The burning questions facing Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons as the new rugby season approaches


It is early August — the time in the year when every rugby coach is optimistic, when nothing has yet gone wrong and criticism is taking a welcome holiday.

But there are questions for the Scarlets, Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and the Dragons as they prepare to start their programmes of summer friendlies.

MARK ORDERS tries to answer them…

SCARLETS

Question: How do you replace a ball-pilferer like Tadhg Beirne?

Why stop at Beirne? The Scarlets have also seen John Barclay, Scott Williams and Aled Davies leave, three players who are all adept at turning over opposition possession.

But Beirne is simply a master at the art, achieving 39 turnovers in the Guinness PRO last term, 24 of which were jackals.

Tadhg Beirne needs to be replaced

It is borderline impossible to find a like-for-like replacement for such a player.

But the Scarlets do have James Davies, who is an outstanding breakdown operator in his own right, and a number of others who are skilled in that area, including Wyn Jones and Aaron Shingler.

And new Kiwi recruit Blade Thomson is one more who has a penchant for relieving opponents of ball.

If he stays fit — he had major shoulder trouble last year — he could be an outstanding recruit with his dynamic all-round game.

Q: What will Johnny McNicholl decide over his future?

Pretty much every Scarlets fan would have felt at least a flicker of apprehension when McNicholl walked off the pitch after a dazzling individual performance against Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 final and gave a startlingly candid TV interview.

“I’ve got another year here,” he told Sky Sports after the game in Dublin.

“I love the Scarlets and they are the only Welsh team I will play for, but if someone else comes calling and it’s worth it, maybe I will go.”

Johnny McNicholl in try-scoring action

It could have been part of a cunning negotiating strategy, of course.

Whatever, it would have prompted sleepless nights for more than a few of those who go to bed at night in scarlet pyjamas.

Wales will be interested in whether McNicholl stays, too, with the back-three man eligible to play Test rugby for them after the 2019 World Cup.

The Scarlets need to get their most persuasive negotiators on the case.

Q: Can the Scarlets stay ahead of the Welsh pack?

They still look the strongest of the regions, with Wayne Pivac having brought in a number of quality-looking recruits, including Usair Casseim, Blade Thomson, Sam Higaldo-Clyne and Clayton Blommetjies, with Kieron Fonotia also keen to make a mark.

But they have also seen many fine players depart and the challenge will be to bed the new faces into the Scarlets’ way of playing.

The West Walians didn’t win anything last term, aside from multiple friends for the way they played, but they still had a fine campaign and Pivac will hope his side continue to push forward.

It would be a mild surprise if any of their Welsh rivals reeled them in.

Read More

The latest Scarlets news

CARDIFF BLUES

Q: How do you follow an act like Danny Wilson?

It won’t be easy, for Wilson performed impressively during his spell as head coach at Cardiff Blues, culminating in an unforgettable European Challenge Cup final victory over Gloucester. The Englishman created a feel-good factor at a region that hadn’t felt good about itself for far too long.

He was sharp technically and tactically and had a fine backs coach in Matt Sherratt, who has also departed.

Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill has big shoes to fill at the Arms Park

The challenge for new head coach John Mulvihill is to put his own stamp on things while building on last term’s success.

Many have said encouraging words about him.

But, as always, coaches are judged by results.

Q: Have the Blues sorted out their tight-head prop issues for years?

They will hope so.

The newly acquired Dmitri Arhip did a terrific job for the Ospreys, not just in the scrums but around the field, too.

If he has luck with injuries, he could prove a huge asset.

He could also help with the development of Dillon Lewis, the youngster who impressed so much on Wales’s summer tour.

Lewis’s skill at the breakdown in Argentina and his work in the loose marked him down as a big prospect. But it can take time for a tight-head to develop in the scrums and Lewis is only 22.

The acquisition of Arhip allows the Blues the option of bringing Lewis on at a steady pace.

Q: Can Jarrod Evans build on his excellent form season?

There were few more exciting players than the Cardiff Blues fly-half in Welsh rugby in 2017-18.

He kicked on from match to match and developed a superb short kicking game to complement his running skills, while proving reliable in front of goal and increasingly aware tactically.

Can Jarrod Evans back up last season’s form?

Defences will be alive to the threat he poses and the marking will be tighter in the coming season.

But Welsh rugby’s young player of the year for last term is an individual who appears to be going places.

Wales ought to keep an eye on him.

Read More

Cardiff Blues transfer news and more

OSPREYS

Q: Can Sam Davies fill the void left by Dan Biggar?

It’s a strange one. If this question had been asked in the autumn of 2016 many would have answered positively without barely a flicker of doubt. But after a bumpy campaign 2017-18 for the youngster, lots were rushing to offload shares in him.

Maybe they have been too hasty.

Biggar’s worth to the Ospreys can hardly be overstated: he helped drive them forward on and off the field with unbreakable self-belief and huge commitment.

But how difficult for a young player would it be trying to make a name for himself while the shadow of the Wales fly-half loomed large?

Sam Davies during the intense training session
Sam Davies during pre-season training

Biggar has moved on now, so it could be a chance for Davies to finally and definitively emerge from his shadow.

Confidence is key for a fly-half and it will be for Davies in the months ahead.

He needs to start the season well while remembering the old adage about class being permanent.

It really is.

Q: Do the Ospreys have sufficient depth in their squad?

Well, they waved goodbye to 15 players at the end of last season, including influential sorts such as Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Ashley Beck and Dmitri Arhip, while Rory Thornton has departed on a year-long loan to Cardiff Blues.

But if the departure lounge was busy, then the arrivals hall wasn’t exactly quiet, with nine players booking in at the region’s training base in Llandarcy.

The acid test will come during international windows.

Will the region have enough cover in midfield when Scott Williams and Owen Watkin head off for Wales duty? James Hook is on hand, but the Ospreys need Cory Allen to stay fit and they need some of their younger centres to break through.

And resources at lock will be tested if Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies and Adam Beard are all needed by Warren Gatland.

The Ospreys need Nicky Smith to stay fit, too.

Maybe the Liberty region will have better fortune with injuries.

It is overdue.

Q: Where is the creativity coming from?

To watch the Ospreys was tough at times last season, so lacking in creativity were the region of Shane Williams and Gavin Henson.

And the departure of Ashley Beck isn’t guaranteed to improve the situation.

Luke Morgan breaks free during the London Sevens at Twickenham

But the Ospreys have quiet hopes that the acquisition of Lesley Klim and Luke Morgan might add to their creative options. Neither is proven at this level in 15-a-side rugby, but both are talented and both know their way to the try line.

Maybe, too, Sam Davies and James Hook can contribute invention.

Hook had a quiet season last year but in the mood and with the right platform the former Wales star is still capable of conjuring the unexpected.

Read More

The latest Ospreys news

DRAGONS

Q: Can Bernard Jackman turn it around?

A big question.

Had the Dragons performed as well as Jackman handled the media last term then they would have been runaway Guinness PRO14 champions.

But not even the Irishman’s charm could disguise how dreadful Wales’s most easterly region were.

Bernard Jackman - Dragons head coach
Its a big second season ahead for Bernard Jackman

Jackman has gone to town in the recruitment stakes, with Ross Moriarty and Richard Hibbard among those brought in, and also shipped out a veritable boat load of players.

The squad he now has at his disposal has his name on it and so people will judge accordingly.

There has to be an improvement .

Q: How big an asset will Ross Moriarty prove?

If he plays as he performed for Wales on tour this summer, then the Dragons’s acquisition from Gloucester will prove a huge success.

With his big hits, willingness to carry and sheer appetite for hard work, allied to an abrasive spirit, Moriarty has it in him to galvanise those around him.

A slight concern might be that the relentlessly physical nature of his game might leave him vulnerable to injuries.

Whatever, if the Dragons provide him with a platform Moriarty can be a key player.

New Dragons recruit Ross Moriarty

Q: How much will the Dragons enjoy the sweet taste of Bristol cream?

It should prove quite acceptable to palates out east.

Rhodri Williams is a classy scrum half. Indeed, when news of his impending departure from Bristol to the Dragons came out, one rugby journalist on the other side of the Severn Bridge wrote: “He has been superb this season, and if you take All Black Steven Luatua out of the equation he has been Bristol’s best player week-in, week-out.”

He is a thinking No. 9 with flair and an ability to do the unexpected.

Which brings us to Jordan Williams.

He is another gifted player but the issue is whether he has improved defensively. If he has, then he could be another popular performer with Dragons fans.

Ryan Bevington, the third signing from Bristol, was once reckoned to be an outstanding prospect by ex-Ospreys forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys. Injuries haven’t helped the ex-Wales interantional and some will see him as an unfulfilled talent.

Bevington will be looking to prove he still has what it takes.

Jackman’s challenge will be to get the best out of him.

Read More

Latest Dragons news



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scarpenter - Page brought to you by S Carpenter