Posts Tagged ‘ Pro12 ’

Pro12 Five Rounds In

If we’ve learned anything over the years following club rugby, is that you should never write a team off, especially not in the first two weeks of the season. Look to the English media and their dismissal of London Welsh. The Exiles had been written off after two heavy defeats, yet turned the tables on their senior opposition to suddenly look like contenders: a season of rugby is a very long time.

The ProRabo, or Pro12 has illustrated this point just as effectively in the first month of competition. For many commentators, the Ospreys, after several shock results, were a spent force, unable to cope with the loss of Shane Williams and company. Yet against the Scarlets and Munster, they suddenly woke up and turned into professional bullies, battering their supposedly on form opponents into the ground. With newcomers Zebre coming close to shocking Glasgow away from home, and the demolition job pulled off on Leinster by Connacht, it should be clear to all that this is no longer a competition where ‘easy’ matches will be frequently available.

Of course all the results of the last month were put into tragic perspective with the loss of the hugely promising talent of Nevin Spence. Only just arriving on the international scene, Spence seemed destined to make a regular home of an Irish center berth for the foreseeable future, and the rugby landscape is much poorer for his loss. His Ulster teammates have however responded in the best way possible, raising their game to brush aside the Cardiff Blues and stand undefeated and top of the table. If form and motivation are anything to go by after a month of the regional season, Ulster are one team who you would be brave to bet against being in the thick of the business end of the season.

From a Welsh perceptive, it would appear that the regions are settling into a predictable pattern. The Ospreys, while embarrassing early on,  have suddenly found a pack that can disintegrate the very best put in front of them, and will surely be a force if their scrum continues to damage the likes of Munster. The Scarlets, having started so well, now find themselves back in the mix of the impossible to predict. With such attacking talent, the tries keep coming in with ease, but the new combinations in the front 5 are taking their time to gell. Once the front row spends some time getting to know each other, you would expect them to be contenders as well.

As for the Dragons and the Blues, we are somewhat in the unknown. For the Dragons, every game should be a struggle, yet their festival of goal kicking against Edinburgh went some way to suggesting that there will be plenty of teams who will be caught out on the trip to Rodney Parade (though few will fear hosting them). The Blues though face probably the longest season. They have the tools to win, but not the experience. Too many youngsters in the mix seems likely to leave the Blues walking the path of the Scarlets in recent seasons. It will be painful, but the rewards of bringing through the young regional talent will pay off. Once the likes of Rhys Patchell grow into their new senior roles, the Blues will be a force once more, but it will take more than a season to get that club firing again.

For Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh have again shown their ability in fits and bursts, but while Glasgow struggle at home to Zebre, and Edinburgh fail to match away wins in Cardiff with away wins in Newport, they are unlikely to generate enough consistent success to last the season. But then, five rounds in, there are few results you would have predicted so far!

And at this early point, the promising pack would have to comprise Ulster, Scarlets, Ospreys and Leinster. Even with Leinster’s shortcomings against Connacht, they should still have too much firepower for the likes of Glasgow and Munster, who, if they don’t find a scrum again soon, could be facing an exceptionally difficult season.

We’ll see how things stand at the close of round 10.

Welsh Regional Rugby: The Legends Leave

As weekends go in the RaboDirect Pro 12, this was a fairly good one for the Welsh regions. Yes the Scarlets’ unlucky draw at home to Munster put pay to their play-off hopes, but one draw and two wins (someone had to lose in the Ospreys – Dragons Welsh derby) is an above average set of results. However, as seasons ago, there has been little to shout about, with average displays overall in Europe, and only the Ospreys left to fight for the league title. With the passing of the regional season and its collective disappointments, comes a changing of the guard. Well, perhaps an exodus of the guard is a more apt description given the lack of a new guard coming into replaced the old one. Whatever description fits best, it is certainly the end of a playing era for many favoured faces from the Welsh regional scene.

Plenty of star talent is on its way out, the likes of Gethin Jenkins will be missed, but you would not bet against his return to Wales in a couple of seasons time, while the scything runs of Tommy Bowe will certainly be missed on the Ospreys wing. Beyond the stars, there are the plucky figures who found their moments to push beyond their ability. Deiniol Jones was one to punch well above his weight, while Ritchie Rees was one to fight his way to a brief ownership of the Wales No 9 shirt. Special mention should go to the hair styling’s of Maama Molitika, the likes of which will not be seen in Cardiff colours again anytime soon. That’s five mentioned, the list of those leaving Welsh rugby is much longer.

There are three figures in particular who are deserving of special mention though, as the weekends fixtures saw the curtain drawn on the Welsh playing days of three of the modern day greats, Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams and Shane Williams. Two move into retirement, one to pastures new (we imagine Stephen Jones will never actually retire – don’t bet against his boots being laced in 2015), all three have played their part in the resurrection of Welsh international rugby, all three played their roles in two Grand Slams, the first one delivered to a nation that never dared to dream that they would see such a feat again.

For Stephen Jones, the record cap holder for Wales, it will probably be his searing second half break against France that will live longest in the memory. From his own 22, Jones tore open the French defence with the sort of incisive run that so many of his critics loved to suggest he couldn’t do, yet so often did. However, in a scramble to find some classic clips, this wonderful face off between Jones and O’Gara surfaced. At EyeOnWales, we’ve always hated O’Gara and made no secret of it – and enjoying Jones giving him what-for is almost, almost as enjoyable as the Grand Slam break.

For Martyn Williams, it was probably the return out of retirement that was most memorable. The master on the floor of any rugby field, such was his importance to the Welsh cause that successive Welsh coaches would go to him cap in hand, pleading for the Ponty product to pull on the red shirt one more time. In 2008, Williams sealed the second Welsh slam with a wonder break, tip toeing through a battered French defence, but perhaps this highly unlikely clip shows off a touch of his versatility – how long until Warburton attempts one of these? (It’s not pretty, but it’s a bit of a classic.)

Then there was Shane, the little big man who made the Welsh left wing his very own. Try scoring records were made to be broken by this man. Probably the biggest hero of them all for this generation, Shane Williams highlighted once more that rugby was a game for players of any size, and we can only hope that he is indeed not the last of his kind. If he is though, those who saw him play will remember his ability and efforts with the same fondness as any effort by Gerald or JJ. There are probably too many tries to chose from really, but this one, probably not his best, but one that highlights his ability to baffle a defence – how many South Africans did he beat there, three, four, five…great stuff, a try the likes of which only man in world rugby could score.

Three legends who lit up the game, three who will long be remembered, and will be sorely missed in Welsh club colours.

The Death of the Regional Rugby Fan.

Debates being had this week once again on the issue of attendance for Welsh regional home games, as the collective head scratching goes on. Why do 60,000 Welsh fans turn up in Cardiff to watch a game on the television, while barely any of those numbers can bring themselves out to watch their regional sides complete against the best in Europe? One wonders really how there can be a debate at all when you give some consideration to the statistics pulled out by the BBC on the subject.

 •Scarlets – 7243 (7 games)

•Blues – 6723 (6 games)

•Ospreys – 6528 (8 games)

•Dragons – 4766 (4 games)

Average attendances certainly nothing to shout home about, especially at the Dragons where the Newport region has become the latest in Wales to unveil a shiny new stand, only to have nobody sitting in it. But take a look at the other statistic, some Welsh regions have enjoyed 8 home games, others have enjoyed only 4. It is this inconsistency that is at the heart of the problem. What games are played at home for the Welsh regions are dramatically inconsistent, and more to the point, when they are played, nobody knows what day they will be on. Saturday afternoon perhaps, Sunday lunchtime, Friday night, sometimes even Thursdays and Wednesdays have played host to key Welsh regional home games. And the powers that be wonder why the crowds stay away?

It’s quite simple. WRU, regions, if you want crowds, say ‘tough luck’ to television, and put games where they belong, at 2.30pm on a Saturday afternoon. The only way the current mess of a fixture list can be sustained is to move the whole season into the summer, simply, people do not like standing in driving rain on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon. It might be tolerated on a Saturday, but not anywhere else. The Millennium Stadium example in the rugby world cup is a critically flawed one, why, because the damn thing has a roof! No cold, no wind, only comfort and convenience.

If this hand wringing from the regions about attendances is sincere, they might for a moment think about what fans want, because whatever their market research suggests (for instance, market research suggests Welsh fans like Friday night Six Nations games – I know of not one fan who agrees with that sentiment), the evidence on the ground is not backing it up.

Save crowds, sell for Saturdays.