If Rangers football club are only two defeats away from a crisis, as Graeme Souness once said, then it seems fair to conclude that Welsh rugby is rarely more than a shanked drop-kick away from imploding.
Pontypool RFC’s statement last week, hitting out at Championship rivals Beddau and the Welsh Rugby Union, was one that pricked many ears.
Shortly after, a report commissioned by the Professional Rugby Board recommending axing one of the four regions shook the foundations of the game.
There have been plenty more announcements, calls or quotes over the years that have been even more startling.
Here’s a flavour of a few that have truly shocked Welsh rugby.
Barry John retires as a player at 27, 1972
Travel a long way back to the end of the 1971-72 season, when Barry John announced he was finishing as a player.
Say it ain’t so, lamented so many in Wales.
The shock waves were felt from Colwyn Bay to Carmarthen.
But it was true. John was bailing out as a player at the peak of his powers.
He announced his departure in the Sunday Mirror, who are said to have paid him £7,000 for the exclusive. The newspaper’s sports editor tried to talk him out of his call, while an old lady who’d watched him play from her balcony overlooking the Arms Park offered him her life savings to keep playing.
But John’s mind was made up.
The man referred to by headline writers as ‘King’ cited “the monster of fame” as the reason for exiting, later saying: “The decision was easy enough to reach. It was the time that was all important.”
The only team-mates he’d informed before his final game, a celebration match for the Urdd, were Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies. "The other person I told was our sponge man Gerry Lewis, literally just before we ran out. He slumped down and said 'Whaaat?' Didn't want to believe it,” said John.
Lewis wasn’t alone in his disbelief.
It was all over for John.
Rugby news doesn’t get much bigger.
Top clubs threaten strike action, 1998
You may have heard that rows over money in Welsh rugby are nothing new.
Possibly there was a dispute over who should pay for the beer and sandwiches at the meeting that launched the WRU at the Castle Hotel in Neath in 1881. Perhaps someone loaned an attendee the money for food he had provided himself and told him he had to pay the debt back over 20 years — we do not know.
Fast-forward to 1998 and in those early years of professionalism leading clubs in Wales found they couldn’t afford a pot to do whatever was necessary in.
Eight of them reckoned they needed £750,000 from outside sources to meet the commitments of the professional game. Under the agreement at the time, they received only £400,000 each.
And so it came to pass Welsh Premier Clubs’ chairman Eddie Jones warned of strike action in a move to obtain more funding from the WRU. “There is more money in the pot which should be coming to us,” said Jones. “The money we are receiving is only half the amount we would have if we shared all the proceeds raised by the tournaments we play in. We are not asking for anything that is not ours. The money we are getting is insufficient to run professional sides.
“Two or three of the clubs in the premier division are in dire trouble. They would not be if they were getting the money they should from the WRU. The genuine feeling is that unless they get the funding they are entitled to, they will pull the plug, cancel all the players contracts and revert to amateur status. That would mean a lot of players going out of Wales and the union losing a lot of revenue. But it is a realistic option. We are in the same situation as the referees, when they could not make any headway until they resorted to strike action. We are not messing around.”
As tends to happen in Welsh rugby, there was a compromise of sorts, though not one that stopped Cardiff and Swansea leaving the domestic league for a year to play a season of rebel friendlies against English clubs.
In March 2000, the Sunday Telegraph broke the story that became known as Grannygate, with both Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson exposed as ineligible for Wales despite Howarth having been playing for them since 1998 and Sinkinson since 1999. You can r ead what became of Sinkinson here.
The players had both qualified through Welsh grandfathers — without actually having any, with Howarth’s from New Zealand and Sinkinson’s from Oldham.
In fairness, rules were lax in those days and it wasn’t exactly clear the Welsh Rugby Union had properly checked on the eligibility of the two players. Howarth has long insisted he acted in good faith, while Sinkinson, too, suggested he had never set out to mislead.
Tyrone Maullin, who played for Wales A, was also found to be ineligible.
The International Rugby Board found that the WRU’s failure to check credentials was “clearly grossly negligent” and “could be construed as recklessness”.
The WRU received a reprimand and had to pay costs of the disciplinary hearing that took place, with Scotland sharing the bill as prop Dave Hilton was also declared ineligible for them.
Some called it a whitewash.
In fact, most called it a whitewash.
Jonathan Davies's shock Neath departure, 1987
Anyone doubting how good Jonathan Davies was in his 1980s union pomp need only flick onto YouTube footage of the genius from Trimsaran in action for Neath RFC. There were three drop goals in a game against Llanelli and tries from the gods against Bath and Bridgend. The touchdown for Wales against Scotland in 1988, seeing Davies mix pace, instinct and opportunism, was none too shabby, either. “The Diego Maradona of world rugby,” French coach Jacques Fouroux called him.
But there followed a shock parting of the ways with the Welsh All Blacks after Davies had declined to commit to them for the longer term.
The shock was that it was the man himself who instigated the formal end of his time with The Gnoll club.
In his book, Code Breaker, he writes: “At the end of April (1987) Neath shocked me and the rest of the rugby world by announcing: ‘Because he has failed to make his future intentions clear, Jonathan Davies can no longer be considered part of the future progression plan of Neath RFC. Whatever code, country or club he will be involved with in future, Neath RFC wishes him the best of luck.’
He had been happy to stay with Neath but couldn’t give team boss Brian Thomas what he was looking for. “Supposing I gave Brian a personal commitment and six months later received an irresistible offer from a league club that might never be repeated,” wrote Davies.
“No rugby union player in the world was required to tie himself to one club for a specified period of time. Why should I?
“All I wanted to do was go to the World Cup and come home and play for Neath. Beyond that I couldn’t see. There was no need for this showdown.”
But showdown there was.
The following season Davies lined up for Llanelli. You can read more about him here.
David Moffett heralds dawn of regional rugby, 2003
It wasn’t an issue that naturally lent itself to lashings of humour, what with talk just days before about the supposedly imminent death of Welsh rugby, but when David Moffett emerged from an 11th-hour meeting with Wales’s leading clubs on April 1, 2003, he still chose to have a stab at a bit of comedy. Heading into a press conference, he adopted his best poker face before announcing: “It's not good news I'm afraid. We have not been able to resolve these issues, but then it's April 1.'' A smile then appeared across his face. Those present were at the birth of modern-day regional rugby in Wales.
A row that appeared to have been going on for ever had been resolved.
But bitterness was to remain.
Ospreys’ proposed merger with Scarlets, 2019
In 2019, news leaked that the Ospreys and Scarlets could be merging.
Wales were playing Scotland at Murrayfield four days later in the fourth leg of a Six Nations Grand Slam bid. The timing was appalling.
But there had undoubtedly been talks to team up the two regions.
The response was one of outrage. “This is the most challenging situation that I or arguably any player has faced during our careers,” said Scarlets skipper Ken Owens.
If players were vexed, most supporters of the two teams were disgusted — hardly a basis on which to launch a merged entity.
Eventually, the idea was put to bed three years ago, even if the financial challenges facing the professional sides were very much not adequately dealt with.
Back then Ospreys boss Robert Davies said: “There are three stark realities. Firstly, the concept of an Ospreys-Scarlets merger is dead and the clock is ticking. Secondly, Wales was promised a comprehensive review with nothing off the table, but nothing has yet been put on the table. Thirdly, the PRB cynically left it to the regions to have a shootout for survival with the clear direction that a region in the west should go and make room for a fourth in the north. We are now where we are as a result.
“It’s hard to look at this situation and not conclude that a stitch-up of convenience has just unravelled before us all. There isn’t a ‘plan B’, because there was never a ‘plan A’. Even the PRB has said a western merger was central to their planning, which is frankly mind-boggling. Wishful thinking is not an acceptable replacement for responsible decision-making.
“It’s now time for the grown-ups to get back in the room. It’s time for experienced strategic planning, robust consultation and a methodical process to emerge that is transparent, timely and carries with it the full range of the sport’s stakeholders. And this is what I will be discussing with union and PRB officials over the coming days.”
Welsh rugby is still waiting for the Welsh Rugby Union and the PRB to come up with answers that don’t involve doing harm to the game.
The clock is still ticking.
Celtic Warriors killed off, 2004
"I would like to thank the players and the staff for their efforts on behalf of the Warriors over the past season. While it is a regrettable decision, the company is not in a position to continue. The debtors far outweigh the creditors and there is simply no money left in the company with which to continue paying the wages of the staff."
So said Welsh Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett as spring turned to summer in 2004.
Celtic Warriors were no more after just a single season.
The writing had been on the wall after benefactor Leighton Samuel had announced in April he would quit at the end of the season. The suggestion was the other four regions chipped in £312,000 each towards a pot of £1.25 million assembled by the WRU to buy up Samuel’s share in the organisation. Within days of the purchase, the Warriors were wound up.
Understandably, the move didn’t fly for everyone.
“The b******s”, starts Despite the Knock-backs, the autobiography of the region’s former head coach Lynn Howells.
Most people would know who were in his sights.
Samuel later launched a legal battle against the WRU for alleged misrepresentation during the sale agreement in promising the team would play on next season.
Charvis hits out, 1998
When Wales faced South Africa in Pretoria in 1998, 26 leading players were missing from their side: 18 of them had cried off from the tour and another eight had picked up injuries during a trip that had started three weeks earlier in Zimbabwe.
A number of the pre-tour drop-outs had genuine bumps. But Charvis and others felt some had simply chosen to give the trek to Africa a wide berth.
That wasn’t Charvis’s style. He always fronted up.
And he usually spoke out if he had something on his mind.
So it came as no surprise when he unleashed a volley of criticism at some of the absentees when this writer spoke to him the day after Wales had been crushed 96-13 by the Springboks.
He said: “There is a considerable amount of resentment towards many of the guys who stayed home. Some of those people are earning a lot of money and yet they could not be here when it mattered. Of course that causes others to feel upset.
“The players on tour have worked their backsides off for three weeks. We have given it our all and, although the Test result was terrible, a number of youngsters have really developed.
“But in many ways this is the Bitter and Twisted Tour because we will be going back to Wales and many of the boys who were unavailable will simply expect to step back into their places.
“As one of the most experienced players on this trip I went to Africa to represent my country. Even though we got hammered, I’m glad I made the effort. I could easily have stayed at home, flicked on Sky TV and put my feet up with a can of beer by my side.
“But I didn’t do that and neither did the other boys on the tour.
“There’s no respect at all for some of the guys back home. The feeling is that many of them bottled out.”
Forwards coach Lynn Howells later claimed in his autobiography that some of those who missed the trip had been “afraid to go to South Africa”.
On returning home, Charvis was christened Doctor Kildare by some Wales players, for supposedly being able to determine whether they had injuries or not.
Would he have cared?
Not for a single minute.
Proposal to cut a Welsh region, 2022
It shocked many.
But some regional insiders stayed unruffled amid talk of a region being done way with.
"It's b****ks," one told this writer. You can read the latest on it all here.