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Martin Williamson | Columnist Index
Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of when Wales ruled and England were perennial whipping boys, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo
Wales' meaningless anachronism
Martin Williamson
May 14, 2014
Back when it mattered ... Dickie Jeeps in action during the England trial in December 1955 © Getty Images

Warren Gatland is unhappy. Again. The latest thing to have got under his skin is that he might not have everyone available for Wales' hastily arranged end-of-season trial match.

He even threatened that if Premiership clubs refuse to release players he might start not picking them for Wales in the future. Few people, given the current state of Welsh rugby and the drain of players to England and France, take that seriously. What Gatland should be asking is why the Friday-night trial is happening in the first place.

In the days long before the game went professional or there were credible domestic competitions in major countries, internationals were few and far between. Selectors really did need to see all contenders for national sides in one place at one time. Trial matches served this purpose, but even then many of those taking part viewed them as little more than a necessary evil.

Now we have a saturation of TV coverage, endless opportunities to see players pitted against top-rate opposition. With just over a fortnight until Wales leave for South Africa, Gatland has to know what his preferred squad is. It is highly unlikely the trial will throw up an unknown star or that a bad day by an established player will lead to his name being crossed out.

It is equally unlikely any of those involved will put their hearts and souls on the line for what is to all intents and purposes a glorified training session.

It is not hard to see why many players, weary at the end of a long hard season, might prefer to rest for a few days rather than slog round the Liberty Stadium on a warm Friday night.

And for all Gatland's mutterings, he and Wales know the IRB's own regulations make clear clubs have no obligation to release players for a game outside one of the allowed windows. So the threat appears more aimed at individuals rather than clubs.

And this all leaves the sense this anachronism is little more than an opportunity to sell tickets. Gatland's public frustration might owe more to his bosses' private one - without big names, the whole thing becomes even less relevant than it already is.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media

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