And here we come to the end of another year. 2023 will be hard to forget in terms of Welsh rugby, after mixed successes in the Six Nations and World Cup, retirements of all-time greats and difficult times for the regions.

Of course, it was also the year of the World Cup, but, honestly, it wasn’t a memorable tournament for me. He showed a lot of promise in the build-up, given the way Ireland and France played, but he never reached the level we were all hoping for.

I may be a little biased, but 2015 remains the best World Cup ever, both in terms of quality of rugby and level of support, despite hosts England being eliminated in the group stage.

Don’t get me wrong, this year’s competition had its moments and those two quarter-final games were really special, but in my opinion they won’t go down in history as one of the best World Cups.

One of the positives was that Wales performed better in France than many of us expected after a rather turbulent year leading up to the World Cup. Understandably, there was a lot of doom and gloom after a dreadful Six Nations campaign, but Gatland managed to turn things around, with Wales topping the group with four wins from four.

Despite these encouraging performances, it all ended in disappointment in the quarter-finals. I can’t say we were unlucky not to reach the semi-finals, just that we didn’t play very well against Argentina. We didn’t deserve to go through and the best team that day passed.

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But even with the departure of more members of the former guard, with Lee Halfpenny and Dan Biggar joining Alan Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb in the international retreat, there is a certain enthusiasm for the next Six Nations as Gatland rejoins to work. and some very talented young people performed.

However, the big concern for Welsh rugby at the start of the year is the state of the regions that were exposed during the Boxing Day derby. Cardiff would have come away happy from the match, but their victory came against a very poor Dragons team, while Scarlets v Ospreys was a match people would probably rather forget. Of course, if you’re a Scarlets fan, I doubt you’ll rush back either.

I have watched these Welsh derbies for most of my career as a professional referee and they are the highlight of the season, with packed crowds and a lively atmosphere. Although there have been good crowds this year, I have seen some empty seats at these “sales” and it is clear that they do not have the enthusiasm or intensity that they once did.

I remember the Blues vs Ospreys derby in front of a crowd of 26,000 at Cardiff City Stadium with Martin Williams, Ben Blair, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Justin Marshall, Ryan Jones, Adam Jones, James Hook, standing in for Gavin. Henson, Shane Williams and Jamie Roberts are all members. They were international players of the highest quality and there was a real buzz in the stadium, the games were played at a very high level and intensity. It’s a long way from where we are and that is felt on and off the field.

All regions are struggling for momentum and form at the moment and are losing players to injuries and in some cases to other countries. The only positive thing about this whole situation is that a lot of young players have the opportunity to impress, so we hope to see the benefits in the long term.

We just have to hold them. In an ideal world, all the best Welsh players would be playing in Wales, the regions are in great form, the crowds are packed and the clubs compete at the highest level in Europe and the URC. I would love to be in a situation where the regions field an XV full of high quality international players.

Unfortunately, we’re not in that situation right now, but I hope we can hang on. It will be another difficult year for the regions, with budget cuts again, but I am hopeful that within a few seasons we will have quality regional rugby in Wales again.