A series of massive derby games between the Welsh regions began today with Ospreys against Scarlets. The Llanelli-based side had not won at the Liberty Stadium since 2007, but are in good form and are currently the highest placed Welsh team in the league. Today’s 25-16 win over the Ospreys sees the Scarlets consolidate their league position, and dealt a huge blow to the Ospreys’ chances of reaching the European Champions Cup next season.
This is big news. The Ospreys have, for many years now, been Wales’ best hope in Europe’s premier competition. While they are often seen to have underachieved in the competition, their general league consistency and quality personnel has meant, on paper at least, they should be competing at the highest level. Today’s result actually means that there is now a very real possibility that only the Scarlets will be representing Wales in the Champions Cup next season; the Ospreys now languishing in ninth position in the Pro12 table.
Despite an impressive victory today, I can’t help but feel the Scarlets still lack the strength in depth to go all the way in the league this season. The manner in which they imploded during this year’s European group games was huge cause for concern, although they were able to welcome back a number of internationals to bolster their forward pack today to continue their charge on the league.
Scarlets could be a very different animal next season, having recruited very well. Rhys Patchall and the returning Jonathan Davies are game breakers and relish the big stage. They will be part of an extremely potent back division, loaded with international experience, as well as heaps of genuine skill and flair. I’m going to make an early prediction that they will make next season’s Pro12 final, but I don’t feel they have quite enough in the tank to get them over the line this year.
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues avenged last month’s away defeat to Treviso by beating the Italians 56-8 at the Arms Park. Today’s result at the Liberty Stadium means The Blues stay in seventh spot and, despite a challenging run-in of fixtures, their top-six ambitions are very much alive.
Pivotal will be the Blues v Ospreys game during Judgement Day IV next month. It’s looking set to be a cracker. Danny Wilson’s team selection for Cardiff Blues was spot-on yesterday; a dynamic back-row of Sam Warburton, Josh Navidi and Ellis Jenkins, complemented from the second-row by man-of-the-match Josh Turnbull, saw the Blues cut loose and run riot in the final quarter against Treviso. The Ospreys will hope to have Justin Tipuric back for that meeting: I felt his presence was missed at the Liberty Stadium today, as James Davies shone for the Scarlets in the No.7 shirt.
The run-in is looking intriguing. Whatever happens, let’s hope that two Welsh teams finish in the top six, and make it to next season’s Champions Cup.