Posts Tagged ‘ Wales ’

The Endangered Ospreys.

A little clichéd as titles go, but one not without merit – yes, the demise of the Ospreys over the weekend is the one major talking point to come out of an exciting and dramatic weekend of European Rugby Cup action. There are plenty of positives from a Welsh perspective to take away from the tournament, the Blues return to the knockout stages, the Scarlets punch above their weight to continue in the second tier, while the Dragons produced some of their best displays on the European stage, even though their rewards did not match their endeavour. Yet it is on the Ospreys that attention must fall, after all, given their capitulation in France on Sunday, we won’t be talking about them in Europe for another season anyway, so while the Blues and the Scarlets can look ahead, let us look back on the Ospreys, and ask why?

With the comings and goings in Osprelia over the summer, with Hook, Phillips, Byrne and Mitchell all heading for pastures new, some suggested this would be a testing year for the west Wales outfit…those suggestions smacked of pre-season excuses. Even with the big names gone, the Ospreys could still field a near entire international starting line-up, and for most games, had high calibre internationals sitting on their bench. Yet, and not for the first time, a visit to France brought out only the worse from the team who should be leading the way in Wales. Defeat is one thing, all the Welsh regions have tasted it this year, but the Ospreys did so in a manner that was nothing short of embarrassing.

Talk of change marked the Ospreys pre-season, the Galactico tag was ditched, the fake tan banned in the most bizarre of public announcement (really, the fake tan ban was presented with the same fanfare as if the Ospreys had snatched Dan Carter’s contract), and yet, another European Rugby Cup gone by, and the same disappointments are there to be seen. So what has not changed? Given that the Ospreys seemed so keen to fiddle with the squad, one wonders why on earth they retain such faith in a coaching and managerial line-up that returns so little.

Of course, Scott Johnson is on his way, and will surely be waved off with a cheer, and a kick to the behind by the Ospreys fans who have seen nothing on whatever amount was invested in the Australian journeyman’s expertise. But what of those who remain, of Holley and Humphries? We are told that these are the coaches, the men who have the most direct influence over their team, how much more time are they going to be given to produce the goods? Put simply, the Ospreys seem incapable of holding on to their best products, and the products that they have left are stagnating under a coaching regime that looks tired and out of ideas. The EyeOnWales pages make no secret of their allegiance to the colour of Scarlet, but we all recognise the need for a successful Ospreys team for a successful Wales (2008 Grand Slam anyone). The fresh start at the Ospreys should never have been attempted at a player base, but at a coaching level. Fail to address this problem, and whatever player personal come in for the Ospreys next season, will have little to no effect on the regions ongoing shortcomings at the European level.    

It’s time for a change, and the change must come from the top.

The Shingler Senario.

It’s hard to know what to say about the Steve Shingler situation. Public opinion seems very torn over the matter, some argue Shingler should be freed by the WRU to play for Scotland, that the WRU misled him; others argue that he has shown no respect to Wales and jumped for the ‘easier’ international option (sorry Scotland, no slur intended), while some simply suggest that these were the actions of a confused young man. Wherever you might stand, it is clear that there is no winner here between Shingler, the WRU and the IRB, all three, from a public relations standpoint, have lost out.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, the comings and goings, well, goings really, of potential Welsh players has raised some interesting questions. Not so many days ago, Welsh rugby was lamenting the loss of Ben Morgan to the English cause. Here the case was much clearer. Morgan had never made his intentions clear as to where he saw his international future and, after much time spent considering the matter, Morgan decided that he was English, and should try to play for England. Welsh fans were of course upset, but few would begrudge him his choice to represent the country that he associates with most.

The Shingler situation though has upset many Welsh rugby fans but in a very different manner. Here was a bright young prospect, with a great future ahead of him, who had made his claim for Wales by playing through the age grades, and then, overnight it seemed, turned his back on the country. Why did he do it? Was it out of spite for the Scarlets that they would not start him ahead of Priestland and Jones? Was it for fear that he might not get an international cap for Wales given the current competition in the squad? Without a full statement from the young man, we will probably never know for sure.

What we do know though, is that there is a problem with the current system of representative honours. Is an ‘A’ team cap, or an under20 cap, or possibly younger still, an appropriate point at which to say ‘this is the team you will represent from here on in’? Frankly, the debate should not exist. This is not a club contract that is being discussed, but international honours, the honour of representing one’s country. For too long the international level has become an extension of the office for professional rugby players, another contract, another set of bonuses – the country awarding them does not necessarily matter, so long as they pay. This should not be the way of things. For Shingler, his choice was made – he selected Wales, and that is where his choice should remain. If he never gets full international honours, well, tough luck, he should have been better, but that is the only country he should be able to push for, having already made his choice.

What does the future for Shingler hold, it is hard to say? He has turned his back on Wales in one sense, and for Scotland, well, Scotland was always the second option the moment Shingler played in a red shirt with three feathers on his chest, how either nation would welcome him now would be interesting to see. The lesson to be learnt in all this, stand by your nation. If you are one to buy and sell your allegiance, then there is a good chance that your choices will come back to haunt you. For Shingler, his choices came back on him much sooner than he might have expected, and it is with a great sense of sorrow, that this saga was played out in front of the international rugby media.

Westminster Wages War.

It’s an all action start in 2012 on the political spectrum, with the makings of a political civil war on our hands. Westminster seems intent…well, the Tory led government is perhaps the better way to put it, seems intent on grabbing the hot iron of irritation from the fireplace and ramming it deep into Alex Sammond’s agenda. For a Tory party that is clearly against the breaking up of the Union, they are doing an impressively disastrous PR job in terms of undermining support for the break with their bold posturing and ‘you can’t do that unless we say so’ stance. Sammond must be sitting in a leather arm chair with a whiskey in hand, rocking himself with uncontrollable laughter, knowing that if the Tories keep treading their current path, they could well walk themselves into the dismantling of Britain, with the SNP having to do little more than sit back and watch the separation happen before their eyes.

While all the Scottish excitement has been bouncing about, Wales managed to make the BBC headlines as well, as the planned reform of political constituencies was formally announced and presented for public consultation. The reduction of 40 to 30 Welsh MPs has been presented as a logical one in terms of redrawn constituencies being of roughly the same size, and therefore fairer to the democratic process. Of course, the redrawing of boundaries in such an arbitrary fashion of ‘one-size fits all’, is not going to be without its problems.

There is initially the slightly odd system of cutting and changing boundaries. Political constituencies exist in Wales the way they have done for a reason, geography. The landscape in Wales is one element that cannot be overlooked when considering the boundary of seats, yet this would appear to be the one thing that the electoral commission have indeed decided to overlook. One fears how disastrous this could be for voter apathy, as thousands will find themselves unsure of who they are voting for, and, in the case of North Wales, voting for an MP who will be busy on Anglesey, while the MPs mainland voters will inevitably become second class constituents given the landscapes involved.

But the main point of concern should really be the slap dash decimation of the democratic voice of the Welsh people. Remember the hoops that had to be leapt through for devolution, for increased devolution? We in Wales certainly have to work hard to gain our political voice, however, those in London have to do very little work indeed to be able to take it away. With all this talk of referendums, surely the people of Wales should be offered a referendum on whether or not they approve of a massive lump of their political say over what happens in London, and therefore Britain, being removed from them on the whim of a committee that is not directly answerable to those affected? For all the wailing of British politicians on democracy overseas, it would appear that the democratic process in this island is one that very much operates on a ‘when it is convenient’ system, and little more.

The boundaries proposed are at the very least problematic, and will serve to disenfranchise many, rather than achieve the opposite and (in theory) stated goal of the project. However it is the arbitrary removal of the Welsh political voice that should be more of a concern. As we have seen with the Scottish question, Westminster is not shy of flexing its muscles when its Celtic siblings start throwing the toys out of the pram. What if, having cut the Welsh MPs down to 30, Westminster then decides to cut a few more, and then perhaps decides to cut the Assembly, because it can, what then? What is being proposed by Westminster, for Scotland and for Wales, is very dangerous, and should serve to all as a reminder where the true intentions of this government sit. It is one that harbours an obsession with central power, that would rather see the voice of the ‘regions’ silenced, than empowered.

Watch out Wales, Westminster’s coming!

A Vote for Romney is a Vote for Welsh Cakes!

For those living in Wales, and with access to the rather random frequency which BBC Wales is broadcast on (so for those in the South West of England there is a good chance you do receive it, while for those living in South East Wales there is a good chance you don’t), you’ll be familiar with the rather desperate attempts made by the Welsh news coverage to find any and all Welsh connections to any and all world events, however ephemeral they might be. Well, we now have a direct reason to be involved in the Republican nomination campaign in the United States. BBC Wales revealed today that Mitt Romney is married to a proper Welsh woman! Well, Welsh by descent she may be, but Ann Romney would appear to be doing sterling work in the states, promoting the humble Welsh cake.

Now debates may rage about which is the best kind of cake out there, but in Wales the argument is usually ended with the presentation and subsequent consumption of a plate of Welsh cakes. A wonderful treat, perfect in size and form, the Welsh cake is a masterful offering as either a dessert or a light snack during the day, anytime of day, anytime of year, the little Welsh cake is a versatile champion of the cake world. Frankly EyeOnWales has little interest in the Republican nomination campaign, or who ends up in the White house, yet the prospect of Welsh cakes being served in said building has suddenly made the issues real, and we now have an opportunity to put Welsh cakes in the White house, and on to a global scale. The kitchen of Ann Romney could well become the most powerful marketing tool for the Welsh gastronomic economy (if such a thing exists).

So, having given this no further thought than the fact that Welsh cakes are in some way involved, EyeOnWales is proud to give its full endorsement to Mitt Romney, his wife and her Welsh cakes, to take the Republican nomination, and carry our national cakes all the way to the White house. If we could, we would be voting Romney/Cakes!

Ben Morgan: Time to Sell.

Nobody in Wales should have anything other than respect for the decision made by Scarlets no8 Ben Morgan, to commit himself to England. As Morgan has stated today, he grew up watching England, and dreamed of playing for them, frankly, Welsh fans should have been more concerned if such a player did throw his lot in with the Welsh set-up, the motivation behind such a move would have been questionable at best. It is of course a disappointment for Welsh fans, no shortage of attention has been given to Morgan as he developed as a player in West Wales, and few in Wales will deny that there were genuine hopes that Morgan would at the very least offer competition for Faletau for the Welsh 8 shirt.

However, as much as Welsh rugby fans should respect the integrity displayed by Morgan’s choice (remember, there is no sign of England selecting him, he is just indicating where his loyalties lie – he might have given up on an international career by turning his back on by Wales, it is a chance he has taken, and that as well should be remembered and respected), there is now an onus on the Scarlets to act.  With this one decision, Morgan has gone from being a promising Wales prospect, to an Englishman blocking a Welsh regional development spot. At a time when salary caps are coming, and more and more non-Welsh qualified players are being worked out of the regional squads (and quite right too), all of a sudden the Scarlets face a choice, and it is one that must be faced by a number of the regions in Wales.

There is a danger that Morgan will remain with the Scarlets now until his contract runs out, and he leaves for an English team, no questions asked, no money exchanged. What the Scarlets should off course do is sell the prospect. English and French clubs will have a blank cheque approach for only so long, and those hard up in Wales should take advantage of it while it lasts. I have often wondered for instance, how the sale of a player like George North would benefit the wider world of Welsh rugby, with the sustaining impact of a single big sale supporting salaries of many more Welsh players. Well, this is an easy one for the Scarlets, Morgan is not Welsh, and is under contract. The club should give serious consideration towards doing what is right for Welsh rugby, and Morgan’s sale would bring in the money that might cover the wages or one, two, three, maybe more Welsh qualified players.

Morgan has done what is right by him, and all should respect him for that, the Scarlets now must do what is right by Welsh rugby, and supporting a player who is now blocking the development of the next Welsh No8 does nothing for that.

Remembering Winter: Photo Blog

It would appear that winter has passed us by in Wales so far (though no doubt the mid February snow storms will come and surprise us all). Following New Years celebrations, a tidy up of the image files revealed these timely reminders from last year (with sadly not the highest quality camera) that things do get snowy and icy in Wales from time to time, even if things are decidedly warm and wet right now! 

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Part 4/4. The Top Ten Worst Welsh Politicians 2011.

1. Carwyn Jones.

What a year it has been for Carwyn, groundbreaking referendums followed by an election result which, although far from being a landslide, was certainly enough to allow him to take his Labour party off on his own. With long time partners Plaid kicked to the sidings, and of course, the new powers afforded to him through the referendum which it might be said that he took the lead on (though off course everyone in Plaid Cymru would firmly disagree with), one might have thought that this was the year that Carwyn would shine. After all, having taken on the reigns from Rhodri, Carwyn was seen as the leader elect long before his party put him in that position – he was the great future of the Welsh political landscape. Yet, can we say that we have been anything other than bitterly disappointed in Carwyn’s period of rule?

As with a number of the political figure to make this list, it is not so much a case that Carwyn has done anything wrong, but the want for him to have done something right, or interesting, or relevant, is almost painful now. It really has been a year of apathy from the man in charge, and on more than one occasion, the joke has rumbled around the pages of twitter and such, that somebody needed to nudge Carwyn awake – such was the level of inactivity from the top.

What can we be excited about in Wales then under Carwyn? Organ transplant reform? Well, it might happen, in several years, maybe a decade, yes, it might happen. There was the landmark law change on plastic bags which Carwyn outlawed, to some extent, well, he put a charge on them at least, but at least it was original thinking (if you overlooked the fact that lots of other nations have already done it, but still it’s something new in Wales at least). Erm, oh yes, Labour won back some £9m in compensation for Wales being utterly screwed over thanks to the Olympics, though probably best not mention the £100m+ that Wales is still out of pocket by. Of course, the odd firmly written letter to Downing Street was sent in the post, and how the halls of Westminster must have trembled when Carwyn’s letter flopped through the post box. Yet, the lack of any response from London regarding Carwyn’s yelping is put into stark contract by the chattering stimulated by Scottish activity, and this is perhaps where Carwyn’s true failings can be seen.

Scotland has been heard of – almost on a weekly basis the ‘national’ newspapers carry something on the movements of Scottish politics, or the worried responses of Westminster politicians in response to Scottish developments. Even in Wales, the future of Welsh politics is spoken of only in relation to Scotland. If Scotland did this then…, if Scotland did that than Wales might do…, yet we are not Scotland, and with the powers at our disposal, should we not be generating headlines of our own, rather than relying on some notional ‘Celtic’ allies to do the work for us?        

Wales needs to be seen. For all the excitement over 5p plastic bags and hypothetical organ donation law changes (and some in the nation really do need to be reminded that nothing has changed, or will do anytime soon, on this law), you can’t help but feel that Carwyn really hasn’t done much this year. Perhaps a certain comfort has been found in the leaders seat, and with the referendum gone, any sense of urgency seems to have followed it. Carwyn is certainly not a bad leader, but he is an apathetic one, and that is often as damaging in the impacts of political stagnation, as the actions of one who is inept and incompetent. 2012 must see something new and something exciting come from Carwyn, otherwise this term of government will fast become remembered for very little worth remembering having happened.

Photo blog 2/2: Inside a Welsh Church on Christmas Day.

Some images from inside a little Welsh church on Christmas day – look out for the ladybirds, lots of them!

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Photo blog 1/2: Christmas Mushrooms

Mushrooms spotted on Christmas morn.

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Part 3/4. The Top Ten Worst Welsh Politicians 2011.

4. Andrew R T Davies.

For half of the parties in Wales, 2011 was all about new leaders. For Plaid Cymru, the plan seemed to be a turgid wait and see policy, third place in the Senedd becoming an opportunity to huddle in dark corners for months on end, waiting for nothing to happen with the same sense of urgency that a tortoise shows towards eating in the winter months. There will of course be a new Plaid leader, but it will be a long old wait for it to come. For the Tories, no such concerns, and the demise of the much liked Nick Bourne was met with a short snap battle between Andrew Davies and Nick Ramsey. Ramsey came is as the unfancied underdog, and amused during the leadership battle as he had to ward off accusations of bar room brawls over pub quizzes. Sadly, Ramsey lost out in a tight well fought contest to the pit bull like Davies.

Now, what has Davies done to warrant his position on this list? Well, for all of Bourne’s failings, he did do a remarkable job of turning the Welsh Conservatives into a distinct entity, one that seemed to have accepted devolution and was willing to work progressively within the framework towards a better Wales. Bourne made the Welsh Conservatives an entity which you didn’t want to hate immediately simply because they were Tories, which in itself is a remarkable achievement. Then came Davies.  

It took Davies only a very short period of time to degenerate the Tories in Wales into the traditionally hateable landed gentry elite of old. All the hard work of Bourne seemed to have been rendered to ash, as the angry farmer who seemed to have only learnt the letters N, H and S while in school, set about a sledgehammer approach to opposition politics. There is a certain sense of responsibility which comes with leading the main opposition party, and Davies has ignored it. He has resorted to a Westminster style barracking that offers nothing but a backward thinking approach to party politics, which the Senedd had done so well to distance itself from in recent years.

After Bourne, Davies has been a frustrating disappointment, and Welsh politics will only be damaged with this man leading the voice of opposition in Wales.

 

3. Ieuan Wyn Jones.

How did he do it eh? How did Ieuan go into an election on the back of some of the most successful years of Plaid’s existence as a political party, and blow it all by plummeting his party into a woeful, almost unimaginable position of third in the Welsh political ladder? It was so good for Plaid, their policies were working, the referendum was a success, yet despite having so much positivity behind them, Plaid thumped into an election battle with only negativity on their mind. ‘Look how bad Labour are’ they yelped, ‘stick with them and it’s down hill all the way’ was the line…yet these were slurs directed at their political partners, it made no sense. The election campaign of 2011 was one of the most disappointing misjudgements to have come out of the Plaid policy draw, and it will hurt them for some years to come.

However, Ieuan does not make the list for this reason, no, he makes the list for being one of the most shameless squatters in recent Welsh political history. Having led a catastrophic election campaign, the door for was left open for Ieuan to leave with some grace. As it was, he ignored it, and pulled up a seat to jam the door open, keeping one foot in, and one foot out of power. Plaid have since become a rudderless mess, with no clear voice of opposition, with Ieuan giving off the aura of a man who just doesn’t care. The lack of a drive from within the party to move him is equally disappointing. The lack of anyone from within the party to show the balls to call for this deceased puppet to move aside was frankly a huge disappointment, and does not bode well for the future of the party, with so few of the potential party leaders showing any inclination to push for power, or to remove the rotten head off of the parties prized flower.

Ieuan stands here, both on his own merit, but also as a symbolic figure head for the weakness and lack of direction shown by a party that seems intent on retreating in on itself, and ignoring the world outside. Not the way forward for a party that looks in desperate need of a road map.

 

2. Mohammad Ashgar.

Having dealt with a number of individuals who wield lots of power, coming into second place on the list this year is one man, who thankfully, wields very little power at all. Ashgar is a member of the political community who generally defies logic, lacking in any real sense of integrity, loyalty or general decency, it is difficult to see how anybody sticks by him, yet the Tories still do…even though if you believe the rumour mill that suggests the Tories only held onto Ashgar as a regional list candidate for PR reasons and little else, it is a stabd they take not by choice.

Ashgar’s year has been proliferated by his usual controversies , amongst which his ban from a local mosque proved to be particularly telling for the way in which Ashgar likes to conduct his business, behind closed doors with little to no sense of free democratic choice involved being his particular flavour. But, even for Ashgar, his electioneering on behalf of his family reached impressive new lows in 2011. Many familiar with Ashgar will remember how he controversially left Plaid Cymru on the strength that the party would not allow him to hire and indiscriminately promote his family members – family first for Ashgar ahead of party loyalty. Jumping parties to make a point is all well and good, but leaping on a man’s cold corpse before it is buried in the ground is something else altogether.

Following the death of popular councillor Les Knight, Ashgar could not contain himself, suddenly with a fresh corpse at hand, an opportunity had present itself, and he pounced on it. Within days Ashgar was promoting the virtues of his wife for the recently vacated council seat, much to the disgust of those in the locality. Despite an apology following soon after from Ashgar, his general contempt, not just for his current and previous parties, but for basic human decency, has been staggering. This is a wretched little man, who deserves nothing more than ridicule and humiliation, he is a contemptible, crooked git, who does Welsh politics a crippling disservice with his continued presence. This man would surely the top the list, were it not for his (thankfully) lack of any real political power, and may we pray that his political sway goes no further than his current family led panderings.