There seems to be no end to the Welsh exodus at the moment – Richard Hibbard is leaving for Gloucester and there are constant rumours over Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton’s futures flying around – but Welsh legend Scott Quinnell doesn’t blame them.
“I find it hard to criticise the Welsh players leaving because it would be hypocritical of me,” says Quinnell. “I left for rugby league in 1994. The players have to think of themselves – the physicality of the game, the way it’s going, just look at all the British and Irish Lions who have come back after a busy summer and are currently injured. They have to think about the money.
“If it was me and I was playing nowadays I might possibly go to France but I took a 45% pay cut to come back and play for Llanelli after rugby league. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener but I don’t begrudge these young men who want to go and experience a new way of life, whether you cross the border or go to France. It’s a great opportunity for them and I hope they reap the rewards.”
The age-old rumour of an Anglo-Welsh league is another hot topic at the moment, but Quinnell thinks this could be a way off, if true at all.
“With rugby at the moment I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he says. “I don’t think anybody has the full facts and I know there will be a lot of talk between the regions and unions and clubs in the near future. We need to be mindful of the game as well, history is a wonderful thing and we need to look to the future and make sure rugby is in a good place nationally and at a club and regional level.”
Quinnell does understand the repercussions that occur with the amount of players leaving the Land of the Red Dragon though. “I’ll tell you who I feel sorry for: the fans. Not just the loyal fans who have been around 10 to 50 years, but the nine year olds who need to see the best players playing in Wales.
“It’s very sad that they’ll only be able to watch their idols play in a Welsh jersey or when they come back to play in Wales with their new team. There’s a civil war going on throughout rugby at the moment, particularly in Wales, and hopefully they can sort something out sooner rather than later.”
Speaking about civil war, Quinnell is at a loss when it comes down to the future of European rugby. “It’s up to the organisers now. I genuinely believe that nobody knows anything yet. The Heineken Cup is a magnificent competition and I’ve been very lucky to play in it and in a couple of semi-finals.
“Hopefully everyone can come together for the good of the game. Hopefully sense will prevail and we can continue with what I believe is the greatest club competition in the world!”
He is also unsure about who is going to do well in the competition this season. “I tip someone every year but in nine years I’ve never got one right! A few sides are still in it, but the way Munster and Ulster have topped their pools – and also Clermont, Toulon, Toulouse and Leinster – it’s the Irish and French looking strongest. With Steve Borthwick retiring at the end of the season, that’s extra motivation for Saracens as well.
“If their players stay fit, it could come down to Leinster or Clermont but I’m not writing Toulon off either. On current form I’m going to go for Leinster.”
By Calum Gillon (@C_Gillon)
Scott Quinnell is a host of the Heineken Rugby Show. Join the conversation at #HeinekenRugby and watch the next show at www.youtube.com/Heineken