A very disappointing weekend for the Welsh regions saw both Ospreys and Cardiff Blues suffer defeats in their European quarter-finals.
Blues surrendered a slender half-time lead in stomach-churning fashion, conceding four unanswered tries after the break as hosts Gloucester ran riot against Wales’ Capital Region. Billy Twelvetrees moved from centre to fly-half to replace the injured Billy Burns, and masterfully pulled the strings as the Cherry and Whites upped the pace and intensity in the final quarter, and the Blues simply had no response.
Having started so promisingly, the Blues were guilty of some weak tackling and poor decision making under pressure. A brilliant performance from Wales flanker Sam Warburton, as well as yet another excellent display from Alex Cuthbert – who has been in explosive form since being dropped from the Wales team in February – was far from enough to keep Gloucester at bay, and the game felt well and truly out of reach by the 70th minute.
Coach Danny Wilson seemed understandably furious with the manner of Blues’ defeat. There have been far too many inconsistencies this season, particularly in defence, and these will need to be addressed over the summer if Blues wish to stand any chance of pushing for league honours.
Ospreys went into their game on Sunday on the back of a disappointing league defeat to Treviso, but having swept aside their European group opponents, I felt a win at the Principality Stadium was well within their grasp.
Unfortunately, the Ospreys failed to capitalize on a one-man advantage for the final thirty minutes, after opponents Stade had winger Josaia Raisuqe red-carded. Sadly I’ve seen this happen several times with Wales over the years: Ospreys simply could not make their advantage count, their performance lacking composure and littered with inaccuracies.
I backed the Ospreys to go all the way in this tournament, and I am bitterly disappointed to see them fall at the quarter-final stage. For all their qualities, and their great Pro12 record, for some unknown reason the region has always struggled in European competitions. This latest loss will only serve to compound their pretty dismal record. Despite the financial restrictions of this – and indeed, every – Welsh region, there is a great swathe of talent in this Ospreys squad, and it’s pretty unforgivable that they should be knocked out in the quarters. It will be a tough one to take, and straight-talking ex-Bridgend Coach Steve Tandy gave an honest appraisal of a really great opportunity missed.
Blues and Ospreys will look to quickly bounce back in league action this weekend. Blues are again on the road, this time to Belfast for a tasty showdown with Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium. Blues’ Nick Williams is sure of a warm reception – he was a fan favourite during his four-year tenure at the province. Meanwhile, Ospreys host league leaders Leinster in a bid for a top-two league spot, with only four rounds now remaining.