Future prospects demonstrate their Pro12 potential

By Ross HarriesScrum V Live Presenter
Justin Tipuric Ospreys Wales
Justin Tipuric was in the 45-man Wales training squad

Anyone who loves their rugby would be forgiven for thinking they've died and gone to oval ball heaven.

At the moment, we can eat breakfast while watching the drama unfold on the other side of the world. And when the lights go out in New Zealand, the rugby feast continues to flow as the Pro12 unfolds.

A talented new breed of youngsters are seizing the chance to show what they can do, while those who missed out on World Cup selection are doing their utmost to prove the national coaches wrong.

It all kicked off a week before the opening ceremony in New Zealand. Leinster arrived in Swansea, shorn of 14 internationals, but still able to boast the likes of Lion Luke Fitzgerald and Fijian flyer Isa Nacewa in their ranks.

But the Ospreys, who had 10 of their own in New Zealand, weren't about to bow down to the European Champions. Starting at a furious pace, they'd effectively put the game to bed by half time.

Young flanker Justin Tipuric led the side who've restyled themselves as "men with a cause", to an impressive 27-3 victory. Rightly or wrongly, the Ospreys have long been labelled the "Galacticos" of Welsh rugby.

Not any more - James Hook, Lee Byrne, and Mike Phillips have all said au revoir, and there have been no marquee signings to take their place.

Instead, the team is spreading its tentacles to all four corners of Ospreylia, getting closer to its roots. They've spoken with pride about the fact that the team that downed the European champions contained just one non-Welshman.

The eagle-eyed viewer would have spotted the name of every player's first club printed on their shorts, a reminder of their rugby origins and their commitment to "the cause".

Rhys Webb, Ashley Beck, and Justin Tipuric are among a number of players to have caught the eye, as the Ospreys notched up three wins in a row.

The Dragons too have a new philosophy. Head coach Darren Edwards is well aware his charges have been the least successful of the Welsh regions, but there's not just a new stand at Rodney Parade, but a new sense of optimism too.

There are five Dragons in the World Cup squad - a great achievement for a region's talent often overlooked at national level.

Lloyd Burns was laying bricks for a living 12 months ago while turning out for Cross Keys in the Welsh Premiership. Now the hooker is helping cement the Wales front-row in New Zealand against the world's best.

It's a great source of pride and encouragement for the likes of back-rower Andrew Coombs - a try scorer on Saturday - and former cage fighter Mike Poole. Both plucked from semi-professional rugby; both revelling in the Pro12.

The Dragons had an unenviable start, facing Munster and Leinster away. A narrow defeat out in Munster gave them hope, but they came up against a Leinster side smarting from defeat to the Ospreys. Victory against Aironi has lifted them from the bottom of the table, but they're counting the cost of a mounting injury list.

The Blues started their season with a new-found freedom - kicking off with victories against Edinburgh and Treviso. They played with pace and width, and wingers Tom James and Alex Cuthbert cashed in with tries, as they swept to the top of the league.

But their early season bubble was burst dramatically on Friday in Belfast. Ulster made the most of the driving wind and rain at Ravenhill - romping to a 20-3 victory.

A strong core of experience is at the heart of their squad though - and the likes of Xavier Rush, Paul Tito, and Ceri Sweeney should help them regroup before defending champions Munster arrive in Cardiff on Friday.

At 6ft 6in and playing on the wing, Cuthbert could really stake a claim for himself while Leigh Halfpenny is away.

Alex Cuthbert Cardiff Blues
Alex Cuthbert is difficult to miss

The Scarlets will be familiar with the Ospreys' new ethos; Nigel Davies' men realised a few years ago they'd have to start cutting their cloth according to their means and began to place faith in their academy.

If anything, their efforts have proved too successful - their entire first-choice backline is away in New Zealand. Even Scott Williams, who's made 20 appearances for the region, has been fast-tracked into the national squad.

But that means opportunities for a whole host of eager young players - Dan Newton who's normally behind Stephen Jones and Rhys Priestland in the fly-half pecking order, is benefiting from their absence.

And Rhodri Gomer-Davies who's hoping to resurrect his career in Llanelli, told me these boys have no intention of just keeping the shirt warm.

A gritty opening win against much-improved Aironi set the tone, but the Scarlets came unstuck in Galway and were well beaten out in Munster. However, the team who came within a whisker of the play-offs last year are determined to go one better this time around.

Everyone's eyes may be on the World Cup in New Zealand, but the Pro12 is where you'll find the stars of the future. Relatively unknown now maybe, but some of the youngsters grabbing the eyes of the selectors could be grabbing the headlines at RWC 2015.

After all, while Wales were mounting their 2007 World Cup campaign in France, two young whippersnappers by the name of Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland were learning their trade in this league.

I think it's fair to say they've done alright since.

Top Stories