With the 2016/17 now well and truly under way, Cardiff Blues have maintained their winning start with a fourth consecutive victory in the Pro12.
A marvellous home win against Glasgow Warriors at a packed Arms Park was little more than the Blues deserved last weekend, and they were able to follow that impressive display with a scrappy, but determined, win against Zebre. The Italians may have posed less of a threat on paper, but the Blues have struggled in Parma of late. Danny Wilson’s men certainly had a point to prove, and while a late Zebre try provided a nerve-shredding finale, Wales’ Capital Region held on to make it four from four.
I really like how Wilson and stand-in captain Sam Warburton assessed the game in their post-match interview. Both men pointed to a decline in quality of play for the first time this season; this will certainly need to be addressed before Blues face Leinster in Cardiff on Saturday. However, the significance of making it four from four is not lost on Wilson and Warburton – they may have won ugly, but this is now the Blues’ best ever start to a Pro12 season. The signs are good.
Speaking of Leinster, the Irishmen overcame a fully-loaded Ospreys team at the Royal Dublin Showground on Friday night. If I was a gambling man, my money would have been on Ospreys to continue their fine run of victories. However, Johnny Sexton was razor sharp in his first appearance of the season, his kicking game at its tactical best. He also scored a peach of a try to finish an excellent team move. Leinster therefore visit Cardiff in superb form on the weekend, while the Ospreys next travel to table-topping Ulster looking to return to winning ways.
Alun Wyn Jones made his 200th appearance for the Ospreys in the game against Leinster, becoming only the third player to do so. What a brilliant achievement. He is fiercely loyal, and typically gave his all in defeat on Friday. I truly hope he is chosen for the Lions tour in June.
Elsewhere, Scarlets are finally off the mark after beating defending champions Connacht 17-8 in a drab affair in Llanelli. Liam Williams scored two excellent tries as the home team won for the first time this season. Connacht, meanwhile remain rooted to the foot of the table, without a single match point from four games. Their game against Zebre in Parma last week was abandoned during play, while the Italians were winning 22-10. I can’t help but feel it could be a very long season for Connacht, who have now lost the element of surprise, and seem to be really struggling with the pressure of being defending champions, as well as the departure of some of their key players from last season.
Liam Williams has really put his hand up for Wales’ no. 15 jersey, having performed magnificently for club and country over the last few months. In my opinion, he is now Wales’ first choice full-back. I am really looking forward to seeing Leigh Halfpenny return for Wales in the autumn too, having been cruelly injured in the build-up to last year’s Rugby World Cup. I would like to see Williams starting at full back, with Halfpenny playing on the wing, for that first test against Australia.
Dragons endured a torrid time on their trip to Treviso, the much-improved Italian outfit claiming their first win of the season against the Men of Gwent, who remain in search of their second victory this term. In a game which saw Wales flyer Hallam Amos captain the Dragons for the first time, the Welshmen were unable to claim even a losing bonus point as Treviso stamped their authority over the game, scoring a decisive third try in the closing minutes. Treviso are looking a lot more dangerous this season – they even pushed Leinster close in their season opener. Nevertheless, Dragons will be bitterly disappointed to leave empty handed, and need some serious improvement when they face Glasgow at Rodney Parade next week.
In the Principality Premiership, Bridgend suffered a 32-0 defeat at Ebbw Vale, slipping to 13th place in the table, and will next face a fired-up Pontypridd side licking their wounds after a 39-21 home defeat to local rivals Merthyr. Aberavon remain top of the table, with RGC 1404 continuing their impressive start to their season to stay in second place.
Bridgend Athletic will host Trebanos RFC on Saturday, while Nantymoel look to bounce back from a 15-14 defeat at Ystradgynlais when they welcome Morriston RFC. The ‘Moel currently stand in 6th place in League Two West Central, with two wins from four games.