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Welsh regions' midterm report cards

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Midterm report cards: Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons

Fans of the Ospreys and Scarlets were celebrating on Saturday night following the first inter-regional clashes of 2019.

It has been a festive period that has provided a bit of cheer for supporters of all four Welsh regions, in truth, with the Cardiff Blues claiming two victories and the Dragons finally winning a derby.

But as attention switches back to Europe, where do the Welsh sides stand going into the new year? RugbyPass takes a look at how each of the regions have fared so far this season.

Conference A

Cardiff Blues

Position: 5th

John Mulvihill’s reign in the Welsh capital got off to an inauspicious start with a narrow home defeat to Leinster followed by losses on the road to both Benetton and Zebre.

John Mulvihill (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

The Blues subsequently rallied, however, and went into Saturday’s clash with the Ospreys having won six of their previous nine PRO14 matches.

Defeat at the Liberty Stadium means Mulvihill’s side have lost more league matches than they have won going into the Champions Cup break, but they remain in the hunt for a play-off place.

Europe has not been a happy hunting ground for the Challenge Cup holders this term, despite an impressive away win at Lyon on the opening weekend, and Mulvihill may well choose to rotate his squad over the next fortnight.

Resting key players could be a sensible move with play-off rivals Connacht scheduled to visit the Cardiff Arms Park on January 26.

That is the start of a challenging run for the Blues, whose final eight regular season games – bar the home tie against the Southern Kings in March – are all against sides chasing a place in the play-offs.

Mulvihill would be wise to wrap Nick Williams in cotton wool. Having agreed to release Samu Manoa on compassionate grounds, and with captain Ellis Jenkins a long-term absentee, the number eight faces an intense workload.

New Year wish: Manoa had been brought in to alleviate the pressure on Williams but the USA international struggled to make an impact. His departure leaves the Blues short at the base of the scrum, where bar Seb Davies and Josh Navidi they are low on options. Mulvihill will hope to unearth another back-row star – potentially Jim Botham.

Ospreys

Position: 3rd

Ahead of the visit of the Cardiff Blues on Saturday, head coach Allen Clarke reiterated the importance of beating conference rivals as the race for the play-offs heats up.

He would have been delighted with the four points, therefore, but problems in attack remain. Ospreys dominated possession and territory in the second period at the Liberty Stadium but were unable to add to first-half tries from Scott Williams and George North.

It has been a familiar story for the region this season and one that could potentially cost them come the end of the regular season.

The Ospreys have won the same number of games as Glasgow Warriors so far this campaign, yet sit five points adrift of the Scottish side as only three of their eight victories have been earned with a bonus point.

Thankfully for the region’s fans, defence has not been an issue. Only Leinster have conceded fewer tries than the Ospreys this term and Shaun Edwards’ work with Brad Davis is clearly paying off.

Defence will be crucial if Clarke’s side are to stop a Glasgow attack that has scored 48 tries when they visit Scotstoun on January 25, to start a run of four potentially season-defining fixtures.

New Year wish: In Sam Davies, Owen Watkin, George North and Luke Morgan, the Ospreys have players that can open up defences. But they need to do so on a more consistent basis if the region is to secure a play-off place.

Conference B

Dragons

Position: 6th

It was all change at the Dragons last month as Bernard Jackman paid the price for a second season of struggle on the Rodney Parade pitch.

Chairman David Buttress had hoped to bring in an interim head coach ahead of the festive derbies but, following talks with Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards, opted instead to delay his decision and name a permanent replacement this month.

Jackman believes whoever comes in will benefit from the work he did during his 18 months in the hot seat and there have been positive signs in the last three matches.

What fans wanted most of all was to be competitive and hard to beat, and that has been the case in the recent derbies.

Under the guidance of Ceri Jones, the Dragons earned a first win over a rival region in four years with a victory against the Ospreys that was sandwiched between narrow defeats to the Cardiff Blues and Scarlets.

In those three matches the Dragons conceded 63 points, just four more than they had shipped against Leinster in what proved a damaging 59-10 home defeat on December 1.

The Dragons’ problems did not begin and end with Jackman, and talk surrounding whether the region will become a de facto development side continues to swirl.

But the performances in the derbies have given the players and coaching staff something to build on.

New Year wish: Buttress will hope to appoint a new permanent head coach this month, but more long-term concerns persist. If the Dragons are ever going to challenge on the pitch then their chairman must make good on promises to drive new revenue streams – starting with the redevelopment of the North Terrace at Rodney Parade.

Scarlets

Position: 4th

“West is Best” boasts the West Stand of the Parc y Scarlets, but that motto has rung a little hollow over the past few weeks.

Injuries have crippled the Scarlets’ season with head coach Wayne Pivac describing the current list of casualties as the worst he has faced in his 22 years as a coach.

Wales and Scarlets back Leigh Halfpenny. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Space in the region’s treatment room was at a premium last week with 14 players sidelined from Saturday’s clash with the Dragons.

The Scarlets have been hit particularly hard in the back-row – half of those currently working with the physio play there – and Pivac was forced to field captain Ken Owens at number eight for the final festive derby.

At a time when the region already had to deal with the loss of Tadhg Beirne, and the increased expectation that comes with reaching back-to-back PRO12/14 finals and the last four of the Champions Cup, it has not been ideal.

Victory over the Dragons on Saturday – which halted a run of five straight defeats – was therefore a timely fillip as well as a great way for Scarlets fans to start the new year.

Those supporters will have renewed hope for a play-off push, while Pivac will want to ease the injury crisis over the next fortnight with the Scarlets already eliminated from the Champions Cup.

It will not be easy, though, as the Scarlets face Leinster, Munster, Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh before the end of the regular season.

New Year wish: Not so much a wish, more a plea to the rugby gods. The Scarlets’ medical department will be working overtime between now and January 25, when the region travel to Dublin to face Leinster. They are rightly treading carefully with Leigh Halfpenny’s concussion but need the likes of Jake Ball, James Davies, Rhys Patchell and Blade Thomson back pronto.

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Midterm report cards: Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons | RugbyPass