Welsh Regions Warm Up
What a difference a few weeks makes, or does it? Going into this year’s Heineken Cup, all the talk surrounding the Welsh regions was one of pre-emptive disappointment, a funeral parade held in advance of the inevitable crashing and burning of the so called professional elite of the Welsh rugby community. Well, two rounds in and the Welsh regions, over two competitions stand undefeated. Unlike in previous seasons, this is not a case of remaining undefeated by virtue of only having defeated fellow Celtic League cohorts or Italian regions, no, this time the Welsh regions stand undefeated over the elite of Europe, English and French clubs no less!
Now, while it is far too soon to start hailing this as anything more than a couple of very good weekends for Welsh professional rugby, it can at the very least be seen as something very promising. This is not just Welsh teams putting in backs to wall defences at home to secure their victories either, this is Welsh teams going into the backyards of England and France’s best, and winning with conviction. There is even a growing sense of frustration that some Welsh teams are not offering enough in their victories. The Cardiff Blues for instance were pointed by the BBC punditry as disappointing in their victory over London Irish. Regardless of the man advantage, this was the Blues beating London Irish, a Welsh team beating an English team, in Europe, and we are disappointed in them. Not so very long ago we would, as collective followers of Welsh rugby, have sat back in stoic acceptance, that a defeat in Europe to the English or French was just an accepted norm, to be frustrated by yes, but not so much to take disappointment from. Now we win, and we are disappointed, maybe the Gatland/New Zealand mentality is asking something of the fans as well as of the players these days.
Of course, no Welsh team is going to win either European Cups on the back of these performances alone, but for the first time in many years, we conclude the first round of European fixtures with all Welsh teams still competing in their groups, and in most cases, running the show so far. Is this a knock on effect from the Welsh teams’ relative success at RWC2011? Is this perhaps an indication that in terms of development, the regional system is actually producing some positive results? After all, look over the Scarlets line-up that looked so strong against a Northampton team lacking in cohesion, it was young, it was Welsh, and much of it was home grown. Again, it’s not a team that has won anything yet, but the signs are certainly promising. Whatever the reason, it is a heady position to be in, to have four competitive Welsh teams in Europe’s elite rugby competitions.
We will all wait with baited breath to see how these performances develop, as ones of consistent success or flash in the pan victories that will ultimately be forgotten. Yet, the displays produced by talented Welsh teams so far should bring smiles to the collective fan base. More so because these are performances being delivered by teams containing very few of the men who starred in red in New Zealand. Wales has an excellent first international XV, but game by game, the regions seem to be showing that there is an increasingly talented pool of players knocking on the door, and that, more than initial success in rounds 1 and 2 of the Heineken, should be a reason to smile at this point in the season.
After this was first drafted the Ospreys managed to embarrass themselves into a draw in Italy, however, even that result should bring some cheer, as promising young outside half Matthew Morgan saved the blushes of the outift…though that might be clutching at straws on that particular game…