Un, Deux, Trois . . . French Trio Await Welsh Regions in Europe

The four Welsh regions have a break from the United Rugby Championship this weekend, but that doesn’t mean life is going to get easier.

In fact, it looks tougher in some respects with three of them facing club opposition in Europe and the Ospreys up against the Italians of Benetton who they lost to last week.

Having said that, a new competition might be just what they need to inspire them and with the Six Nations looming, both the European Champions Cup and the European Challenge Cup offer players the opportunity to state their case.

Only Cardiff have made the top tier tournament and their reward is to be sent to the south of France on Saturday to face the reigning French champions, Toulouse.

The home club have a mightily impressive record in both Europe and the Top 14, but they are without their two big star names – Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack,

Dupont has opted for Sevens duty ahead of the Olympic Games, whilst Ntamack is still out with the injury that wrecked his World Cup dream.

Cardiff will be without flanker Ellis Jenkins, who was given a three-match ban for the dangerous tip-tackle that saw him sent off against the Scarlets last weekend, a match that ended in defeat for the Arms Park side.

Wales wing Josh Adams returned to action from the World Cup in that game and will be a key player for Cardiff out in France.

Adams, though, has a realistic perspective on what awaits him and his teammates at the Stade Toulousain.

“It’s a bit of a David versus Goliath,” says Adams. “Cardiff in the position we’re in, with quite a small squad, a small budget, going out to play Toulouse. We’ll put everything into it, we won’t hold anything back and we’ll go at it.

“We are in a tricky period with the Welsh regions with funding, squad sizes and experience within the squads.

“Punching above our weight a bit will just be an achievement. We are playing in the top tier of European rugby and we have got Bath who are flying in the Premiership coming here.

“When Bath and Harlequins come here in the Champions Cup we are going to go after them.

“They will be big days for the club and where we are at the moment, if we can turn teams like that over and create memories, that will be brilliant.”

The Scarlets would create a special memory if they could win out in Castres in the European Challenge Cup.

The region reached the semi-final of the tournament last season, but they have been handed a difficult opening fixture against a Castres team that boasts a hugely powerful pack and sits in third place in the Top 14.

The Scarlets will also be missing Johnny McNicholl, Eddie James, Vaea Fifita and Dan Davies through injury, as well as their long-term injured.

But defence coach Gareth Williams said: “We had a fantastic bounce from this tournament last season and we really enjoyed the momentum we gained from it.

“The injuries will play a factor, but we have to concentrate on trying to win every game. Castres are going really well in the Top 14, they love taking people on up front and offloading, but the challenge is exciting.

“Results out there are difficult to come by, but if you get one, then they can provide massive momentum.”

The Ospreys are at home to Benetton and likely to have a number of players back from injury, although they have lost full-back Max Nagy with a dislocated ankle that will sideline him for at least a couple of months.

“It’s really unfortunate for Max and our best wishes and hearts go out to him because he’s started the season so well,” said Ospreys head coach Toby Booth.

“People asking if he’s Welsh-qualified is an indication that everyone is excited about him.”

The Dragons at least will have home advantage against their French opponents, Oyannax, who come to Rodney Parade on Saturday night.

Having struggled on their recent mini tour to South Africa in the URC, the Dragons must try and make the most of home comforts against an Oyannax team lacking consistency in the Top 14.

Dragons forwards coach Luke Narraway said: “It starts at home. We did it the hard way last season and slipped up against Pau so we can’t repeat that. We’d love knockout rugby at home.

“We’re looking to get enthused by a new competition and it’s a chance to reset.

“Playing a French team will give us different questions to answer, but in many ways the themes from South Africa will be the same.”