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Home » How to » Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets, the huge battle to be Wales best side and why the coming weeks will definitively settle the issue

Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets, the huge battle to be Wales best side and why the coming weeks will definitively settle the issue

The boxing promoter Don King once said the secret of his success was to promote every event as if it was the second coming, but, fortunately for him, he never had to sell some Guinness PRO14 fixtures in this part of the world.  

The Dragons versus Edinburgh on a Sunday afternoon in Newport with both sides missing players because of the autumn Tests? Not easy. The Scarlets v the Cheetahs during the Six Nations? Another tough gig. The Ospreys v Zebre on a cold Friday evening in November? Interesting for some, perhaps, but hard to portray as worth flying home for.

Whatever, Judgement Day at the Principality Stadium a week on Saturday shouldn’t be too difficult to flog to the public.

Cardiff Blues will face the Ospreys in a game that will decide who heads into a Heineken Champions Cup qualifying playoff in May.

The Scarlets will meet the Dragons needing a win to keep alive their PRO14 playoff hopes and Champions Cup qualification challenge.

Potentially, two Welsh sides could meet in next month’s qualifying shootout for a spot in the Champions Cup.

It means there is set to be an answer, at this point at least, to the question fans perennially argue over, namely who is best side in Wales? All are poised to be at pretty much full strength for the games at the Principality Stadium.

So what kind of shape are the trio in?

We take a look…

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CARDIFF BLUES

WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO



Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill

 

They need to beat the Ospreys on Saturday week to secure a place in the Champions Cup qualification playoff.

Less than a fortnight ago they were eight points clear of their Swansea-based rivals.

But defeats against Munster and Connacht, and bonus-point wins for the Ospreys in Africa, have seen the two sides swap places in the Conference A table.

The Ospreys are now a point ahead.

 

QUESTION FOR CARDIFF BLUES

Will they be able to exorcise their gremlins after Saturday’s loss in Connacht?

It won’t be easy. Jason Harries appeared to have scored a perfectly legitimate try against the Irish, only to see it disallowed after a lengthy consultation between the TMO and the officials. It looked a questionable call at first sight and several views since have done nothing to change that take on matters.

The success or otherwise of a season is linked to an accumulation of thousands of incidents. The trick is to box the negative ones and learn from them.

The complication is that sometimes issues can play on minds, individually and collectively.

There may just be a sense that Cardiff Blues will feel fate has turned against them and momentum is with others. If that’s the case, they’re in trouble.

They will need the mental toughness of coach John Mulvhill and Wales international Gareth Anscombe to put them back on track.

PLAYERS IN FORM

The Blues were not at their best in Galway, but the previous weekend Matthew Morgan  was to the fore against Munster, repeatedly causing problems with his running from deep. He is capable of posing significant problems for the Ospreys if they kick loosely.

Tomos Williams was rarely less than lively against Connacht, while Anscombe is always a threat and the departing Rhys Carre made a significant impact off the bench. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Wales to include the soon-to-be Saracen in their summer training squad and, if he impresses, cap him in the World Cup warm-up games. The England-qualified player isn’t the finished article, but his potential looks mountainous.

 

VERDICT

The challenge for the Blues will be a mental one as much as anything else. How is their self-belief looking after the team leaked 45 points to Munster and lost in such controversial fashion to Connacht?

They are a dangerous side who are capable of scoring points quickly, as the Scarlets found at the Arms Park last month, but there are questions marks over their front five that the Ospreys will look to exploit.

Not having the outstanding Josh Navidi and Ellis Jenkins in the back row isn’t going to help.

Just 11 days ago Mulvhill said: “We are currently the best team in Wales and performing the best this season.”

The Ospreys will want to test that theory and so will the Scarlets if there’s a match-up between the two for a European top-tier spot next month.

Even so, don’t write the Blues off.

OSPREYS



Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke

 

WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO

They have to maintain their one-point advantage in the table over Cardiff Blues to book a spot in the Champions Cup qualifying playoff.

Fifteen points from their past three games has put fresh wind into their sails and confounded those who were dismissing their chances after the 46-5 humiliation Allen Clarke’s team suffered at the hands of Connacht.

Suddenly, they find themselves in with a shout of salvaging something from a season that has been hard work for long periods.

Victory over the Blues would secure the Ospreys a home draw in the Champions Cup qualifier.

QUESTION FOR THE OSPREYS

Will Alun Wyn Jones feature on Judgement Day?



Ospreys and Wales talisman Alun Wyn Jones

Bradley Davies and Adam Beard were outstanding and then a bit more against Southern Kings on Friday evening.

But is there a side in world rugby that wouldn’t be better for having Jones in it?

How fit he is will become clearer in the coming days. After he suffered knee ligament damage playing for Wales against Ireland in the Grand Slam encounter in Cardiff, the Ospreys said: “He won’t travel to South Africa with the squad at the start of April but at this stage we haven’t ruled him out of the Judgement Day game against Cardiff Blues.”  

Wellington said Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 men.

You get the picture.

 

PLAYERS IN FORM

Let’s start with the two locks, Bradley Davies and Adam Beard, both of whom were exceptional against Southern Kings. The hosts were poor but you can only beat what’s in front of you and Davies stood out with his physicality, crowning his effort with two tries.

On another day, Beard would have been man of the match wit not only his graft in the tight but also his skill in the loose, highlighted by the two try assists he contributed, the second via a lofted pass any fly-half would have been happy to put his name to.



Dan Evans scored a hat-trick of tries for the Ospreys against Southern Kings

Dan Evans has banked eight tries in his last three games, Keelan Giles has been beating defenders for fun, James King has engaged top gear and Nicky Smith has been a force at the breakdown.

Oh, and Justin Tipuric shone against the Cheetahs.

VERDICT

We are about to discover much about the Ospreys’ class of 2018-19.

They have beaten the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues at home this season and seem to have found an extra level in recent weeks.

But they have also shipped 147 points in three games in Ireland and been found wanting for depth on more than one occasion.

The suspicion is when they put their first XV out they can give most sides a game, so if they do get Alun Wyn Jones back and return from Africa with a clean bill of health they will quietly fancy their chances against the Blues.

The Scarlets at full tilt might be a step up again, but in Swansea there would be little in it.

 

SCARLETS

WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO



Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac

 

They need to dispose of the Dragons and hope other results go their way.

Wayne Pivac’s side will hope Zebre will do them a favour by seeing off Benetton in Parma and they will also want Glasgow to win at home against Edinburgh. If those results happen, and the Scarlets defeat the Dragons, the West Walians could secure an automatic Champions Cup place.

They need a win, anyway, to keep themselves in contention for the Champions Cup qualifier next month.

A victory while the other two fail would propel them into the PRO14 playoffs.

PLAYERS IN FORM



Johnny McNicholl crosses for a spectacular try

 

Jonny McNicholl, for one. He was close to sensational again over the weekend and is a man right on top of his game, with the faster grounds suiting him.

Josh Macleod and Uzair Cassiem were both on song against Zebre, while the Scarlets’ front row put their Italian opponents through the mincer.

QUESTION FOR THE SCARLETS

Can the Scarlets restore their line-out to full capacity?



Steve Cummins wins a lineout

It has been creaking of late, with five throws picked off over the past two games.

It shouldn’t be too much of an issue against the Dragons, who are below even the dreadful Southern Kings in the league.

But if push came to shove and the Scarlets are involved in the qualifier for a Champions Cup place, they would not want to be experiencing glitches in their set-piece against either the Ospreys or Cardiff Blues.

VERDICT

It has been a rollercoaster of a season for the Scarlets, with the last two weekends a microcosm, seeing a damaging defeat followed by a morale-lifting victory.

That Wayne Pivac’s side are not the team they were is not in doubt, with injuries and well-chronicled player departures having hit them hard.

They will expect to make short work of the Dragons, probably with a bonus point, but the test will come if they are plunged into an away playoff for Europe.

If the conditions are right and they build a dot of confidence they are still capable of hugely attractive rugby.

But they have lost twice to the Blues this season and once to the Ospreys. No longer can we say with certainty they are Wales’ best team. 

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