it's roots, I think we all got carried away a few years ago when everyone was sprouting new stadiums everywhere and now we've been humbled by reality, the regions can't fill these stadiums.
No matter how bad things may seem in my first attempt at a blog, it's not as bad as Scotland. Edinburgh hosted the Blues in Murrayfield on Friday, a 67,000 seater stadium, just over 4,000 turned up. I won't even go into that one.