Three regions may have lost, the light may have gone out on any hopes of Wales having a representative in the United Rugby Championship play-offs and Wales’ Six Nations ended with an anti-climax, but the weekend wasn’t a total wash-out from a Welsh perspective.
There were still a number of outstanding individual efforts. The Ospreys had good cause to be pleased after overpowering their great rivals the Scarlets 54-36 in Swansea. Disappointingly, though, Wales Women couldn’t round off their Six Nations campaign with a success against Italy.
Read more: Thrilling derby showed what pro rugby in Wales can be but changes are needed
Rugby correspondent Mark Orders runs through the winners and losers:
Wow. Indeed, let’s wow seven times to match the number of defenders the Gloucester wing left for dead in the club’s 64-0 win over Bath. Those with enough energy could even wow 169 times to equal the number of metres Rees-Zammit made in the derby clash at Kingsholm.
The Wales international scored two tries and was unlucky not to complete a hat-trick. Any Gallagher Premiership team of the weekend without him in it wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on.
More plaudits for the uncapped Welshman, who is having the campaign of his fledgling career as one of the top-performing players in one of European rugby’s top-performing teams. Reffell was to the fore as Leicester Tigers pumped Bristol Bears 56-26 in an English top-flight clash at Welford Road.
Awarding him a nine out of 10 in their player ratings, Gist Vile’s sister title LeicestershireLive – who have seen a fair bit of the openside this term – enthused: “The Tigers’ player of the season award is going to be hotly contested and surely Tommy ‘Turnover’ Reffell’s name will be right in the mix.
“He was yet again exceptional, cropping up everywhere on the field — making tackles, stealing loose ball, charging down the kick for Moroni’s try. But nothing epitomised more what type of player the Welshman is than his chase back from 50 metres when the game was dead, stopping a certain try.” You can read more about Reffell here.
Credit to Reffell. Wales head coach Wayne Pivac may have shown no sign of opening the door to the England-based player, but the kid from Pencoed keeps on knocking.
With the Ospreys pushing for 50 points in the closing seconds against the Scarlets, the man on the PA put on a blast of Sweet Caroline and countless black flags were waved around the stadium.
It’s been a tough few years for the Swansea-based team but at that point on Saturday, it is hard to imagine any home supporter would have wanted to be anywhere else on the planet.
Toby Booth’s side got it right. Big players back, pretty much all of them playing to form. Chances taken, power switched on to the max. If only they were allowed to field that side more often.
Someone hand Scott Baldwin an award for prescience. Wales’ World Cup hooker from 2015 told Gist Vile in 2019: “If we’re looking ahead to the 2023 World Cup, I see him as Wales’ starting hooker. He’s a big man, he’s strong, he’s good around the field and he can scrummage.”
Nothing has happened since to contradict that prediction.
Lake had an immense game for the Ospreys against the Scarlets, repeatedly battering their defensive wall and also putting in a number of heavy-duty tackles. The 6ft 1in, 17st 4lb hooker exerted a crushing influence in all he did, crowning his effort with two tries.
The thing about him is that he always plays as if he means it, appearing desperate to win every game. His was a superlative effort at the Swansea.com Stadium.
It has taken a long time, and some people had their doubts about whether Gareth Anscombe would find his way back to the levels he operated at before the knee injury which took him out of rugby for more than two years. But the fly-half shone like a beacon behind the scrum for the Ospreys against the Scarlets, not only managing play with authority but also displaying the vision and class that took him into Wales’ starting line-up for the 2019 Grand Slam campaign.
He at last looked the perfect fit for Toby Booth’s team. They have lacked creativity this term but with a dominant pack sending back front-foot ball, Anscombe supplied the variety and touches the Ospreys have been short of, whether via kicks over the top or show-and-goes to take him through gaps.
It augurs well for the south-west Wales region, and Wales coach Wayne Pivac would have noted his effort, as well.
The Scarlets may have misfired significantly in Swansea, but their left wing had no such problems. A difficult customer to stop, Conbeer scored three tries and looked threatening every time he received the ball.
Wales have an abundance of quality wings but it’s better to have too many than too few and Conbeer has put himself on Wayne Pivac’s radar. Nothing is likely to happen in the short term, but if there are injuries to any of Pivac’s front-liners, the young Scarlet could be a name which comes to mind.
Much the same applies to Keelan Giles, who had a similarly excellent game in the Loughor derby.
Read more: Keelan Giles has been endured five years of darkness but is now faster than ever
“Can we play you every week?” crowed The Shed as Gloucester crushed Bath 64-0 at Kingsholm on Saturday. It must have been one of the saddest days of Taulupe Faletau’s career.
A proud man who never fails to give his all, the Wales No. 8 put in 15 tackles, a total surpassed by just one other Bath player. But as a team the visitors were a mess, missing 28 hits all told, shipping 13 penalties, failing to cherish the ball and boasting an unreliable lineout. Their performance belied the traditions of a club who were once a byword for excellence.
It will soon be all over at The Rec for their No. 8 as he readies himself to depart for Cardiff. Faletau being Faletau, he will want to help the club at least finish a horrendous campaign on a positive note. But the unmistakable conclusion with two games left to play of 2021-22, is that Bath are in a desperate state.
Which brings us onto the Dragons.
The financial challenges they face are well-documented, but nine of the starters who defeated the Scarlets 38-27 in Llanelli in the middle of April were on duty when Dean Ryan’s team lost 23-18 to Zebre last weekend. That was after a 38-19 home defeat by the Scarlets the weekend before. One step forward, two steps back.
They had to attempt 219 tackles against Zebre, who hadn’t previously won a game all season. Good job the Welsh team were not playing Leinster.
The Dragons were also indisciplined, giving away 15 penalties, some of them needless affairs, and had two players yellow carded. They also had problems at the scrum and line-out and missed a horrendous 32 tackles.
With the likes of Bradley Roberts, Sean Lonsdale, JJ Hanrahan, Max Clark and Sio Tompkinson coming in for next season, there needs to be a significant improvement.
Dai Young surprised some with a semi-cheerful demeanour during his post-match interview after Cardiff’s 42-21 defeat by Munster. Was it because the director of rugby’s team play out their season with games against Zebre, the Dragons and Benetton, three sides down with Cardiff in the bottom four in the United Rugby Championship?
Such an end to the campaign could be a double-edged sword, mind. A loss or two in those games and more criticism could come in.
Cardiff are a strange side. They can move from the sublime to the sub-standard and back again in the space of minutes.
Against Munster, every member of their starting line-up missed at least one tackle except for Rory Thornton, who left the field injured on 18 minutes. Cardiff were game enough and flickered brightly in attack, with Lloyd Williams looking sharp at scrum-half, Rey Lee-Lo a constant threat in midfield, Rhys Carre working hard in all areas, Seb Davies athletic around the field and James Botham and Josh Navidi totally on top of the roles.
Yet Cardiff missed 32 tackles and allowed Munster a margin of victory which didn’t reflect the game. Their front five can still seem under-powered at times and Young’s players are finding it hard to break out of a spiral that has seen them lose four games in a row.
Really, they need the kind of on-pitch steel their director of rugby brought to the table as a player. As with the Dragons, next term has to be better.
It seems harsh to place the Wales Women in the losers’ section after a largely positive Six Nations campaign which ended with a third-place finish, their best in 13 years. But they should have beaten Italy in Cardiff.
Ahead 8-7 after a try through replacement scrum-half Keira Bevan, they failed to deal with the ensuing restart, with Bevan passing back into her 22 rather than box-kicking and fellow sub Lleucu George lumping her attempted clearance straight into touch. From the resultant lineout deep in home territory, Wales coughed up a penalty and paid the price as Michela Sillari sent the ball between the posts to secure the visitors a 10-8 success.
Call that a costly lesson in game-management. That said, Wales had enough possession over the 80 minutes to have built a winning lead.
There were pluses, not least in the shape of an outstanding performance from back-rower Alex Callender and a dominant scrum. But, ultimately, they failed to translate the ball they won into points on the board and couldn’t seal the victory.
Plenty of promise, then. But it’s up to all concerned to learn from this loss.
The Scarlets continue to be a split-personality team — sharp in attack but weak in defence, not helped by indiscipline.
With Gareth Davies pulling the strings, they looked quite the part in the opening half against the Ospreys, only to unravel after Corey Baldwin’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Steff Evans was sent to the cooler in the previous game, while three players saw yellow in the match before.
Shipping 54 points to arch-rivals the Ospreys will be a bitter pill to swallow. Dwayne Peel will know his team has to show greater resolve when the pressure comes on.