Justin Tipuric Ospreys

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 11: Justin Tipuric of Ospreys runs with the ball during the Pool A Heineken Champions Cup match between Ospreys and Leicester Tigers at the Swansea.com Stadium on December 11, 2022 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

Justin Tipuric Bids To Prove Welsh Regions Can Carry Some Bite In URC

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By Paul Jones

With Wales having been mauled by the Pumas at the World Cup, it’s been a week for licking wounds in Welsh rugby.

This weekend, though, seven days on after losing to Argentina in the quarter-finals, there is a chance for the domestic game to shows its claws have sharpened when the United Rugby Championship season begins.

Three of the Welsh regions – the Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff – play on Saturday, whilst the Scarlets have gone long haul to start in South Africa against the Bulls on Sunday.

The Ospreys are away in Ireland to face Connacht, where Justin Tipuric – who retired from international rugby last season – will captain the team on his 200th appearance for the region.

Head coach Toby Booth said: “We know that Connacht is a very difficult place to go.

“The conditions can be challenging and there’s an artificial pitch which can often impact preparation, as well as the game itself.”

You have to go back 51 weeks for the last time Dai Flanagan’s Dragons side won a URC match at Rodney Parade, but hopes are high for a significant change in fortunes this season.

Up first at Rodney Parade will be Edinburgh, who gave the Welsh region a bit of a spanking on the opening day of last season with a 44-6 home win.

That led to Flanagan taking over the coaching reins as Dean Ryan was moved aside following his comments on the performance.

But after pre-season triumphs over the Ospreys and Scarlets, the ‘Men of Gwent’ look to be in great shape for a strong start.

With four of their opening five fixtures being at home, Flanagan’s side have a great chance to make an impact.

After facing Edinburgh they will meet Cardiff, Leinster and Ospreys at Rodney Parade and reigning champions Munster on the road.

“It’s nice to be at home for the first game and everyone’s been looking forward to the start for a long time. We’re excited,” said Flanagan.

“We want to grow our game and it’s nice to do that at home with four of the first five at Rodney Parade. We’re aware of the opportunity we have with playing those games at home.

“This is a very tough league and you need to win your home games. That’s what we’re targeting, making sure Rodney Parade is a tough place for teams to come.”

The Welsh World Cup contingent from the Dragons – Rio Dyer, Elliot Dee, Dan Lydiate, Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright – won’t be available, and tight head prop Chris Coleman is rated 50-50 to be fit in time.

Scrum half Lewis Jones is sidelined with a fractured cheekbone.

Cardiff also start at home on Saturday evening, where they will include centre Willis Halaholo for their game against Benetton.

The former Wales centre appeared to be a victim of the budget cuts when he left the Arms Park at the end of last season, having suffered an Achilles tendon injury.

But Halaholo has recovered and been given a short-term contract, meaning he starts against the Italians.

Head coach Matt Sherratt said: “It is great to have Willis available for selection, after signing a short-term contract with the club.

“He has completed his rehab with us, trained very well, turned out in pre-season for ourselves and Cardiff RFC and remains an important figure for us.

“There is no doubt around his quality and we will see how he does in the weeks ahead.

“We have a few injuries but we have selected what I believe is a very competitive team.

“It blends youth with experience, and we have to be true to our word and blood some of these exciting young players as we build for the future. We have combined them with some real experience.

“It has been a long pre-season, so everyone is really excited to get back out on the pitch. Benetton are a quality outfit with an abundance of Italian internationals and a core of overseas quality.

“They have done well in pre-season and will be brimming with confidence. It’s going to be tough.

“You can expect to see plenty of fight and determination from this group with a willingness to attack and play an entertaining brand of rugby. We want to get the Arms Park crowd right behind us this season and we will do everything we can to make our supporters proud.”

On Sunday, the Scarlets face the Bulls in Pretoria on the weekend South Africa could be celebrating a place in the World Cup final if they can overcome England.

New signings Taine Plumtree, Ioan Lloyd Alex Craig, will all make their URC debuts in a team that includes 12 internationals even without their World Cup contingent.

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