And so, we come to the end of another year. It will be difficult to forget 2023 from a Welsh rugby perspective after a Six Nations and World Cup of mixed fortunes, along with the retirements of all-time greats and some challenging times for the regions.

Of course, it was also a World Cup year, but if I’m honest, it wasn’t a memorable tournament for me. It promised a lot in the build-up, with the way Ireland and France were both playing, but it never really reached the heights we all expected it to.

Maybe I am a bit biased, but 2015 is still the best World Cup there has been, both in terms of rugby quality and level of support, even though hosts England were knocked out in the pool stages.

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

One positive was that Wales performed better in France than many of us expected, after what had been a pretty torrid year leading up to the World Cup. Understandably there was lots of doom and gloom after a pretty dire Six Nations campaign, but Gatland managed to turn things around as Wales topped their pool with four wins from four.

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

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But even with more of the old guard going, with Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar joining Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb in international retirement, there is a degree of excitement going into the upcoming Six Nations with Gatland now settled back into the job and a few very talented youngsters coming through.

Going into the new year, however, the big concern for Welsh rugby is the state of the regions, which was laid bare during the Boxing Day derbies. Cardiff would have come out of their fixture feeling happy, but their win was against a very poor Dragons side, while Scarlets v Ospreys was a game people would probably rather forget. Certainly, if you’re a Scarlets fan I doubt you will be rushing back either.

I was involved in those Welsh derbies for the best part of my professional refereeing career and they were the highlight of the season with packed crowds and buzzing atmospheres. Even though there were good crowds this year, I could see quite a lot of empty seats at these ‘sellout’ fixtures and it’s clear that they no longer have the hype or the intensity they once had.

I remember the Blues and Ospreys derby being played in front of crowds of 26,000 at the Cardiff City Stadium, with the likes of Martyn Williams, Ben Blair, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Justin Marshall, Ryan Jones, Adam Jones, James Hook, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams and Jamie Roberts all involved. These were top quality internationals and the stadium was absolutely buzzing, with the games played at such a high standard and intensity. It’s a far cry from where we are now, and you can feel that both on and off the pitch.

All of the regions are struggling for momentum and form at the moment, and they’re losing players to injury and in some cases, to other countries. The only real positive of this whole situation is that there are lots of young players getting their chance to impress, so hopefully in the long term, we’ll see the benefits.

We just need to hold on to them. In an ideal world, all of the best Welsh players are playing in Wales, the regions are on top form, the crowds are packed and the clubs are competing at the highest level in Europe and in the URC. I’d love to be in a situation where the regions are fielding a XV full of top quality, international players.

Unfortunately, we’re not in that situation at the moment, but hopefully we can hold on. It is set to be another tough year for the regions with budgets being cut again, but I hope that in a couple of seasons time, we will have quality regional rugby being played in Wales again.