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Welsh rugby: Five talking points from URC weekend

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Published in Rugby
Monday, 04 December 2023 05:12

There was a red card in a Welsh derby, a stunning showing from a Wales fly-half hopeful, a young Ospreys side just missing out on victory in Italy and Dragons hitting rock bottom in South Africa.

Throw in the visit of a rugby legend to Cardiff and it was another busy weekend in Welsh rugby, as the first block of seven rounds of the United Rugby Championship have now been completed.

The Welsh sides are where they were expected to be in the bottom half of the table, with Ospreys 11th, Cardiff 12th, Scarlets 13th and Dragons propping up the 16-team table.

There have been eight wins for Welsh sides in the opening seven rounds, though only three against sides from other nations.

Young players such as Alex Mann, Cameron Winnett, Eddie James, Mackenzie Morgan and Harri Deaves impressed after being given opportunities in these tough financial times for the regions.

So with European competition taking centre stage for the next couple of weeks, what did we learn about the URC weekend as the league prepares to take a break?

Keys to Wales 10?

Wales head coach Warren Gatland was not at the Arms Park after returning to New Zealand but will no doubt have seen footage of Scarlets fly-half Ioan Lloyd masterminding the derby win against Cardiff.

With Dan Biggar having retired, Gareth Anscombe unavailable after signing for a Japanese club and Sam Costelow injured, Lloyd has emerged as a genuine 2024 Six Nations contender.

He arrived in the summer from Bristol, where another Wales fly-half Callum Sheedy is excelling this season.

Even Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt hailed him as a "triple threat" with his running, kicking and passing, after helping Scarlets to score five tries.

"Ioan was outstanding, he is electric in attack and lit up the game," said Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel.

"As a coach you're half watching the game with your hands over your head because you don't know what he's going to do next but the other half of the time you are celebrating what he's doing because he's box office when he gets that space."

Lloyd could partner Gareth Davies for Wales after the scum-half showed his credentials again with two tries at the Arms Park against rival Tomos Williams, who also touched down.

The win helped lift the Scarlets mood after a week in which head coach Dwayne Peel met with fans following the heavy loss to Ospreys.

"It was a tough week. Our fans love playing against the Ospreys and when you lose to them, it's always difficult," said Peel.

"It was the manner of the defeat that hurt. We wanted to be more competitive so I'm glad to see the reaction this week."

Morris knocking on door

Warren Gatland has not spoken yet to Morgan Morris but the Wales head coach will surely be looking up the Osprey forward's phone number soon.

The number eight has been Ospreys player of the season for the past two years and already looks on course to complete the hat-trick.

Only one player in the URC - Munster's Gavin Coombes - has made more carries than Morris (81) who is also in the league's top ten for tackles (75).

"He's by far the best ball carrier in Wales right now, he has a brilliant ability to manipulate his body to break tackles and get through," former Wales centre Tom Shanklin told Scrum V.

"And if there's one thing we're looking at right now for Wales is who fills Taulupe Faletau's boots when he retires.

"Morris hasn't had a look-in yet for Wales but he keeps putting in eye-catching performances because he's so good at getting Ospreys on the front foot."

Meanwhile Ospreys are still sweating on news of Max Nagy who suffered a suspected fractured ankle in the narrow 18-13 loss at Benetton.

Tipped over the edge

Cardiff were ahead when Ellis Jenkins was sent off for a tip tackle on opposite number Dan Davis.

However, whether or not it warranted a yellow or red card from referee Ben Whitehouse has divided opinion.

"When you see someone's studs above their heads, it doesn't look good," said Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt.

"But when you actually slow it down, he [Davis] has jumped into the tackle so he's jumped onto Ellis' shoulder.

"Ellis isn't a dirty player, so it isn't something that's going to be deliberate.

"The [TMO] said he landed on his shoulder and then his head, but Ben thought it was reckless and a red card.

"It is not something I'm going to argue with because it didn't look great at full speed. But when it's reviewed, they'll see some mitigating factors."

He added: "I actually thought we played quite well with 14 players. We had to make tactical changes to the lineout and plays as well as give that extra 10% effort each."

Dragons inaccuracy

Dragons were their own worst enemies in Johannesburg where mistakes and indiscipline saw them lose 49-24 against Lions who played 55 minutes with 14 men.

Handling errors gifted Lions their first two tries, both length of the field efforts, while Rhodri Williams and Bradley Roberts were both shown needless yellow cards to wipe out their numerical advantage for 20 minutes.

"It was a massive missed opportunity. We were really inaccurate which is really frustrating because there were chances galore out there.

"We've got to catch a ball or make a tackle at the crucial moments. That's something we have to work on individually and then collectively to be better."

Call to Arms

It was not just matters on the field that caught the imagination at Cardiff.

Rugby league legend and current England rugby union defence coach Kevin Sinfield arrived on the Arms Park pitch at half-time after completing the second leg of his epic latest challenge to support those suffering with motor neurone disease (MND).

Sinfield, who has raised millions for charities since ex-Leeds team-mate Rob Burrow was diagnosed with the condition in 2019, is running 27 miles each day for seven days in seven cities.

No England coach will have received such a rapturous response in the Welsh capital before but this is Kevin Sinfield, who visited the Cardiff dressing room after the match.

"I was hoping he'd be coming into a changing room with a good atmosphere after a win, but the way he spoke put everything in perspective. It was brilliant," said Cardiff head coach Sherratt.

"We can get wrapped up with a red card, a high tackle, how we started the game, but there's a guy there who's given his life and his body to one of his best mates.

"He spoke to the boys about how important it is to look after each other on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. You could hear a pin drop."

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