Nadolig Llawen everyone. Hope you had a great time. The first round of Welsh derbies are over, and in my predictions (see my article on Festive Derbies to enjoy), I got the winning teams correct, but not on the scorelines, Dragons versus Cardiff Blues I was close, but the least we say about my predicted score for Scarlets versus the Ospreys the better.
Both games were full of effort in front of passionate crowds, but a combination of poor weather and some poor handling skills meant both games will never be remembered as classics, and bar a few moments and in both the last 10 minutes, the excitement level on the pitch was minimal. So with all that in mind, selection this week has been quite difficult with few standing out as playing too a high level, however, this is the selections this week and let’s hope the next round of games bring us attacking skilful rugby and good weather. Fingers crossed!.
Week 11. The team of the week.
15. Matthew Morgan – Cardiff Blues. As mentioned before has been an upturn in his core defensive work in last 4/5 weeks. Took a high ball under pressure from Hallam Amos very well and then in the attack made ground with his quick feet off a standing start. Set up the Tom James try with his outside break and then the timing of his pass to free the left winger. “Nipper” is starting to win over the Cardiff Blues fans and continued performances like this will keep improving that situation. Celebrated his new contract in style.
14. Owen Lane – Cardiff Blues. The teenager picked up the man of the match award, and again, showed us rugby fans what a good young talent he is. Strong with the ball in hand, makes good decisions in possession and is very strong in the kick chase. Needs to work on his clearance kicks, but no doubt is a Welsh player to watch in the coming years be it at centre or wing.
13. Garyn Smith – Cardiff Blues. No outside centres stood out yesterday with great performances, but Smith yet again, put in a great stint in defence with his speed off the line blocking down the outside and making some great hits in defence. The Dragons had no way around Smith and Cardiff Blues coming up fast on the outside, and I was really surprised that they did not send Jack Dixon on a short flat ball a few times, just to give Cardiff Blues a decision to make in defence and having to readjust and realign, but it never happened and Smith kept shutting them down with help from others. Smith reminds me a lot of Andrew Bishop previously of the Ospreys and Wales in his style of play especially in defence, neither were very big, but technically very good tacklers and not afraid to fully commit to the hit each and every time, to get the opposing player to the floor rather than the less aggressive way of holding onto the opposing player until someone comes to help them.
12. Scott Williams – Scarlets. Similarly to the above, no inside centre stood out and it came down to a choice between Rey Leelo and Scott Williams and have just edged towards the Scarlets 12. A class player who has struggled for form this season, but as the saying goes class is permanent and in a frenetic end to a game had the coolness of mind and the skill to execute a crossfield kick that was perfect for Josh MacLeod to gather for the winning try for the Scarlets.
11. Jeff Hassler – Ospreys. After Steff Evans try for the Scarlets when he superbly stepped past Ben John thought this selection would be nailed on, but then after his red card with his poor miscalculated decision on the aerial challenge with the same player put an end to that. Have gone with Hassler, who with limited opportunities kept going to the end, and when he did have the ball in hand, ran strongly.
10. Dan Jones – Scarlets. Was not a great day for 10’s yesterday. Anscombe for Cardiff Blues did some good things with the ball in hand, but his place kicking was poor yesterday. Gavin Henson for the Dragons struggled to get them going and also got isolated a few times in defence, and Sam Davies was not up to his usual standard. Therefore, have gone for Dan Jones, who put in an assured performance until replaced by Rhys Patchell.
9. Gareth Davies – Scarlets. Busy performance from the Scarlets 9, did really well to pick up from the base on retreating ball and then pass onto Steff Evans to score. Davies got the upper hand on Rhys Webb yesterday, who had a night to forget with a number of handling errors.
1. Nicky Smith – Ospreys. The loosehead prop scrummaged well last night against Werner Kruger and showed up well in the loose. Strong performance from the Welsh international.
2. Matthew Rees – Cardiff Blues. “Smiler” is in fine form and yesterday was strong in all facets of the game. Scrummaged well against Elliot Dee and his lineout throwing was accurate. Also was a real nuisance in the loose. This 37-year-old is not done yet, still more than a match for the hookers in Wales.
3. Dimitri Arhip – Ospreys. Gave away a few penalties in the first half, but after that, his scrummaging and his work in the tight earned him the selection this week.
4. Tadhg Beirne – Scarlets. Seb Davies with his 16 tackles against the Dragons can count himself unlucky, but Beirne was excellent last night. His ball carrying, his energetic efforts in hitting rucks and his lineout work gets him the nod this week yet again.
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys. The Welsh captain put in yet another strong performance last night. 12 tackles in defence and always available to Webb to carry in the tight. A good performance.
6. Dan Lydiate – Ospreys. 14 tackles from Lydiate last night an area of his game he has always excelled at, however, showed up well in attack with a few little offloads in poor weather. Is making a late run for the starting spot at 6 for Wales come the Six Nations. If he keeps this kind of form up then Aaron Shingler will have to be very wary.
7. Ollie Robinson – Cardiff Blues. The new permanent signing for Cardiff Blues put in a huge shift in defence yesterday with 23 tackles in the game. His basic core skills are very strong, defensively he is excellent. A great signing for Cardiff Blues someone they can rely on. A mention also for James Benjamin who also went very well at not his natural position of 7. Benjamin is a very talented back rower, one to watch.
8. Nick Williams – Cardiff Blues. In poor conditions in a Welsh derby where passions are high, “Big Nick” put in a great shift with the ball in hand making yards everytime he had it and as always at ruck time, if he gets over the ball in a strong position, it is almost impossible to shift him legally. Yes, he can be a penalty machine and sometimes makes poor decisions but yesterday the Cardiff Blues number 8 was excellent. When he and Matthew Rees went off, the pack were far weaker, which says a lot about the influence those two players have on this side.
So there you have it, the team of the week this week. I will be back after the New Year’s Eve fixtures with my selections. Thanks, everyone.