ROBIN DAVEY SAYS: Welsh regions facing uphill task
THE Welsh regions, Cardiff Blues apart, have got it all to do if they are to make any impression in Europe this season.
For the Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons all lost in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions at the weekend, leaving them with must-win games this weekend if they are to stand much chance of making the knock-out stages.
The Ospreys, affected by a weird selection which saw them take the field without one specialist lock against the Saracens at Wembley, now trail their English rivals by three points in Pool Five and have to win the return at the Liberty Stadium.
The Scarlets threw away their home advantage against a Munster side even harder hit by injuries than they were, meaning they are now two points behind the former competition winners, facing the daunting task of a game in the pressure cooker atmosphere of Thomond Park if they are to get back on track.
The Blues do at least top their group, but are hardly convincing as they rely far too much on the boot of Dan Parks who might have kicked Edinburgh to defeat last Friday but did precious little for the advancement of the running rugby cause.
With backs of the calibre of Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and Casey Laulala at their disposal, when they are all fit anyway, they ought to be capable of better than that.
And the Dragons, playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup and looking like staying there next season judging by their lowly position in the RaboDirect Pro 12 League, lost their position at the top when they went down to Exeter in a lack-lustre affair on Sunday.
They needed at least a losing bonus point from their trip to Devon, but they failed to get it and they have to win the return, preferably with a bonus, at Rodney Parade on Sunday if they are to regain their spot as group leaders with a shout of making the quarter-finals.
For in January they face a difficult visit to Perpignan who may be experiencing problems this season but will be big favourites at home.
The Dragons ought to tie up all the major players they want to keep by then as well, for it looks as though the French club are after most of their top men.
But they clearly have problems in the front five area of the team for their set piece is at best wobbly and at worst they struggle, especially in the scrums.
They lack experience at prop, some members of the front row union are injured and they could do with a major signing or two in the front and second rows in time for next season.
And I fail to see why Jason Tovey is not the nailed down first choice at outside half, similarly Wayne Evans inside him even if they have had the occasional ineffective game this season.
Outside the regions, Cross Keys have earned the right to be named Gwent’s number one team of the season after their terrific performances in the British and Irish Cup competition.
A 45-18 thumping of Neath on Saturday booked their place in the quarter-finals with one game still to go which means they can now sit back and enjoy their visit to Cornwall at the weekend with the luxury of knowing the result doesn’t really matter.
A total of 15 points from a possible 15 makes mighty impressive reading, and there appears to be little reason why they can’t go all the way in this competition. Who would have believed that a few months ago?
Compare their position with that of Newport who didn’t even qualify for the tournament and are now just one place off the bottom of the Premier Division table.
Colleague Iwan Davies described them as a rabble in the second half of their most recent game against Bedwas who did the double, at the same time inflicting on them their eleventh defeat in 14 matches this season.
That is clearly unacceptable for a club of their stature. It may not be the Newport of old and they may now play at only a semi-professional level, but it still matters and it surprises me that relatively little is said or done about the situation.
No team has a divine right to succeed, of course, but Newport should not be losing to some of the sides who are embarrassing them. A big shake-up is clearly needed, but there seems little sign of that happening.