I really enjoyed last nights meeting between Dragons and Ospreys (the first Pro12 Welsh derby of the weekend). It was an important game for both teams, with Ospreys bidding to claw their way back up the table in the scramble for European qualification, and the Dragons hoping to turn around a disappointing league season and turn around a poor record against their rivals from West Wales.
I’ve never been to Rodney Parade, but I really want to. It looks old-school. The crowd are noisy and fiercely loyal. It looks an unforgiving place for away teams. This is what home advantage should be!
It was a high tempo game, with plenty of quality on show, but sadly too many errors from the hosts. A frantic opening ten minutes saw one try apiece, but Ospreys soon established control and deservedly led 19-8 at the break. A late Hallam Amos try – his second of the game, and fourth in the last two matches – game the Dragons hope, but they were frustrated by their own indiscipline, as well as stubborn Ospreys defending. Ospreys deserved the spoils, and gained maximum points, although their hopes of finishing in the top half of the league remain slim.
This could be Taulupe Faletau’s final game at Rodney Parade. I have a huge amount of respect for the Wales No.8. He has been superb for the Dragons, having risen through their academy system. He repaid their faith in him by signing a contract extension three years ago, at a time when many of Wales’ best players were leaving the country for big money deals in England and France. He will be with Bath from next season, and I feel he deserves an opportunity like this – to play in a different league, alongside a plethora of internationals week-in, week-out. I truly believe it will make him an even better player, and ultimately that can only be a good thing for Wales.
Attention now turns to today’s clash between Scarlets and Cardiff Blues in Llanelli. This game is enormous. It could define the season for Blues: a win here would be a massive step towards the top six in the league. Scarlets, meanwhile, will want to keep the pressure on at the top of the table, as they battle to qualify for a home Pro12 semi-final, A win for them today would also guarantee their place in the European Champions Cup next season.
There will be some intriguing battles today. Samson Lee returns to the starting line-up for the hosts, so Blues have chosen an experienced front row of Jenkins, Rees and Filise. James Davies and John Barclay have been on fire in the Scarlets back row, but I feel this threat will be negated by the inclusion of three open-side flankers in Warburton, Navidi and Ellis Jenkins all starting in the Blues back row. Their intent will surely be to play a fast and open game. Throw in Josh Turnbull in the second row – my Blues player of the season – and I believe the Blues can defy the odds today and return from West Wales with a victory.