Johnny McNichol

BKT United Rugby Championship, Parc y Scarlets, Wales 11/11/2023 Scarlets vs Emirates Lions Scarlets' Johnny McNichol Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Andrew Dowling

Four Regions And Four More Defeats . . . That’s 12 Out Of 16 Games

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By Simon Thomas

It was a weekend to forget for the Welsh regions, with all four teams losing at home in the United Rugby Championship – but it could have been such a different story.

Both the Scarlets and Ospreys were leading with less than five minutes to go against the Emirates Lions and Glasgow Warriors respectively, only to concede late scores.

Between them, the quartet have won just four out of 16 matches so far this season.

Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel was particularly frustrated at the 24-23 defeat to the Lions given his team were in front for virtually the entire match.

“We are bitterly disappointed because it was a game we had in the bag,” said the former Wales scrum-half.

“For large parts we were the better side, but we had a few basic fundamental errors and we were not accurate in the last 10 minutes.

“We only have ourselves to blame and it is four points that have gone begging.”

As for the Ospreys, they went in front with just seven minutes left on the clock through a fifth successful kick from fly-half Jack Walsh, but ended up without even a losing bonus point as a Duncan Weir penalty and a final play converted try from Allan Dell made it 31-23 to Glasgow.

Head coach Toby Booth said: “Sport can be cruel and sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

“Glasgow are a very good side, but they didn’t do anything we didn’t expect. For 75 minutes we more than matched that, so we’re not going to thrash ourselves over this loss.

“We just didn’t nail those key moments when we had the chance early on.”

Cardiff Rugby had plentiful opportunities to beat the Vodacom Bulls at the Arms Park on Friday night only for a succession of crucial handling errors to cost them dear as they went down 18-12.

However head coach Matt Sherratt took a lot out of his team’s performance against the new league leaders, saying: “That’s the best we have played this season. I was really proud of the players’ efforts and their intent.

“I have got a blueprint in my mind that is a Cardiff performance and it looked a lot like that.”

In the final game of the weekend, the Dragons RFC went down 33-10 to Leinster at Rodney Parade, with Wales back row forward Taine Basham red carded for an elbow to the head of fly-half Ross Byrne.

Dragons head coach Dai Flanagan admitted: “We are doing some stuff that is not acceptable. We’re not going to get wins unless we start performing better and eradicate the errors.

“It was very silly from Taine. He wants to be a top-end player, but that wasn’t good enough and top-end players don’t do things like that.

“But in the first half, we were in the game and there were no comms between the touch judge and the referee.

“We were hearing the touch judge calling infringements against Leinster that the ref hasn’t given, then we found out at half-time the mics weren’t working. The league needs to be better than that.”

While the Welsh regions are struggling, the Italian teams are on the march.

First, Zebre Parma ended their 22-match losing run in the BKT URC with a 12-10 win over the Hollywoodbets Sharks on a night of tears and high emotion at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

And then Benetton Rugby triumphed 20-17 against the DHL Stormers – finalists for the past two years – in a titanic tussle out in Treviso to stand alone as the only unbeaten team after the opening four rounds of matches.

Zebre hadn’t tasted victory in the league since April 2022 and that was reflected by the scenes on the final whistle in Parma, as SWelsh defence coach Richard Hodges recounts.

“It was wild. There were grown men crying,” he said.

“The first person I saw was George Biagi, who is our director of rugby operations. He was just in tears and the girls who work in the office likewise.

“The kit man was hugging everybody, saying thank you with tears streaming down his face.

“It was just such a relief because this group has just been battered for a season and a half.

“There are a lot of players in our squad who have been there 18 months, two years, and had never ever won a game.

“They didn’t know what to do. They got in the changing room and they were trying to find a song to sing!

“So there was a lot of emotion. It was good to see and quite humbling. Finally that cloud is lifted.

“It was just a release of emotion and that monkey is off the back now, so it means we can crack on.

“It’s been coming. It’s about changing perceptions and I think in these early games we have done that. We are beginning to get some respect back and that’s what it’s all about.”

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