Regional game in Wales in good shape

PRO14 Rugby
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 18: Ken Owens of Scarlets runs with the ball during the Guinness Pro14 Semi Final match between Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets at Scotstoun Stadium on May 18, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Following the Cardiff Blues’ superb Challenge Cup win over Gloucester last weekend and the Scarlets reaching a second successive Pro14 final, the regional game in Wales is in good shape.

Despite serious financial problems and the announcement before Christmas that coach Danny Wilson would be leaving the club, the Blues have picked up their first piece of silverware since 2010 while also earning a creditable fourth place finish in Conference A of the Pro14.

The Regional Game in Wales

As well as the above achievements, Wilson who is joining Wasps this summer as their new forwards coach, has seen exciting young talents such as fly-half Jarrod Evans, winger cum centre Owen Lane and livewire scrum-half Tomos Williams really establish themselves this season.

The former Scarlets and Bristol forwards coach undoubtedly leaves the region in good shape as Australian John Mulvihill prepares to take over the reins in the next month.

Meanwhile, Wales’ top performing region in recent times – the Scarlets -have the chance to make it back to back Pro14 titles after an outstanding first half performance against Glasgow on Friday saw them beat the conference A winners 28-13.

After an excellent run in Europe which saw them reach their first semi-final since 2008, Wayne Pivac’s men will be looking to end another fine season on a high when they take on European Champions Leinster next Saturday at the Aviva stadium.

They continue to play their thrilling ball in hand game which has made them arguably Europe’s most exciting team. Blessed with a really strong scrum and a highly efficient lineout, each of the West Wales region’s eight are also really comfortable moving it wide and boast a high skillset, making them a multi-faceted, highly effective pack.

In addition, their backline, superbly orchestrated by playmaker Rhys Patchell, constantly pose serious questions to opposition defences and are capable of striking from anywhere.

And despite the impending loss of key figures such as John Barclay, Tadhg Beirne and Scott Williams to Edinburgh, Munster and Ospreys respectively this summer, Pivac has already recruited well with Hurricanes back-rower Blade Thomson, Edinburgh and Scotland scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Ospreys and Samoa centre Kieron Fonotia and Cheetahs full-back cum winger Clayton Blommetjies, amongst the new faces heading to Parc y Scarlets during the coming month.

With an impressive blend of youth and experience, the former Auckland and Fiji coach alongside assistants Stephen Jones, Byron Hayward and Ioan Cunningham have developed a fantastic team which are set to continue to go from strength to strength over the next years.

New faces at the Dragons

In spite of the fact that they have endured a horrendous season which has yielded only two league wins and seen them endure the worst ever season for a Welsh region in the history of the regional game in Wales, big signings such as Ross Moriarty, Richard Hibbard and Brandon Nansen, alongside the likes of Aaron Jarvis, Ryan Bevington, Rhodri Williams and Jordan Williams, should see the Dragons’ fortunes improve next season.

While no-one should expect miracles from the Gwent region – who were taken over by the WRU last summer – expect them to be a lot more competitive next season than they were this year. With promising youngsters such as Harry Keddie, Dan Babos, Arwel Robson and Aaron Wainwright alongside the likes of Corey Hill, Elliot Dee, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Ashton Hewitt and Hallam Amos, there are reasons for optimism at Rodney Parade over the comin few years.

Finally, Wales’ most successful region are in transition. With stalwarts such as Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Ashley Beck moving to pastures new, as powerful prop Dmitri Arhip , winger Jeff Hassler and centre Kieron Fonotia, change is very much in the air at the Ospreys.

But they have also made some high-calibre signings with Wales winger George North and Wales teammate Scott Williams joining from Northampton and Scarlets. While Scarlets scrum-half Aled Williams and Cheetahs prop Tom Botha are also decent additions to the Liberty stadium outfit.

A disappointing season came to an end for Allan Clarke’s men today after a 35-17 defeat to Ulster in their European Champions Cup play-off which means they will be playing in Europe’s second-tier Challenge Cup next season.

After a terrible opening half of the season which saw head coach Steve Tandy lose his job in January, former forwards coach Allan Clarke has improved things down in Swansea and as a result of his impressive work, was recently appointed to the position on a full-time basis.

With the loss of the likes of Biggar, Webb, Beck and Arhip, Clarke has plenty of work on his hands. But with players of the ilk of Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Sam Davies, Scott Baldwin, the returning Dan Lydiate, Dan Evans as well as North and Williams, the Ospreys still have lots of quality and can improve on their poor fifth place finish in Conference A next season.

As the curtain comes down on another season, regional rugby in Wales is generally in good shape.

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