I leave it to you to judge my forecasting skills but the weekend’s Magners League action resulted in four out of five home wins, with the big losers being the Scarlets (in case you missed the decision earlier in the year, Llanelli no longer forms part of the name – as to why, well that’s for another day).
Their failure to beat Leinster at home has, realistically, cost them their chance of competing for the League title. There were uncanny resemblances to the Cardiff Blues match against Glasgow Warriors on the previous evening, both games generating a host of errors and a defensive performance in the first twenty-five minutes that would be best forgotten.
The big difference was that in the Cardiff game the defensive weakness came from Glasgow whereas at Parc y Scarlets, the home team were guilty. Leinster raced into a 20 point lead courtesy of shocking defensive lapses and Scarlets were left chasing the game, something that despite huge territorial dominance, two tries and a string of attacks, they never truly looked like doing. They missed Stephen Jones’ generalship and when Regan King was carried off with a hamstring problem, the lack of midfield direction was more than apparent.
The Ospreys were not particularly convincing in defeating Connacht 22-10, Munster had a bonus-point win over Edinburgh (28-14) and Dragons came back with three late tries courtesy of their star young Welsh winger Jason Tovey to beat Ulster 26-16. Munster now lead the table from Ospreys whose superior points difference sees them just pip Leinster to second place with Scarlets similarly edging Edinburgh for fourth but seven points adrift.
Perhaps the most interesting theme to emerge was the importance of the squad system and, in particular, the role of experienced Southern Hemisphere players in those squads when Six Nations calls deprive teams of home international players. Cardiff were able to field a phalanx of former All Black or Islands forwards, Xavier Rush returning for an impressive first-half and Ben Blair at full-back. The game at Parc Y Scarlets pitted David Lyons (Aus.) against Ricky Elsom (Aus.) in the back rows. Sadly for the game, the impressive NZ centre Regan King only lasted 19 minutes. For Munster, Dougie Howlett scored. The Ospreys fielded Jamie Nutbrown with Filo Tiatia and Marty Holah on the bench.
Once again, there must be concerns over attendances in Wales. Parc Y Scarlets was well under half-full with 6,400 turning out for a top-of-the-table clash, but this beat the attendance at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium. The Dragons, at their much smaller Rodney Parade, attracted 6,300. Only the Blues (despite their rocky League form) topped 7,000.
No League action next weekend as the Six Nations resumes. I will try to post something more general about the League for those of you who don’t really follow it. Action resumes the following weekend with Ospreys hosting Leinster as they return again to Wales. This is undoubtedly the game of the round as the winners will take a clear lead in second place. It’s just possible that Munster will face a tough fixture at the semi-resurgent Newport Dragons. In the other two games, Scarlets host Edinburgh with the winners going fourth and Glasgow travel to Belfast to face Ulster.
Please let me have your comments, suggestions and ideas as to what you’d like me to write about. I hope you’ve enjoyed these first two efforts.
By Denis Brennan