Friday, January 16, 2015

Welsh Derbies: Part Two

New Year is a funny time. We enter it with hopes, dreams, ambitions and aspirations; a feeling that this year will be different. It didn't take long for the Dragons' bubble to burst in 2015.

2014 ended on a high; an unbeaten run culminating in victory over their nearest rivals at the Cardiff Arms Park. Less than a week later they locked horns again with the Blues.

Whilst some spent their New Year's Day splashing about in the freezing waters around the country, some eight and a half thousand fans turned out at Rodney Parade despite limited or non-existent train and bus services. Some would have been better served taking the plunge than sitting through the game though.

Both teams marched on to the pitch behind pipers and drummers as the flames from the obligatory pyrotechnics warmed up those in the first few rows. The players were greeted with two blasts from a cannon and the awaiting guard of honour from the children of Oakdale RFC and New Tredegar RFC mini rugby.

When the game finally got underway it struggled to get off the ground, often bogged down by misfiring scrums that damaged the game's flow and frustrated the fans at Rodney Parade and those watching at home. 

It's an understatement to say Tau Filise hasn't been the best scrummager rugby has ever seen, but it's a miracle he even managed to stay on the field on New Year's Day. Phil Price had the Tongan's number throughout the first half, however it was a number referee Ian Davies failed to put in his book.

Cory Allen grabbed the game's only try, but the Blues could easily have added a second if they had set away Filo Paulo who found himself in more space than Buzz Aldrin inside the Dragons’ twenty-two. At the other end the Dragons’ saw a try chalked off for crossing, but all this talk of potential tries makes the game sound more exciting than it was.

Two days later, the West Wales derby provided a much more entertaining affair. A week before Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb had guided Ospreys to victory over their nearest and fiercest rivals. However, this night would belong to an opposing halfback. Rhys Priestland had his highs and lows in 2014, but he started this year in fine fettle. His man of the match display was vital to what may have been the Scarlets’ best performance this season.

Those who have taken time to watch the Pro 12 will know just how well Priestland has been playing for sometime now. He has played on the gain line; looking sharp, creative and, most of all, confident. Most criticism levelled at him has been unfounded, but those who have made up their minds need not bother with things such as proof. It's not just the Turks of Llanelli that can be a little cycloptic.

Scott Williams continued in his role of Captain Fantastic with another inspired performance worthy of international rugby should, Jamie Roberts drop his guard. If his teammate Halfpenny should drop his guard then both Liam Williams and Dan Evans have showed they are ready, willing and able to fill the gap.

In the pack, where the Ospreys once looked immovable, they looked impotent. Rob Evans and Samson Lee tore up ground come scrum time, in some cases literally.

Both regions are seriously depleted with injuries, but could make a serious run at the higher echelons of the table with players fit and playing. However, the Ospreys will look for no excuses in injuries and if they apologised after victory a week earlier, one wonders how they felt in defeat.

Sunday's game against the Dragons gave the Ospreys a shot at atonement. Before hand, Steve Tandy called on his players after succumbing at Parc Y Scarlets. They needed to send their rivals a message that their defeat had been a "blip."

The Dragons themselves wanted to send out a message; they aren't done yet and they certainly aren't rolling over. They tackled and fought with intensity usually reserved for fighting wild animals. 

In the end, whilst players like Dmitri Arhip again struggled at the set piece, the Ospreys class shone through. Justin Tipuric, Ashley Beck and the much underrated Tyler Ardron gave the Ospreys the edge and the latter two combined to give them their try. 

Nic Cudd and Phil Price tried their damnedest to keep the Dragons battle. Price completed 22 tackles against the Ospreys, to add to his incredible 40 tackles over two games against the Blues. 

Before the game Lyn Jones said the similar form of the regions going into the game proves they "don't have to be supermen to beat the Ospreys."

That didn't stop Phil Price from trying.
REM - Superman

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