Pro12 Update: Judgement Day V

As the four Welsh regions prepare to do battle in Judgement Day V at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, here’s an overview of who’s in form and what we can expect from regional rugby’s annual showpiece…

Newport Gwent Dragons

Current Position: 10th

The Dragons have had a tumultuous season, the tail end of which has been completely overshadowed by off-field events, as the WRU look set to take over the region amidst growing financial uncertainty.

The Dragons have become perennial strugglers and something definitely needs to change at the region. The last few seasons have seen a modest recruitment policy, and almost inevitably their big-name players have moved on to clubs competing at the top end of the league table. It was announced last year that the region were searching for new investors, but now the WRU look primed to take over. Gavin Henson has penned a two-year deal from September, seeing his welcome return to Welsh rugby. I just hope a takeover will see the region turn a corner, provide much needed resources and see real progress. With only four league wins to their name this year, I fear they are in real danger of finishing bottom of the Pro12, with both Treviso and Zebre hot on their heels going into the final three rounds. Their game against Scarlets at Principality Stadium this week is an absolute must-win, but with the Llanelli-based side having climbed to fourth after a 51-5 thumping of Treviso last week, I sadly can’t see the Men of Gwent having enough grunt or flair to overcome their rivals from West Wales.

Scarlets

Current Position: 4th

Last season saw Scarlets crumble in truly spectacular fashion in the final few weeks of the season, and having looked poised to finish in the top two, they slipped to fifth spot and missed out on a play-off spot.

They recruited well over the summer and have enjoyed a decent season, which notably included a fine victory over French giants Toulon in the Champions Cup. I predict Scarlets to reach the semi-finals this term, perhaps even the final, but I still feel they don’t quite have the depth and quality to win this competition – not this season, anyway. They have a tricky run-in to navigate, travelling to current champions Connacht after this week’s game with the Dragons, before ending the season with a home clash against local rivals Ospreys. That’ll be a tasty one, especially since the Ospreys are also serious play-off contenders this season. I predict the Scarlets will comfortably beat the Dragons this week, though, possibly with a bonus-point.

Ospreys

Current Position: 3rd

It’s getting tight at the top of the table, and Wales’ best hope of silverware remains with the Ospreys despite their recent wobble in form.

The Ospreys suffered a disappointing loss to Treviso three weeks ago, then got knocked out of the European Challenge Cup by Stade Francais before losing at home to league leaders Leinster. A fourth consecutive loss seems almost inconceivable given the Swansea region’s pedigree and tenacity, however this week they will face a Cardiff Blues side brimming with confidence after a superb performance against Ulster in Belfast on Friday night.

Ospreys have a brilliant record against Cardiff Blues, but I fancy Wales’ Capital Region to buck the trend this week and record a famous victory. If that is the case, the Ospreys will have a real battle on their hands to remain in the top four, with games against Ulster and Scarlets still to come. However, the Ospreys have superb depth in their squad and are perhaps the one Welsh side best equipped to face such a challenge.

Cardiff Blues

Current Position: 8th

Blues have endured yet another rocky season, some brilliant team performances, some brilliant individual performances, but too many inconsistencies has meant they have failed to meet their target of a top six spot this year.

They valiantly ran Leinster close in Dublin, losing by one point, then got thrashed by Gloucester, before drawing with heavyweights Ulster in an absolute thriller in Belfast.

Alex Cuthbert has shown a superb return to form. At last he is playing with a smile on his face again, he’s scoring tries and looking for work all over the park. He has been quite brilliant for the Blues over the last six weeks, and I’m expecting to see him return to the Wales squad this summer, which is no more than he deserves.

This week’s meeting with the Ospreys is another massive game that Danny Wilson’s men will relish. I think this is Blues’ best chance to beat the Ospreys in some time. With the midfield pairing of Ray Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo causing havoc against Ulster, Lloyd Williams pulling the strings from scrum-half, and work horse Gethin Jenkins as competitive as ever in a Blues jersey, Wales’ Capital Region will be aiming for a very strong 80 minute performance, and amazingly, a first victory over the Ospreys since 2010.

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