Guinness Pro12 preview: Cardiff, Scarlets & more

Gareth Llewellyn looks ahead to rounds five and six of the PRO12 for the four Welsh professional teams…

Newport Gwent Dragons

Who will they face?

The Dragons are on the road this month as they face the Scarlets in Llanelli before heading north to take on Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield Stadium.

How have they done so far?

Not great. The Men of Gwent have been hampered injuries and slumped to three defeats on the bounce to Connacht, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors before last week’s win over Benetton Treviso. A team in transition, nobody is expecting miracles overnight – especially given their current problems. They look a better outfit than last year, but have had a tough start to the season.

How have the opposition done so far?

The Scarlets have been hit and miss. One win, two draws, one defeat. 15 tries scored, but 12 conceded in the process. No shortage of entertainment here. Disappointed to have thrown two wins away against Ulster and Edinburgh, were woeful at times against Leinster, and they took advantage against Treviso.

The same can be said of Edinburgh. Did enough against a poor Munster performance to leave Thomond Park with a win, but then threw away a win at home against Connacht, were demolished in Swansea against the Ospreys, but somehow fought back for a draw with the Scarlets – a match they could have won in the last minute.

How will the Dragons do?

On paper, it’s another two defeats. For all the defensive frailties at the Scarlets – they score tries for fun, are at home and it’s a first Welsh derby of the season for them. That, however, could raise the Dragons’ game further. It will be an interesting one, but expect the Scarlets to be too strong.

Edinburgh should also be tough and, while a home win is more likely, this is one that the Dragons could sneak as Connacht did last month. Both teams have players coming back from injury and the jury is still out on whether either could achieve a top six finish. At present, neither will, but Edinburgh have the edge. Just.

Cardiff Blues

Who will they face?

The Blues travel to Galway to take on Connacht before a shorter journey to Swansea to face the Ospreys.

How have they done so far?

Another Welsh region to underperform so far. Tipped as dark horses for the top four, the Blues have yet to show that they are anywhere near that.

Opening with a win against Zebre should be expected (last season notwithstanding), but the manner of their consecutive defeats to Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Leinster show that it will be some time before they are able to mix it with the PRO12’s powerhouses.

How have the opposition done so far?

Connacht have been the surprise package this season to date, with their win over Leinster sending shockwaves throughout the PRO12, while they have picked up solid wins in Newport and Edinburgh, and showed a lot of promise against the Warriors.

Along with the Warriors, the Ospreys have been the standout team from the opening four rounds. Unbeaten and also scoring tries for fun with Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb already looking to lock down the Wales half-back places for November.

How will the Blues do?

The Sportsground in Galway has never been the easiest place to win and the Blues could struggle again if they fail to create and take chances, as has a problem on recent outings. It will be another big test for the Blues pack against Connacht’s powerful set-piece. On balance, the Blues have the bigger weapons in the back which should be enough if they can run the ball, but if the Irish side want it more, they’ll win.

Most chapters of the form book can go out of the window for a match involving teams from Cardiff and Swansea. The Liberty Stadium should certainly be rocking for this one. The Ospreys, with their experienced Wales quartet of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Biggar and Webb, have been sublime in the way they’ve proven so many people wrong already. If they keep up their early season form, a home win has to be a given, but the Blues aren’t short of international experience either and there are bragging rights and international places up for grabs. That said, the Ospreys are getting the job done and will do so again.

Scarlets

Who will they face?

The Scarlets host the Dragons before a short turnaround for a trip to Munster.

How have they done so far?

Hit and miss. One win, two draws, one defeat. 15 tries scored, but 12 conceded in the process. No shortage of entertainment here. Disappointed to have thrown two wins away against Ulster and Edinburgh, were woeful at times against Leinster, and they took advantage against Treviso.

How have the opposition done so far?

The Men of Gwent haven’t been great. Hampered injuries and slumped to three defeats on the bounce to Connacht, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors before last week’s win over Benetton Treviso. A team in transition, nobody is expecting miracles overnight – especially given their current problems. They look a better outfit than last year, but have had a tough start to the season.

Munster aren’t quite in freefall, but there’s a definite decline. Home defeats in Limerick to Edinburgh and the Ospreys have set the tone for their season. Their only wins have come against the Italian clubs, which is to be expected, but they don’t yet look the top four side they have been in recent seasons.

How will they do?

For all the defensive frailties at the Scarlets – they score tries for fun, are at home and it’s a first Welsh derby of the season for them. That, however, could raise the Dragons’ game further. It will be an interesting one, but expect the Scarlets to be too strong.

A third defeat at Thomond Park for Munster would be unprecedented, but the Scarlets are certainly capable of achieving it with their backline on fire. Munster are desperate for a big result, but will go into that game off the back off an interprovincial battle with Leinster. This match could be swung on how Munster do in Round 4. Could be another close one with the Scarlets coming out on top.

Ospreys

Who will they face?

The Ospreys face Zebre in Parma before returning home to take on the Blues in Swansea.

How have they done so far?

Along with the Warriors, the Ospreys have been the standout team from the opening four rounds. Unbeaten and also scoring tries for fun with Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb already looking to lock down the Wales half-back places for November.

How have the opposition done so far?

Zebre’s only win of the season came in Round 3 as they stunned Ulster in Parma, but they gifted the Blues 17 points at home on the opening weekend before losing heavily to Ulster and Munster on the road.

The Blues have underperformed so far. Tipped as dark horses for the top four, Mark Hammett’s men have yet to show that they are anywhere near that.

Opening with a win against Zebre should be expected (last season notwithstanding), but the manner of their consecutive defeats to Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Leinster show that it will be some time before they are able to mix it with the PRO12’s powerhouses.

How will they do?

Has to be another two wins. The Ospreys have far too much for Zebre who, despite their improvements in the last 12 months, are just not in the same class.

Most chapters of the form book can go out of the window for a match involving teams from Cardiff and Swansea. The Liberty Stadium should certainly be rocking for this one. The Ospreys, with their experienced Wales quartet of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Biggar and Webb, have been sublime in the way they’ve proven so many people wrong already.

If they keep up their early season form, a home win has to be a given, but the Blues aren’t short of international experience either and there are bragging rights and international places up for grabs. That said, the Ospreys are getting the job done and will do so again.

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