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Recommend Ravens relocate to Wrexham's Racecourse

LEIGHTON SAMUEL admits to spending more than £5m at Bridgend since he saved the club from bankruptcy in March 1999.

LEIGHTON SAMUEL admits to spending more than £5m at Bridgend since he saved the club from bankruptcy in March 1999.

The Ravens managing director must wonder why he has bothered splashing out in excess of £3m on running costs (mainly on inflated salaries for his players) and nearly £2m on ground improvements.

For the people of the town and its surrounding area, apart from the hard-core support, have failed to back his revolution to such a degree it seems nonsensical to carry on subsidising such a highly-paid team.

Although it is probably too late for Samuel to pull out of Bridgend, perhaps he should consider relocating his expensive squad to Wrexham.

Red Dragons chairman Pryce Griffiths has put his 78 per cent share in Wrexham soccer club up for sale so Samuel could get maximum use out of the plush Racecourse Ground by buying and keeping the football arm going, and relocating his professional rugby team to North Wales.

Then he would be in charge of the Red Dragons and the Ravens and have no shortage of home fixtures with two sports to choose from - Saturday's fixture was Bridgend's first competitive rugby match at the Brewery Field since January 5 and their next is on April 27.

He'd also be doing the Welsh Rugby Union a favour by giving shamefully neglected North Wales the flagship rugby team it desperately needs and, under the criteria expected to be set down when it comes to deciding the six teams that will represent Wales in elite competition when and if that number ever materialises, be able to acquire a franchise.

That's something Bridgend and Wales's other poorly-supported Gang of Six club, Swansea, wouldn't be too sure of right now although a reliable source tells me the self-acclaimed big boys of Cardiff, Llanelli, Newport and Swansea believe their places are already booked. So much for Rugby Partnership Wales solidarity!

By uprooting and heading north Samuel would immediately, judging by the evidence of the weekend clash with Edinburgh and the five-figure attendances consistently attracted for A rugby internationals at the Racecourse, increase his fan base by about 9,000.

There can be no disputing the fact the people of North Wales are passionate about rugby and are crying out for a quality team to be located there in the same way as Super 12 champions ACT Brumbies were set up in Canberra.

Right now the youngsters - former Wales coach Graham Henry maintains the kids in the north are more mature and stronger than those in the south - have nothing to aim for despite the money and the resources the WRU has, in conjunction with local councils - poured into the region.

But the Gang of Six, of which Bridgend are members, don't care about anything but themselves. They claim the national team is at the fore-front of their thinking.

If that is the case Samuel or the other RPW benefactors should put their money where their mouths are and take up the North Wales option. But they won't because all they are interested in is extracting £1.5m each from the union to the detriment of the country's other 233 clubs.

Their dream is of a 12-team Celtic League, played on a home and away basis, but that cannot happen until the 2004-2005 season because of Ireland's World Cup qualifiers and next year's finals.

Leading administrators in Ireland have repeatedly told me that is not going to occur because they value their leading players appearing for their clubs has well as their provinces.

The best the Gang of Six can hope for is a Celtic competition played on a home or away basis. Even then the figures don't stack up because the Scots will have a third team next year and Ireland four. There is no discernable reason for Ireland to drop this season's Celtic quarter-finalists, Connacht. More likely another Welsh team would be lopped off.

I wonder how quickly the novelty of a season-long Celtic League would wear off. It was excellent this campaign because the Irish, unlike the unprofessional Welsh clubs, took it seriously. But that might not happen in future and there is the question of attracting away fans. What happens if it was a failure?

In my opinion the Scots are a waste of space - and I was a self-confessed advocate of their addition to the Welsh League.

Glasgow hardly tried any more than Agen did at Ebbw Vale - a performance that earned the French outfit a ban from European competition - against Newport at Rodney Parade nine days ago and Edinburgh, with 10 internationals in their side and potentially a world-class back row, weren't much better at Bridgend.

There was hardly any bite to the game or atmosphere among a crowd of not many more than 2,000. Edinburgh failed to live up to their Gunners nickname to such a degree they could have been firing blanks.

Apart from former New Zealand captain Todd Blackadder, his fellow Kiwi Brendan "Chainsaw" Laney, hooker Steve Scott and lock Matt Jolly there was more go in a pop gun.

It would have been more worthwhile playing First Division Aberavon or Pontypool, certainly more passionate and likely to attract a bigger crowd.

Some of Bridgend's six tries were splendidly executed but a fragile opposition defence did not provide much resistance to the power of centres Gareth Thomas and Dafydd James and deadly finisher Aisea Havili, who crossed twice to take his haul to seven from the Ravens three most recent games.

The Tonga winger's first was a gem. He was given a bit of space just outside his own 22, applied the gas to beat Edinburgh centre Marcus Di Rollo on the outside, drew and chipped marker Craig Joiner before hitting top gear to win the sprint to the ball for a memorable score.

James, Thomas and right-wing Richard Mustoe had already touched down, Bridgend having benefited by Edinburgh, whose international outside-half Duncan Hodge was shocking, playing into their hands by operating with a flat back line and mistakingly attacking the midfield strength of the home side.

By the time Blackadder and the foot soldiers in the Gunners pack had had enough of the incompetence of the pretty boys in the backs and mounted a forward assault to claim late consolation tries through Scotland flanker Martin Leslie and lock Nathan Hines, they were 43-23 behind.

Outside-half Craig Warlow, with three conversions, four penalties and a drop-goal, bagged 21 points as Bridgend climbed to eighth in the Welsh-Scottish table and within striking distance of a place in next season's Heineken Cup.

They are competing with Swansea and Pontypridd, who are locked together two points ahead of them, for Wales's fifth and final place but have the advantage of a game in hand.

But caretaker coach and former schoolteacher Allan Lewis, who is enjoying his stint at the Brewery Field to such an extent he gave a hint he might consider putting his plans to seek a post in education next September on hold if Bridgend want him to stay on, does not want his new charges to look too far ahead.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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