Welsh regional rugby: What went wrong in 2015-16?

Principality Stadium on Judgement Day
More than 68,000 fans watched the four Welsh regions battle out Judgement Day IV at the Principality Stadium

Rugby legend Shane Williams says it was the worst season in the history of regional rugby in Wales and national coach Warren Gatland says it was "disappointing".

None of the Welsh teams reached the play-offs in the Pro12 and only Scarlets have qualified for the European Champions Cup next season.

And Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies has confirmed the regions will meet Gatland and head of rugby Geraint John to pick over the mortal remains of the 2015-16 domestic season.

So, where did it all go wrong?

And why is it so important for the Welsh regions to succeed when the national team has been consistently competitive over the past decade?

Warren Gatland's reaction

This is what Gatland had to say when he was asked about the performance of the Welsh regions.

"Everyone would agree it's been disappointing," he said.

"From our point of view you want to see more than one regional team in the highest echelon of Europe for a start, and you'd like to see one if not more making the semi-finals of the Pro12.

"It's important for the regional game and from our point of view to having players come into the national team from sides that are doing pretty well - they come in with a spring in their step and a bit of confidence."

Scarlets viewpoint

Scarlets were the best of the Wales regions in fifth-place in the Pro12 - seven points ahead of Cardiff Blues in seventh.

But having led the league at Christmas, their demise in the tail-end of the season was a major disappointment.

Hadleigh Parkes of the Scarlets looks dejected after their home defeat by Cardiff Blues
Hadleigh Parkes had an outstanding season for Scarlets

"On reflection it was an improvement on last year," said head coach Wayne Pivac.

"We were a lot stronger mentally and we've managed to get some great wins away from home and I think we're in a reasonably good position looking to building for next season.

"We'll take a lot of positives out of the season."

Prospects for 2016-17: Scarlets will be stronger next season, with Wales internationals Jonathan Davies and Rhys Patchell joining along with wing Johnny McNicholl arriving from Crusaders in New Zealand.

Blues' upward momentum

Cardiff Blues were the bottom Welsh region in 2014-15 so finishing above Dragons and Ospreys reflects an improvement.

Under head coach Danny Wilson the capital region have developed an open attacking style which works on their artificial pitch at Cardiff Arms Park.

Pro12 table at the end of the 2015-16 season
Pro12 table at the end of the 2015-16 season

They are the second top try scorers in the league with 62, but have been let down by a defence which leaked 53 touchdowns.

"We have changed other people's perception of the Blues. People outside the group maybe talked about the Blues not being able to finish teams off and what I've seen this year is that the players have huge fight and desire in them," said Wilson.

"It proves there's a mental toughness there that is slowly growing, but it needs to grow and develop more."

Prospects for 2016-17: Nick Williams joining from Ulster will add power and bulk, Matthew Morgan will bring his trickery from Bristol and Willis Halaholo arrives with Super Rugby experience from Hurricanes. George Earle, Kirby Myhill and Steven Shingler are also on their way.

It means Wilson - who wants to cut his pool of players to 45 from nearly 60 - has some players to shed.

Ospreys in a stoop

Of all the Welsh regions, Ospreys suffered the biggest fall - culminating in the 46-26 home defeat by Ulster.

It means the Swansea-based team will not play in Europe's top flight next season - the first time that has happened since the region was formed in 2003.

Injuries to key players - including Wales internationals Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric - hampered their run-in, but by their own high standards Ospreys under-performed.

"I'm not going to make excuses because of injuries," said backs coach Gruff Rees.

"Last season we overplayed some of our bigger players, this year they've underplayed them and there's a clear correlation in where we've come top four (last season) and where we've been chasing a bit this year.

"We weren't good enough over 22 games regardless of who's on the field or not."

Prospects for 2016-17: With no World Cup, Ospreys will have their big names available more often. A specialist defence coach has arrived in the shape of Brad Davis from Wasps. On the player front, it is quiet at the moment.

Dragons out of puff

Only the Italian teams Zebre and Treviso finished below Newport Gwent Dragons, and Zebre won more games than the Welsh region.

Taulupe Faletau in his last appearance for Dragons
Taulupe Faletau played his last game for Dragons against Scarlets on Judgement Day IV

Promising displays in the European Challenge Cup - particularly an away win against Aviva Premiership side Gloucester in the quarter-final - were punctuated by too many narrow defeats in the league.

Head coach Kingsley Jones, now in sole control following the departure of Lyn Jones, has to turn those narrow defeats into wins.

Prospects for 2016-17: With stand-out player Taulupe Faletau departing for Bath, the region's promising young talent - epitomised by Hallam Amos and Tyler Morgan - will take centre stage. But pro rugby is an unforgiving proving ground.

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