By Simon Thomas
Shane Williams believes the Scarlets will be the strongest performing Welsh team in the BKT United Rugby Championship this season.
The former Wales wing also feels there will be an opportunity for a number of talented youngsters to break through across the four regions.
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Wales’ all-time record try scorer – a pundit for URC broadcasters Viaplay – is expecting a change in the balance of power, as he looks ahead to a league campaign which gets underway this weekend.
“Last season, Cardiff were probably looking the strongest as regards to their squad, the Ospreys were looking pretty good as well,” he said.
“But if you look at the players they have kept and how they have looked to the next couple of years, the Scarlets seem very, very strong.
“They haven’t lost too many players because of the issues with the wages in Wales. They’ve still got some good overseas signings and some good youngsters coming through as well.
“We saw glimpses of Sam Costelow at the World Cup and now he will be touted as the next No 10 for Wales moving forward, so there will be a huge emphasis on him. He will have taken a lot out of the World Cup.
“They Scarlets have still got a number of quality, experienced players, so I think Dwayne Peel will be pretty happy with what they have got there and will want to build on that.
“Cardiff have lost the likes of Liam Williams and Jarrod Evans, really big important players for them. With the Ospreys, there’s no Alun Wyn Jones or Gareth Anscombe, but they do still have the likes of Justin Tipuric, George North and, of course, Jac Morgan, who has been one of the top performers in the URC for a number of years now. I don’t really remember him having a quiet or an average game.
“I think the Dragons will be happy with their recruitment and the fact they haven’t lost too many players. But I think the Scarlets will be happiest of all going into the new season.”
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Reflecting on the scene in Wales overall, the 87-cap Williams – who is part of the Viaplay TV team broadcasting every URC game live – said: “We’ve got to be honest, it is going to be a tough couple of years for the regions with the wage cuts and so on. They have lost a lot of quality players unfortunately.
“It will be difficult to compete against the top teams, especially away from home. We wait to see how they fare against the big boys, the big dogs, with depleted squads.
“But I’m looking forward to some younger players getting an opportunity in the URC.
“It’s not a quick fix for the Welsh regions. They are looking to get players to come through the system and I am looking forward to seeing some hidden gems emerge.
“The young talent needs to step up to the plate because we have lost so much experience and those big name players. At 19 and 20, they have to go to these tough places and perform, but that can be a good thing. I think we are going to see some real shining talent come through during this URC season.”
* Shane Williams is part of the Viaplay team bringing live coverage of every BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) game. All 151 fixtures are live on Viaplay throughout the season from round one to the Grand Final.
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