Hello! It’s been a while! Happy new year!
2018 has started with a series of epic clashes between the four Welsh regions. The Scarlets emerged unbeaten, and are showing definite signs they have what it takes to defend their Pro14 crown. The Ospreys registered wins over the Blues and Dragons, while the Blues managed a slender victory over the Dragons, but endured narrow defeats to both West Wales rivals.
The Dragons, meanwhile, continue to show lots of promise, talent and potential, but failed to beat any of their Welsh counterparts during a barren festive period. There is no doubting something special is brewing at Rodney Parade, however, with the Gwent region having made some eye-catching signings over the last few months. Richard Hibbard and Ross Moriarty are heavily rumoured to be joined by mammoth Wales wing George North down east for the 2018/19 season – quite a coup for the region which has underperformed for far too long, and a sure statement of intent.
Attention now turns to the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, with all four regions involved in some big-name tussles this weekend.
The Scarlets are first up, needing a vital win over Bath at The Rec to keep themselves in the race for qualification. Leigh Halfpenny and Johnny McNicholl are out for the visitors, who can at least call on Paul Asquith and Tom Prydie to continue their impressive December form in the back line. Rhys Patchell has been absolutely magnificent at full-back – in fact, I always preferred him in this role back when he played for Cardiff Blues. A class act, he always seems to have so much time on the ball, and cuts a neat angle with his running and footwork. The Scarlets will need to throw the kitchen sink at a fully-loaded Bath, teeming with internationals. There’s sure to be fireworks.
The Ospreys face the mighty Saracens in Swansea tomorrow night. Despite their poor league form, Ospreys find themselves in a brilliant position to qualify for the knock-out stages of this competition – although, should they down the current European champions at the Liberty Stadium, they must then face Clermont away from home in round six. As daunting as it seems, they dispatched Northampton with ruthless efficiency in the double-header last month, and if they play with swagger and belief, they have the tools to be right in the mix. Expect Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb to turn on the style.
The Dragons face a daunting trip to face Bordeaux, most likely battling for second place in what has been a very tight and fiercely competitive group. The visitors will be boosted by the welcome return of the sublime Elliot Dee, who has been a revelation this season. The young front-rower is having a colossal season, earning himself a well-deserved Wales call-up in the autumn. He knows his way to the try-line, too. Dee leads from the front, and will relish being back in the thick of the action in France.
Cardiff Blues round off the weekend with a huge, huge game against Toulouse. The French giants find themselves in the second-tier Challenge Cup competition this season, and the Blues recorded a most famous away win in the reverse fixture back in October. Fantastic stuff! Toulouse will be out for revenge and, with the Blues currently sitting pretty at the top of Pool Two, anything less than a victory would probably see the four-times European Champions knocked out of the tournament. The Blues have named a dynamic back-row of Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins and Nick Williams, and will need to play with intelligence and heart to secure victory at the Arms Park on Sunday night. Bring it on!