By Rhys Thomas
December 11 2011
The Welsh regions recorded some historic wins in November against European opposition
The Heineken Cup made its long-awaited return, and Rodney Parade suffered the ignominy of a cancelled game.
The first game saw a West Wales derby, with the Scarlets visiting the Liberty Stadium. The game ended a bore draw, 9-9; with Dan Biggar and Stephen Jones sharing the points. The Heineken Cup offered a chance to take their League form into Europe. Unfortunately, they weren’t so convincing. They held out to beat Biarritz 28-21 at the Liberty Stadium, and had to rely on a late Matthew Morgan penalty to salvage a draw away to Treviso. Not a particularly impressive start, and they will need to improve tenfold to have any chance of making the quarter-finals. The next week in the league they beat Connacht in a windy Galway, but they will be especially disappointed with the Heineken Cup.
The Dragons month started off badly, with the local derby against the Blues called off due to a waterlogged pitch. It was meant to be the official opening of their new stand, but a combination of incompetence and amateurism meant the game failed to go ahead. It isn’t the first time a game at Rodney Parade has failed to go ahead – and they need to sort it out if they aspire to be a top Rugby club. The Dragons started their Challenge Cup campaign with a convincing 33-3 win over Italian minnows Cavalieri Prato, and beat James Hook’s Perpignan team at home, denying the French side a bonus point. They rounded off the month going West, to Parc Y Scarlets, and lost 22-12 to the Scarlets, being denied a losing bonus point at the death.
This first game in November for the Blues was against big-spending Racing Metro in Paris. A consummate performance saw them come out 26-20 winners, and a real statement of intent to the rest of Europe. It was a classic Welsh club win – and one to be remembered. They continued their European form into the next week with a 24-18 win against London Irish. It was a scrappy win, overshadowed by the red card shown to Irish’s Welshman Steven Shingler. Next up was a Thursday night fixture against Pro12 whipping boys Aironi. After a dreary first half, the Blues switched on, and scored four second-half tries in a 38-0 win. They will certainly be happy with their European form and will looking to qualify and get a home quarter final.
After their draw against the Ospreys, the West Walians hosted Castres in the first match of their European campaign. A 31-23 win – a nice reward for their 100th game in Europe. The next Friday they went to Franklin’s Gardens and beat last year’s Heineken Cup finalists Northampton. They played some stunning Rugby, with Liam Williams, Aaron Shingler and Rhys Priestland all grabbing tries. As mentioned previously, they finished by beating the Dragons, which sees them take 7th place in the league.
December sees further Heineken Cup games and the hotly-anticipated festive derbies. Cardiff Blues v Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets v Ospreys are first up, with bragging rights and League positions at stake.