Welsh regions like 'lambs to the slaughter' on SA venture?
SPOTLIGHT: The Wales national team will look to restore some of its battered pride when they host Australia in Cardiff on Saturday.
However, the four Welsh regions – Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets – have an even more challenging assignment when they head 13,000 kilometres south to tackle South African franchises in the Republic – as the United Rugby Championship resume.
November has been truly a roller coaster ride for Welsh fans.
Wales suffered a hammering at the hands of All Blacks, who posted more than 50 points against them in Cardiff, then beat Argentina, before they lost at home to Georgia for the first time.
It was a not-too-dissimilar run of results to what they experienced on their mid-year tour to South Africa – losing the first Te3st, winning the second and losing the series-deciding third.
The defeat against the East European nation, Georgia, brought back references to the dark days of Welsh rugby in the 1990s – which also featured an almost 100-point demolition at the hands of South Africa in Pretoria in 1998, along with a seismic 1999 World Cup loss to Western Samoa.
With the loss to Georgia featuring in the same year as the Welsh lost at home to Italy, there are big questions being asked about not just the Welsh team and the future of national coach Wayne Pivac, but also the state of the regional game.
The Welsh media and former players have got stuck into the team, with former Bok and World Cup-winning wing Bryan Habana joining the fray by suggesting that veteran lock and British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones should be recalled to the Wales captaincy.
However, many of the post-mortems have gone much further, probing into the state of the regional game in Wales.
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The current international results certainly aren’t out of kilter with what has been happening with the Welsh regions in the URC.
No Welsh team reached the play-offs last season’s inaugural URC competition.
A curve ball for the Welsh teams this week is that they will all be travelling to South Africa with key players on international duty.
Of the 35 players under-fire Wales national coach Wayne Pivac called up for squad duty at the start of November, 15 players were from the Ospreys, seven from the Scarlets, five from Cardiff and three from the Dragons.
Ospreys, who have the tough task of going to altitude to face the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, will consider themselves up against it.
The Scarlets also go to Cape Town to face the defending champion Stormers on Friday.
Fortunately for the Scarlets, the Stormers should be considerably weakened by their representation in the Bok squad that is currently in London preparing for Saturday’s clash with England at Twickenham.
John Dobson’s men have though shown signs of the impressive growth of squad depth recently and the Stormers might welcome this opportunity to give fringe players a run ahead of a tough December and January that will feature a clutch of crucial derby fixtures over the festive season as well as their entry into the European Champions Cup competition for the first time.
The Bulls don’t have as many Boks these days as either the Stormers or the Sharks, with the latter team set to be part of a Sunday doubleheader which in addition to their game against Cardiff in Durban will also feature the Lions against the Dragons in Johannesburg.
Weekend United Rugby Championship fixtures
Friday, November 25
Stormers v Scarlets (Cape Town)
Ulster v Zebre (Belfast)
Saturday, November 26
Benetton v Edinburgh (Treviso)
Bulls v Ospreys (Pretoria)
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors (Dublin)
Munster v Connacht (Limerick)
Sunday, November 27
Lions v Dragons (Johannesburg)
Sharks v Cardiff (Durban)