Ospreys and Scarlets could merge in biggest domestic shake-up to Welsh rugby in 16 years

5 Mar

Two of Wales’ biggest rugby union teams could merge under radical proposals being discussed.

Ospreys and Scarlets could be combined in what has been mooted as the biggest domestic shake-up to Welsh rugby since regional teams were established 16 years ago.

The merger is reportedly more likely to happen than not and could take place in time for next season.

Alun Wyn Jones has played 233 times for Ospreys

The proposals are the focal point of talks held by Wales’ Professional Game Board, which is a group comprising of representatives of the Welsh Rugby Union, Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff Blues.

Establishing a new professional team in the north of the country is also reportedly high on the agenda.

The favoured plan is understood to retain four regional teams but would consist of north Wales, an Ospreys-Scarlets merger, Blues and Dragons.

Ospreys chairman Mike James has quit over the proposals and has said: “Project Reset has become Project Inept”.

Leigh Halfpenny currently plays for Scarlets

The Scarlets currently play at Parc-y-Scarlets in Llanelli, while the Ospreys use Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium for their home games.

Any merger would need to establish a home ground, in addition to issues such as the new team’s name and kit.

Around half of Wales’ match-day 23 for the Scotland clash is likely to feature Ospreys and Scarlets players.

And if a merger goes ahead, then players like Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, George North, Ken Owens and Leigh Halfpenny will be part of the same regional squad.

The WRU has not commented on Tuesday’s planned discussions.

Senior Wales players did meet with the governing body last week, though, to discuss a number of issues on the future of regional rugby.

Speaking last week, Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said: “It’s uncertain times, which is disappointing.

“There is a lot of frustration, not only for the best players in Wales, but for their mates in the regions.

“There is an uncertainty about Project Reset, and they would like to know where they are going to be playing next year or in two years’ time.”

So-called Project Reset is being played out against a back-drop of Wales chasing this season’s Six Nations title and a possible Grand Slam.

They face Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, followed by Ireland in Cardiff seven days later. Victories in both games would secure a first Six Nations clean sweep since 2012.

European Champions Cup: Exeter cling onto qualification hopes with bonus-point win at Gloucester, Ulster do double over Scarlets

15 Dec

It’s been an exciting night in the European Champions Cup on Friday as Exeter travelled to Gloucester, while Ulster hosted Scarlets.

Below you can read back about the best of the action.

Gloucester 17-29 Exeter Chiefs

Exeter turned the tables on Gloucester and breathed life into their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a 29-17 victory at Kingsholm.

Gloucester would have gone top of Pool Two had they repeated last Saturday’s win against the Chiefs in Devon, but it proved a frustrating night for them.

Danny Cipriani’s match finished early

Fly-half Danny Cipriani went off injured just before half-time, and Exeter’s forwards dominated the contest, with lock Sam Skinner, flanker Don Armand, hooker Jack Yeandle and prop Harry Williams scoring tries in a bonus point success.

Cipriani’s opposite number Gareth Steenson kicked three conversions and a penalty as Gloucester managed two Jason Woodward touchdowns and a Tom Hudson try, plus a Billy Twelvetrees conversion.

But they also left Munster in pole position for a quarter-final place if they beat French champions Castres on Saturday.

Gloucester and Exeter are not out of the running, yet Munster – they visit Kingsholm next month and have Exeter at home – remain strong group favourites.

Exeter still have a mountain to climb to reach the quarter-finals

It was Exeter’s first European win of the season, and said everything about their squad depth as a number of frontline players were absent.

Gloucester showed a number of changes following their victory at Sandy Park six days ago, including South Africa international lock Franco Mostert being handed a first start for the club, while Exeter made wholesale switches.

Fresh additions to the Chiefs’ injury list included wing Alex Cuthbert, centre Henry Slade, scrum-half Nic White and flanker Matt Kvesic, but international props Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis both returned to starting duty.

Mostert was heavily involved in the early exchanges, running and carrying strongly, while also competing fiercely at the breakdown, but Exeter monopolised possession and looked to stretch Gloucester wide.

The Chiefs even sacrificed a penalty shot in front of the posts, going for an attacking lineout instead, and their endeavour was rewarded with a 21st-minute try.

Gloucester had been in constant defence mode, rarely breaking out of their own half, and Exeter prospered after booting another penalty to touch, with their forwards driving a lineout and Skinner touching down.

Steenson converted from the touchline for a 7-0 lead, and Gloucester then blew their most promising spell of the game when Mostert charged recklessly into a ruck and was penalised by referee Mathieu Raynal.

They then breached Exeter’s defence 11 minutes before half-time, driving hard through phase-play, then drawing in Chiefs tacklers and allowing Woodward to cross unopposed.

Cipriani sent the conversion attempt wide, and he departed just five minutes later, leaving the action after appearing to suffer a problem with his right shoulder.

Cipriani had barely reached the Gloucester bench before Exeter struck again through more impressive work by their forwards, and Armand claimed a try that Steenson converted for a deserved 14-5 interval advantage.

Woodward scored two tries for the home side

Gloucester needed a strong start to the second period, but they had the opposite, with Twelvetrees being sin-binned for a technical offence as Exeter looked to make their temporary one-man advantage count.

But Gloucester managed not to concede any points while Twelvetrees was off, although they continued to be a distant second best in terms of territory and possession.

A Steenson penalty put Exeter 12 points clear, only for Woodward to claim his second try with 15 minutes left and lift Gloucester to within striking range.

But Exeter closed out the game with skipper Yeandle’s try – they were also helped by a yellow card for Gloucester prop Josh Hohneck – and Williams’ touchdown secured a five-point maximum after Hudson crossed for Gloucester.

Ulster 30-15 Scarlets

Ulster boosted their hopes of European Champions Cup qualification with a bonus-point 30-15 win over the Scarlets to bring them a maximum 10 points from their back-to-back clashes with the Welsh side.

Cooney was the star man, scoring 15 points for Ulster

John Cooney scored 15 points of Ulster’s total with the bonus-point try, two conversions and two penalties, while second row Iain Henderson bagged two tries with Jacob Stockdale also crossing.

The five points Ulster claimed the same from last week’s meeting at Parc y Scarlets – brought Ulster level on points with Pool Four leaders Racing 92 ahead of their game with Leicester Tigers and ended bottom side Scarlets’ already slim chances of making the last eight.

Ulster led 10-3 at half-time and though the Scarlets, through a Jonathan Davies try, levelled things up, Dan McFarland’s side pushed on with Stockdale, Henderson – bagging his second – and Cooney crossing.

On a miserable evening of swirling wind and rain at the Kingspan, Ulster got the scoreboard moving early when Scarlets skipper Ken Owens was penalised for not rolling away and Cooney landed his first penalty after eight minutes.

Will Addison then crossed the Scarlets line on 13 minutes following a cross-kick from Billy Burns and assist from Henry Speight only for the score to be ruled out for a forward pass.

Speight then went close to scoring himself on 24 minutes but he failed to gather the ball from Addison’s kick through. Ulster had a penalty, though, and put huge pressure on the Scarlets which resulted in prop Wyn Jones being yellow-carded for illegally playing the ball.

Ulster increased the pressure, going for scrums off a series of penalties before Henderson was driven over at the posts on 32 minutes. Cooney converted to put the home side 10-0 up.

Rhys Patchell’s 38th-minute penalty gave the visitors their first points just before Jones’ return from the bin and the half ended with Ulster leading 10-3 with the conditions having seemingly favoured them in the first half.

Eight minutes after the restart, the game exploded into life when Gareth Davies intercepted a pass on his own line and after running into Ulster’s half his cross-kick was pounced on by Jonathan Davies after Speight and Steff Evans had overrun the ball.

Patchell converted to tie the scores and the visitors were right back in the game.

But Ulster responded immediately when Burns’ chip over the top was latched onto by Stockdale who beat two defenders to touch down.

Cooney missed the difficult conversion and Ulster now led 15-10 which became 18-10 when he kicked a 57th-minute penalty.

Five minutes later and Henderson had his second when he powered over from close range after good work by Stuart McCloskey. Cooney’s conversion took Ulster’s lead to 25-10.

The bonus-point score came in the 67th minute when Rory Best – who became Ulster’s most capped player in Europe by making his 72nd appearance – drove off a maul to the line before Cooney followed up to score though he failed with the difficult conversion.
Scarlets managed a consolation score from Tom Pyride in the 78th minute which went unconverted.

European Champions Cup: Two mistakes from Freddie Burns costs Bath game against Toulouse, Exeter and Munster play out tense draw plus more

13 Oct

The European Champions Cup is back for another season and it was certainly a day to remember.

Here is the best of Saturday’s action from the competition.

Bath 20-22 Toulouse

Freddie Burns was guilty of two late blunders as Toulouse continued English clubs’ painful start to the Heineken Champions Cup by claiming a 22-20 victory over Bath.

A visibly upset Burns is consoled after the game

Less than 24 hours after European title holders Leinster crushed Wasps under a half-century of points in Dublin, Toulouse clinched a crucial Pool One win at the Recreation Ground.

And they were helped by Bath full-back Burns, who missed an easy 74th minute penalty chance and then blew a try barely 60 seconds later after crossing the Toulouse line before losing control of the ball under pressure from Toulouse defender Maxime Medard.

Centre Sofiane Guitoune scored two tries for Toulouse, including a clincher 17 minutes from time, while wing Medard also touched down and full-back Thomas Ramos kicked two conversions and a penalty.

Exeter 10-10 Munster

Exeter’s European Champions Cup campaign got off to a disappointing start after they were held to a 10-10 draw in a titanic struggle at Sandy Park.

The Gallagher Premiership leaders were unable to get past Munster

Exeter had only lost once in their last 17 games but came perilously close to losing this one as Munster had the lion’s share of possession and territory.

Luke Cowan-Dickie scored Exeter’s only try with Gareth Steenson adding a penalty and a conversion.

CJ Stander scored for Munster with Joey Carbery kicking a penalty and a conversion.

Ulster 24-10 Leicester

Second-half tries from Alan O’Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale earned Ulster a 24-10 win over Leicester in their Heineken Champions Cup opener.

Ulster’s John Cooney kicked all three conversions and a penalty to complete the Irish province’s scoring in the Pool Four clash at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute try came too little too late

The Tigers led at half-time thanks to a George Ford penalty but failed to score again until Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute converted try.

Montpellier 21-15 Edinburgh

Referee Wayne Barnes ruled out two tries for Edinburgh as they fell just short of a famous Champions Cup victory over Montpellier on French soil.

Montpellier, coached by the former Scottish national coach Vern Cotter, scored three first half tries on the way to a 21-15 victory, but it was Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh who dominated the final 40 minutes.

Edinburgh crossed for a try in each half and would have won the game if Barnes not ruled out a Hamish Watson try at the posts for offside and another by Magnus Bradbury for obstruction.

It was a brave effort from Edinburgh

In the end they had to settle for a losing bonus-point, although they had to scramble to keep hold of it after home skipper Louis Picamoles intercepted 30 metres out and almost reached the line for what would have been an extra point for the hosts.

Scarlets 13-14 Racing 92

Racing 92 opened their Heineken Champions Cup Pool Four campaign with a dramatic and controversial 14-13 victory over Scarlets.

The French side were trailing 13-7 in the final minutes when referee Matthew Carley awarded Racing a penalty try and also sent scrum-half Gareth Davies to the sin bin, and from there, Racing held on to win.

Racing’s two tries came at the end of the first and second halves with a losing bonus point being little consolation for Scarlets, last year’s semi-finalist’s, who led for most of the match.

Leinster 38-16 Scarlets: Leo Cullen’s men advance to European Champions Cup final after dominant victory

21 Apr
Leinster 38-16 Scarlets: Leo Cullen's men advance to European Champions Cup final after dominant victory at the Aviva Stadium
The Leinster players celebrate in front of their home fans

Leinster advanced to their first Champions Cup final since 2012 after swatting Scarlets aside in an utterly dominant 38-16 win at the Aviva Stadium.

Leo Cullen’s men were relentless as they put the Welsh region to the sword, notching first-half tries through James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden, and adding two more after the break from man-of-the-match Scott Fardy and Jonathan Sexton.

They had clearly done their homework after last year’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat to Scarlets, McFadden’s try on the stroke of half-time giving the Irish province a 24-9 half-time lead.

Leigh Halfpenny’s three penalties from three attempts, and a slight scrum advantage, were Scarlets’ only positives in this one-sided Celtic clash, and they salvaged some pride late on with a try from their former Leinster forward Tadhg Beirne.

It was Leinster’s eighth straight European victory this season and sets up the possibility of an all-Irish final in Bilbao in three weeks’ time if Munster can come through Sunday’s semi-final against Racing 92.

Beirne forced an early turnover to lift Scarlets, who had reached the last four for the first time since 2007. Steff Evans then drew a high tackle from Fardy which allowed Halfpenny to smash over a sixth-minute penalty for the lead.

That brought the best out of Leinster, Rob Kearney finding a superb touch and Fardy charging down Aled Davies, before they went wide and Ryan evaded Beirne’s attempted tackle and bounced up to score his first try for the province, converted by Sexton.

The hosts were 10-3 in front after fit-again centre Robbie Henshaw had a couple of powerful runs and Scarlets infringed close to the posts, allowing Sexton to widen the margin to seven.

Halfpenny’s supreme goal-kicking kept the Welshmen within range, despite the concession of a second Leinster try.

A scrum penalty against Healy closed the gap to 10-6 before the Ireland prop, with support from the ever-wlling Fardy, crashed over for a 26th-minute converted score. Sexton’s initial cross-field kick had seen Steff Evans concede a five-metre scrum.

Halfpenny punished a Daniel Leavy offside seven minutes later, but Leinster’s forwards flooded forward from a late penalty and the pressure told, Garry Ringrose flinging a pass wide for winger McFadden to reach over in the right corner ahead of Steff Evans.

Sexton added the conversion for good measure, putting 15 points between the sides at the interval, and Leinster showed no signs of letting up when play resumed.

Tadhg Furlong lost the ball in contact as Scarlets defended close to their line, a Sean Cronin break had Leinster knocking on the door again with Jordan Larmour, a replacement for the injured McFadden, showing his sidestepping ability.

It was Larmour who ripped the ball from Rhys Patchell to set the wheels in motion for the fourth try, Ryan and Fardy combining slickly in the 22 for the Australian international to power over. Sexton’s conversion made it 31-9.

Leinster’s pack came hunting for more, carrying hard on the hour mark before Sexton stepped off his left foot for a smart finish. In contrast, Scarlets knocked on from a gilt-edged lineout opportunity, and they needed Scott Williams’ last-ditch tackle to deny Kearney a try.

With their strong bench keeping them on the front foot, Leinster missed out on a further try when a lunging Fardy had a 73rd-minute score chalked off for hands in the ruck.

The former Wallaby missed a tackle which allowed Beirne through for his consolation score, with Patchell drop-kicking the conversion.

Prop Wyn Jones to recover from hamstring injury with Scarlets after being released from Wales’ 6 Nations squad

27 Feb
Prop Wyn Jones to recover from hamstring injury with Scarlets after being released from Wales 6 Nations squad
No replacement has been called up for Jones at the moment

Scarlets prop Wyn Jones has been released from Wales’ NatWest 6 Nations squad due to injury.

The 26-year-old suffered a hamstring injury during last Saturday’s 37-27 defeat against Ireland in Dublin.

The Welsh Rugby Union said he will continue his recovery with Scarlets’ medical team.

The WRU added that no replacement for Jones has been called up at this time.

Jones has won eight caps and featured off the bench in Wales’ first three games of this season’s Six Nations against Scotland, England and Ireland.

Wales resume their Six Nations campaign by tackling Italy in Cardiff on March 11.