Continuing our look at how the Six Nations countries are doing in this year’s European Champions Cup, we look at Wales’ representative two teams’ efforts in round 3 of the competition. Ospreys took on Bordeaux-Begles from France while Scarlets took on Glasgow Warriors.
Glasgow Warriors vs Scarlets
Final Score – Glasgow 43/Scarlets 6
As predicted when we looked at Scotland’s efforts in Round 2 of the Champions Cup, Glasgow came out of the blocks firing and certainly looked a very flash outfit against an injury depleted Scarlets side. It was a puzzling performance from a Welsh side that sits atop the PRO12 competition table, and while there is no doubt that injuries played their part, it must have been alarming for Welsh fans in general to see a strong Welsh side so comprehensively thrashed by a clearly superior Glasgow team. Having said that though Glasgow were not without their errors and were it not for the phenomenon of Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro’s hat-trick, the Scottish side certainly looked like they could have been beat at times had Scarlets found some sort of cohesion. Instead, by the end of the match, Scarlets simply looked exhausting at attempting to contain Naiyaravoro and his teammates. Apart from the flair shown by the Scots and some superb tries there was little to get excited about in this match from a Welsh perspective.
Scarlets flyhalf Steven Shingler couldn’t find the mark with the boot and many points went missing, coupled with some passing that was simply just too simple for Glasgow to read and turn to their advantage. To be honest Scarlets were never really in this match and given the fact that they had to contend with Glasgow’s new found force of nature in the shape of Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, their already considerable injury list would simply make this match a bridge too far. Without the talents of Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe, Scarlets really had no answer to Naiyaravoro’s bursts of speed, coupled with the fact that the man seems able to simply brush away anyone who should attempt to stop him. Glasgow may be regretting the loss of Van der Merwe to the Scarlets but they certainly seem to have found a more than adequate replacement.
Scarlets just couldn’t find any sort of rhythm to counter Glasgow’s increasingly clinical exuberance, despite starting the second half with a bit more intent than the cruise mode they seemed to be in the first half. However, Glasgow would soon assert their dominance once more, with Naiyaravoro continuing to punch huge holes in a shattered defence. Their PRO12 form was clearly not in evidence for the Scarlets, but it would be foolish to think that on the basis of this performance all is not well in Welsh rugby. Scarlets may be out of contention for the European Champions Cup, but as key players return from injury they should continue to make a statement in the PRO12 and give Welsh coach Warren Gatland plenty to ponder for the Six Nations.
Ospreys vs Bordeaux-Begles
Final Score – Ospreys 19/Bordeaux 16
Let’s face it, this match was all about Ospreys flyhalf Dan Biggar and to a lesser extent lock Alun-Wyn Jones and flanker Justin Tipuric. These three staples of Warren Gatland’s World Cup Welsh heroics, dominated this game and helped their side achieve a key victory over an increasingly impressive looking Bordeaux as the match wore on. It was only Dan Biggar’s vision and compsoure that kept Ospreys in front of a French side that was gaining in confidence as the clock wound down.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but Dan Biggar’s performance for the most part was so effective that one could almost overlook the fact that a resurgent Bordeaux in the second half looked poised to put the Ospreys to the sword on several occasions, and had the weather allowed for easier handling then they probably would have. Add to the fact that Ospreys had the better of the French in the discipline department with Biggar rarely missing with the boot and it was going to be a tough evening for the French visitors.
Bordeaux got themselves into trouble right from the get go as a swinging arm tackle on Ospreys man of the match Dan Biggar, would see them have to play with 14 men for the majority of the match, as winger Jean-Baptiste Dubie’s red card would cost the French side dearly. Nevertheless Bordeaux were simply making better use of the breakdowns despite being a man down and any time they found space they looked dangerous. Ospreys were struggling in the contact battles and had it not been for the usual heroics of lock Alun-Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric for Ospreys we may have seen a very different result. However, Jones and Tipuric kept the troops together in defence when needed and managed to keep Bordeaux at bay as their execution at times let the Frenchmen down at key moments, not helped by a slippery ball.
As mentioned above it was Dan Biggar who stole the majority of the limelight. Always composed under pressure and managing to make sound decisions he kept his side just out of reach of a determined Bordeaux. Add that to that a tireless work rate and ability to run and carry from just about anywhere on the pitch and it was clear what an enormous asset to the Welsh cause Biggar is. To say that he is likely to be one of the players of the upcoming Six Nations is a understatement. Meanwhile there were glimpses of promise from other players that Gatland is likely to be looking at for Six Nations duty. Flanker Dan Lydiate made a statement while winger Eli Walker looked like he could be a threat on the wing, if he can strengthen his passing skills and be a bit stronger in the contact areas of the game. I have always held that flanker Justin Tipuric is a giant in the making and just as he did in the World Cup, Tipuric put in a huge performance in this match for the Ospreys and like Biggar was to be seen everywhere.
Ospreys may have made it look a little too much like hard work at times against a spirited Bordeaux side playing with only 14 men, but there was more than enough on show from Biggar, Tipuric and Alun Wyn-Jones in particular to surely make Welsh Coach Warren Gatland feel confident about his forthcoming preparations for Wales’ Six Nations campaign!