As Wales’ four regions endured mixed fortunes in the opening round of the new PRO12 campaign, I pick my Welsh PRO12 team of the week.
On the plus side the Ospreys got off to a flyer, crushing a poor Zebre side 59-5, while Cardiff impressed in a 34-16 bonus point victory over Edinburgh.
However, both the Dragons and Scarlets went down at home to Ulster and Munster respectively. After a promising start, the men of Gwent faded with Ulster dominating the second half on the way to a 29-8 victory. The Scarlets dominated the first quarter but failed to turn pressure into points and went down 23-13 to a clinical Munster side.
Here’s my pick of the week’s performances:
1. Nicky Smith (Ospreys):
The young Ospreys loosehead was a key figure in a generally dominant Ospreys scrum and also showed up well in the loose. If he can stay clear of injuries this season, there’s no reason he cannot force his way back into the Welsh squad.
2. Sam Parry (Ospreys):
In a man of the match performance, Parry became the first Ospreys forward to score a hat-trick for the Swansea-based region since their inception in 2003. Scrummaged powerfully and hit his darts at the lineout.
3. Dimitri Arhip (Ospreys):
The 27-year-old Moldovan international was impressive at scrum time and also worked hard in the loose. Has come on lots in the last couple of years – and if he can continue to improve his scrummaging, he can be a key player for the Ospreys this year.
4. Lloyd Ashley (Ospreys):
Outstanding in the lineout and capped a fine individual display with a cracking 25-metre try. Can push Wales lock Bradley Davies for a starting berth this season.
5. Rory Thornton (Ospreys):
With Wales star Alun Wyn Jones yet to come back, the Wales U20 star proved a more than able deputy. Reliable in the lineout and industrious in the loose, Thornton has a big future.
6. Josh Navidi (Blues):
The versatile 25-year-old was impressive at the breakdown, excellent in defence and carried well in an all action display.
7. Ellis Jenkins (Blues):
Captained the side in the absence of skipper Sam Warburton and was excellent. Got the better of his opposite number Jamie Ritchie at the breakdown, was an important link between forwards and backs, and led from the front.
8. Nick Williams (Blues):
In his competitive debut for the Blues, the New Zealander was simply outstanding. The 18st 9lbs powerhouse regularly got his team over the gainline with his muscular ball carrying, putting the Blues on the front foot and proving a thorn in Edinburgh’s defence.
9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets):
Behind a struggling pack, Davies was a bundle of energy, consistently probing, sniping and trying to make things happen. Capped off a fine individual display with a fantastic try from his own half.
10. Sam Davies (Ospreys):
Continued where he left off last season with a highly impressive performance. Tactical kicking was spot on and orchestrated his backline beautifully. A try and a perfect nine out of nine goalkicks rounded off an impeccable display.
11. Tom James (Blues):
In difficult conditions, James impressed with his attacking intent and neat footwork. Linked well with full-back Dan Fish and always looked a threat.
12. Rey Lee-Lo (Blues):
Despite the wet conditions, the explosive Samoan always looked to keep the ball alive, with his impressive off-loading giving the Blues’ attack real impetus.
13. Ashley Beck (Ospreys):
The injury-ravaged Wales centre shone on his return from a lengthy injury lay-off. Linking beautifully with Sam Davies, the 26-year-old’s deft hands and vision were a constant threat to the Zebre defence. Capped off a perfect return with a try.
14. Pat Howard (Dragons):
The South African showed good composure and pace to score the Dragons’ only try and always looked dangerous when in possession. Looked for work and can be an important figure for the Dragons this year.
15. Liam Williams (Scarlets):
Made lots of inroads into the Munster defence in the early quarter and was the Scarlets’ biggest attacking threat. Always tried to take people on and showed his trademark courage to come back on to the field after receiving two heavy hits.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena