A fervent Rodney Parade crowd saw The Dragons comfortably see off Connacht 21-8 in a high-octane clash on Friday night, The Men of Gwent producing some scintillating attacking rugby to get their league campaign up and running following defeats to Leinster and Edinburgh.
Wales wing Hallam Amos scored his first try of the season, and hooker Elliot Dee added a second for the Welsh region in a man-of-the-match performance. Amos’ try was an absolute peach, centre Jack Dixon and South African full-back Zane Kirchner also catching the eye with some slick handling in the build-up. Sadly, Kirchner is now set for a lengthy spell on the side-lines after dislocating his shoulder during the Connacht game. That’s a real shame, because the Dragons are starting to play with the sort of swagger the likes of Kirchner and Gavin Henson can bring to the mix. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Rodney Parade absolutely rocking, and in Amos, Dixon, Dee and the injured Tyler Morgan, there is a core of young talent that can pose a real threat to other teams this season, and I’m tipping the Dragons to surprise quite a few people along the way.
It was a disappointing week for the other Welsh regions, with Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets all having to settle for losing bonus points.
The Scarlets faced Ulster in Belfast, and went into that game as favourites. Johnny McNiccol touched down for the visitors on 60 minutes to ignite a thrilling final quarter that saw the lead change hands three times. A Christian Lealiifano penalty levelled the scores for Ulster on 72 minutes, before a late John Andrew try secured victory for the hosts.
I was very impressed with the attacking play from both teams in this match, especially when the game was locked at 20 points apiece with just eight minutes remaining. Both teams threw the kitchen sink at each other, desperate for the win. It was brilliant to see.
From a Scarlets perspective, huge credit must go to Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones. The West Walians are absolutely purring in attack, they have dangerous runners right across the park, and show patience, intelligence and great variety in their play. It’s made them a very tough team to beat. At the centre of this is Rhys Patchell. I’ve always been a huge fan of Patchell, and in his second season as Scarlets fly-half he is really pulling the strings with deft kicking, precision passing and superb defence. I’m still mourning his departure from Cardiff Blues! After having been omitted for Wales’ summer tour, I certainly hope he will be on Warren Gatland’s radar come the autumn.
Scarlets next face Edinburgh in Llanelli as they hope to get back to winning ways.
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues’ woeful start to the season continued, albeit in more stubborn fashion, as they were narrowly beaten at home by Glasgow on Saturday night.
A bright start saw the Welsh region’s record try scorer, Tom James, barge his way over through mid-field, Steve Shingler adding the conversion – and a later penalty – to open a commanding 10-3 lead. The Glasgow team sheet looked classy, but on the field the Warriors were unusually sluggish and scrappy in the first half, and were forced into errors by a resurgent Blues.
Scotland internationals Finn Russell and Henry Pyrgoes led the charge after the interval, Russell edging Glasgow into a 20-19 lead with a 75th minute penalty. A late, late Steve Shingler penalty drifted agonisingly wide to deny the hosts their first Pro14 win of the season.
Danny Wilson indicated an improvement in performance by the Blues after their defeat to Edinburgh in round one, and I will say they seem to be heading in the right direction. The mid-field combination of Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo continues to look dangerous when they get into space, and Alex Cuthbert continues to look for more and more work across the park. It’s great to see his form continue to improve after his Wales omission. Young second-row Seb Davies looks a great prospect, he was a right nuisance for Glasgow all night.
The Blues travel to Connacht in round four. An improved performance is one thing, but the Blues need a victory in Galway on Saturday afternoon as the likes of Glasgow and Munster are already starting to pull ahead at the top of Conference A. I just feel that a much-needed win has the potential to spark a successful campaign for Wales’ Capital Region, providing it comes sooner rather than later.
Another somewhat lacklustre performance from The Ospreys saw them lose at home to Munster, much to Coach Steve Tandy’s fury.
A flat second-half saw Munster dominate in horrendous weather conditions, which saw Tandy publicly criticize his team’s application and attitude.
The Ospreys have looked unusually shaky in the opening rounds of this year’s tournament. The Liberty Stadium is usually quite a stronghold, but it seems to me the Ospreys failed to execute their game plan, and would especially have hoped to get more out of the Sam Davies and James Hook combination at 10 and 12. Hook, indeed, went over for an early try, but the Ospreys generally lacked enough cutting edge and creativity to put Munster to the sword.
A touring squad of 30 players is now being assembled for away games against Benetton Treviso and The Cheetahs, with Tandy confirming Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Alun Wyn Jones will all be involved. This will be a very interesting period in the Ospreys fixture list, and could yet define their season. Treviso are certainly showing signs of improvement, having beaten Edinburgh away from home at the weekend, while The Cheetahs will try to dictate the pace of their match in Bloemfontein. These will be two difficult matches, and I really hope the returning British and Irish Lions will help crank up performance levels another few notches.
Game of the Week
An eye-popping score-line from the encounter between The Cheetahs and Zebre makes my game of the week. The Cheetahs ran in eight tries, while the Italians left Bloemfontein with a much deserved try-bonus point courtesy of five touchdowns of their own. What a way to celebrate the first ever weekend of Pro14 action on South African soil! If you haven’t seen this yet, I certainly hope you enjoy possibly the longest highlights reel in tournament history.
Team of the Week
It has to be the All Blacks for me, courtesy of an astonishing 57-0 victory over South Africa in Auckland. When New Zealand get enough momentum, and their tails are up, there isn’t a team on the planet that can stop them from absolutely running riot. The return fixture, in Cape Town on 7th October, will undoubtedly be a fiery one.