Game Winners and losers as Pivac sells shares in form Wales star and horror incident gives rugby a problem

Game Winners and losers as Pivac sells shares in form Wales star and horror incident gives rugby a problem

Game

Crisis? What crisis? Some in the regions might be tempted to ask.

The Ospreys, after all, defeated the United Rugby Championship leaders, Cardiff downed Leinster for seemingly the first time since the Franco-Prussian war and the Dragons avoided defeat.

Regional rugby bites back?

Er, let’s see more evidence.

The game is still starved of cash and not even spirited displays from Ospreys and Cardiff can hide that more help is needed.

But it was a better weekend for the professional game.

We look at the winners and losers.

WINNERS

Ospreys half-backs and back-row boys

The Wales selectors have seemingly sold shares in him, but Rhys Webb continues to deliver Test-quality rugby pretty much every time he takes the field.

That says a lot about him.

He’s another one who has taken to leadership as if to the manner born.

Against United Rugby Championship leaders Edinburgh on Saturday, he was the commander in the Ospreys’ team as they recorded a hard-earned 23-19 victory. So much that was good about their display went through him. He led from the front, he orchestrated tactics, he troubled the opposition defence. Despite being overlooked by Wales, Webb still believes in himself. Everything is armour-plated on that front.

Alongside him was Stephen Myler, a man you’d suspect would stay calm if he were on the bus with the crazed Dennis Hopper character in the film Speed.

Nothing appears to faze the 37-year-old.

Penalties and conversions are kicked with glacial composure and his decisions are good in general play.

With Gareth Anscome and Michael Collins on the field as well as Webb and Myler, the Ospreys had leaders to see the job through.

A word, too, on back-row boys Ethan Roots and Morgan Morris.

Roots appeared to have sneaked a twin brother onto the pitch to help him out as he came up with 24 tackles. Whenever Edinburgh threatened, the New Zealander seemed to produce a timely defensive intervention.

And Morris gave the Ospreys the ball-carrying impetus they had previously lacked at forward when he came off the bench in the second half. He had missed a few tackles against Sale in the Heineken Champions Cup, but he returned to form with a bang on Saturday.

Toby Booth

Rewind to the Madejski Stadium in 2011 and the Ospreys had seen their European hopes for the season effectively ended by defeat to London Irish in the Heineken Cup.

Alun Wyn Jones came up to the post-match press conference and choked up when answering a question about how he felt the defeat would be received by the region’s supporters.

To his credit, Sean Holley helped Jones out.

The episode showed how much Jones cared. Here was a local boy genuinely hurt by his side faltering on the big stage and feeling deeply for their followers. It was a memorable Ospreys moment which said so much about their captain that day.

Fast-forward all the way to Saturday evening and Toby Booth’s display of emotion during a TV interview after the game. The Ospreys had been going through a tough time, deprived of the likes of Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North and Dan Lydiate to injuries, and defeats had started to stack up.

So when asking a question about what the win over Edinburgh meant to him, the head coach’s eyes glazed over and his voice quivered as he spoke of the ‘very difficult and emotional block for everyone involved with the club’ and referenced Ifan Phillips on his birthday, with the hooker having been forced to retire after a motorbike crash.

It underlined once again the human side of rugby.

And it showed that, as with Jones all those years ago, Booth cares — not just a bit but one heck of a lot.

It was a nice moment on a good day for the Ospreys.

Unsung Scarlets youngsters

They may have been the only Welsh professional team that lost over the weekend, but there were silver linings for the Scarlets and their head coach Dwayne Peel.

For a start, they gave Ulster a heck of a hurry up at the Kingspan Stadium.

Both teams were understrength but it was 10-10 at the break before the hosts pulled clear in the final quarter to take the game at 27-15.

The Scarlets could have won had they been more clinical.

But a couple of their unheralded youngsters stood out.

Acting skipper Daf Hughes had a game to remember.

Taking the armband for the first time, the hooker evidently decided that leading by example was the way to do it as he piled up 22 tackles and made 37 metres from his 11 carries.

On the openside, Shaun Evans banged in his best game for the west Walians, with 21 hits and good work at the breakdown which prompted a TV commentator to compare him with a scorpion given his style of contesting possession.

Though not prominent with ball in hand, Carwyn Tuipulotu supplied 19 tackles in 45 minutes to the defensive effort.

Peel’s side are losing too many games, but the effort on display in Belfast suggests the tide will eventually turn, and particularly with Sione Kalamafoni delivering in every match.

Yet again, the Tongan is having a big season.

Dillon Lewis and Jarrod Evans

The situation required nerves of a fighter pilot, but Jarrod Evans proved up to the job as he slotted a 50-metre conversion in the last seconds to secure victory for Cardiff over Leinster at the Arms Park.

Leinster were missing 16 players included in Ireland Six Nations squad, while Cardiff were without six named in Wayne Pivac’s Wales selection, but any win over Leinster is to be savoured.

Evans performed well throughout, mixing his game up nicely and kicking his goals, and has the ability to test a defence. Just two Wales starts do not accurately reflect his talent and he needs to keep on delivering to put his name back on Wayne Pivac’s radar.

But Cardiff were also indebted to Dillon Lewis.

As with Leon Brown, the jury may be out over his scrummaging at Test level, but with his squat and powerful build he is deadly over the ball and was on the scene for three second-half turnovers on Saturday evening which helped Cardiff repulse the Irish threat.

The assumption is that his contribution wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by Pivac ahead of selection for Wales’ game against Ireland.

Tomas Francis is favourite to make the run-on side, but Lewis is a decent bet for the bench.

Ross Moriarty

The thinking was that a player coming back from a significant injury might need a game or three to rebuild his match fitness.

Evidently not so when it comes to Ross Moriarty.

Playing at No. 8 and leading the Dragons, one of Welsh rugby’s hard men banged in a display that suggested he hadn’t been away at all. There was raw physicality, total commitment, power, skill and a try to crown it all.

Wayne Pivac hasn’t had much good news over the past two months, but Moriarty’s return on Friday evening provided him with some.

It’s hard to imagine him not being selected for Wales’ Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Louis Rees-Zammit

What is there to say? Any player in world rugby would have been happy to put his name to the Wales wing’s try for Gloucester against Newcastle on Saturday evening. Wow.

LOSERS

Jaco Peyper

The South African referee will doubtless feel he went through the various steps and saw sufficient mitigation not to send off Craig Gilroy for the shoulder to the head that sent Tom Rogers’ neck springing back alarmingly in the Ulster-Scarlets game.

But if rugby is happy with the incident just resulting in a yellow card then the sport has problems.

How many parents will have watched the incident and wondered whether it was such a good move, after all, to let little Jimmy or little Jenny to take up a game that allows an on-pitch sanction of just 10 minutes in the cooler after such an episode.

Even though Rogers’ height was dropping as his jersey was pulled from behind by another Ulster player, Gilroy didn’t wrap his arms and caught the Scarlet with a shoulder to the head with force.

It looked dreadful and calling it a ‘rugby incident’ is too easy to justify the failure to issue a red card.

Rugby is supposed to be serious about player welfare.

On Friday evening, Rogers could have been forgiven for wondering if that’s really the case.

Dragons

Despite the efforts of Ross Moriarty, Harrison Keddie and Sam Davies against Benetton, the east Wales region have forgotten how to win.

They haven’t tasted victory since October 9 and even though they were missing their current Wales players, their visitors on Friday had 23 players on Six Nations duty with Italy and the Dragons had enough territory and possession and quality in their side to have won.

But they can’t get over the line.

It’s beyond disappointing and their supporters are right to be frustrated.

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