Ospreys lead the way after encouraging Pro12 start

Rhys Webb against Munster
Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb scored the try which ended Munster's 18-month winning run at Thomond Park

As the first block of Pro12 fixtures comes to an end, we can assess the early performances of the Welsh regions.

Within hours of Wales' heroic Rugby World Cup quarter-final victory over Ireland, Pro12 leaders Ospreys were faced with an Irish mission of their own. They were in Limerick to face a Munster side which had not lost at home for 18 months.

Despite the crushing disappointment of seeing their national side dumped out of the World Cup, more than 11,000 loyal fans packed into Thomond Park for the top of the table clash.

But for the second time in 24 hours, it was the Welsh side which emerged victorious with Rhys Webb's try proving the difference. It means the Ospreys have six wins from six after this first block of Pro12 fixtures, and have already completed a clean sweep over the Irish provinces this season.

It is a feat all the more remarkable when you consider they have 10 players away at the World Cup, and have lost a number of seasoned campaigners like Marty Holah and Jerry Collins.

The Blues started the season without a director of rugby. Now they're without a director of rugby and a chief executive, following the departure of Bob Norster last week.

That leaves Justin Burnell and Gareth Baber in charge, and they managed to arrest their recent decline with a 36-27 victory against Aironi at the weekend. Swapping the wind and rain of Cardiff for the warmth and sunshine of Aironi, the Blues indulged in some running rugby on the way to securing a bonus point.

The win lifts them to fourth, but you sense these two vacancies need to be filled fairly quickly if the Blues have serious ambitions for silverware.

If the Ospreys have been making hay while the World Cup stars are away, the Scarlets have given the impression of a side holding the fort until their generals return. Their opening block of fixtures has been bookended with two victories, but they slumped to four successive defeats in between.

Justin Burnell
Blues coach Justin Burnell oversaw a 36-27 victory in Aironi

Coach Nigel Davies has bemoaned the fact that while his forwards have been going well, the team just has not been playing much rugby. Hardly surprising when you consider their entire first-choice backline is away, and they're down to third choice in some positions.

But through the sodden turf of Parc y Scarlets against Edinburgh on Friday, there were some shoots of recovery showing. Young centre Adam Warren was forced into emergency duty when Gareth Maule got injured in the warm up. Eighty minutes later, following his first league start, he had scored twice and been named man of the match.

The likes of Rhys Priestland, George North, and Jonathan Davies will soon return as heroes - but there's enough evidence that the Scarlets production line is running smoothly enough.

Down at Rodney Parade, things are looking good - the Dragons have a swish new stand and they have not lost there this season. The problem is they have played four of their games on the road and lost them all.

Coach Darren Edwards is not only having to cope with having the biggest ever representation of players in the national squad, but with an injury list that is in double figures and rising.

They travelled to Glasgow with confidence this weekend after a convincing win over Ulster, but were undone by the dead-eyed kicking of Duncan Weir. At the World Cup, many pundits have hailed the Welsh back row as the best in the tournament.

Two of the three play at Rodney Parade, and Edwards has delighted in showing his charges how the Dragons in Wales have been leading the way for their country. Dan Lydiate - top tackler. Toby Faletau - top carrier. How he will welcome their return to help kick-start the new era in Gwent.

The Pro12 takes a break now for the LV Cup, and it's been a mixed bag so far for the Welsh regions. But by the time the next round of fixtures roll around, who knows - they may be able to call on a number of World Cup winners to bolster their ranks.

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