By IAN GOLDEN
ONCE more, November’s column is written in an airport lounge, waiting to fly back with triumphant Wales. Last year it was Dublin, with the European Cup. This time, no silverware but a bigger prize from Monza: a place in RLWC2017.
Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby to start with is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine – I can’t wait.
Beating the Azzurri was a hard slog. Led by Terry Campese, the Italians tried and failed to break Wales down. Ultimately fitness and some of the most dogged defence – at one time surviving seven sets to one – did the job. The beer flowed in Woody’s Bar, post-match.
More than half the side is Welsh-born, which helps to enthuse the heritage players. No fewer than 15 out of the 24-man squad fielded this year came through the development system in South Wales. The same can’t be said for North Wales, though. For the first time in a calendar year since 2005, no players affiliated to a Crusaders club have featured. WRL chairman Brian Juliff hopes World Cup qualification will help kick start events in Wrexham again.
“We are very proud of our record when it comes to development,” he said, waiting to board. “We haven’t gone the way other countries have by filling our side with Australians. We’ve done the right thing and whilst we’ve been heavily criticised for it in some quarters over the last five years, for the last two, it’s really started to pay off.
“Mike Grady has taken over at North Wales Crusaders and he was passionate about junior development when he was with the Scorpions. Allen Jones is doing a great job developing their youth structure and that will come to fruition soon. World Cup qualification means a lot to everyone and I think we will notice a difference next year right through the country.
“People like Dai Evans, for example, who has played some rugby union recently and came back to win two caps for us. I hope he’ll be back at South Wales Ironmen next year, along with others who will want a place on the plane to Australia.”
South Wales Ironmen took their development side to Canada to help blaze the Toronto trail, beating fledgling Ontario State 60-4 and Canada East. Organised long before the Wolfpack were accepted into League 1 for next season, it helped to spread the wider word in Vancouver.
The second game was a lot closer and reported on by your writer’s best man, Simon Davies, who now resides in Toronto. He tweeted enthusiastically throughout and told the story of a 22-10 win, the Canadians leading more than they were behind, with only a couple of late tries clinching it.
The Wales Dragonhearts, with up and coming star Ethan Coombes to the fore, made their way to Germany. Coombes, who made his Scorpions debut in 2016, has been flirting between union and league recently, making appearances for Pontypridd in the 15-man code. But its league where he really shines and he has signed a first team contract for the Ironmen for next season.
He scored as the Dragonhearts beat the German national side 40-32 in Osnabrück after the scores were level at the break.
Unfortunately, the first game of a planned tour, against a British Army base side due to take place earlier in the week, had to be cancelled as many of the opposition were deployed that morning.
The link between all the foreign soil games is that the Welsh didn’t lose any of them. There is still much work to be done, but grassroots quality is starting to emerge and is being recognised.
S4C, who did a wonderful job in broadcasting live our 50-0 win at home to Serbia earlier in the World Cup qualifiers, are already excited for the World Cup.