Five things Welsh rugby learned from URC week two

The second round of the United Rugby Championship (URC) brought mixed fortunes for the Welsh regions.

From an Ospreys bonus-point win and an east Wales derby to another humbling defeat for Scarlets in South Africa.

The regions began to welcome back their Wales stars from World Cup duty while each game began with a moment’s silence to bid farewell to former WRU chairman Denis Gethin.

So what can we take from the weekend’s games?

Dragons mental block

The debilitating impact of the longest winning streak in Welsh rugby continued to render Dragons toothless against Cardiff.

Dragons have now lost the last 17 league games against their local rivals, a run that stretches back to 2014 and is punctuated by a solitary European Challenge Cup win.

Head coach Dai Flanagan has only been involved in the last three east Wales derbies but admits breaking that cycle is proving a challenge.

He said: “We seem to put pressure on ourselves against Cardiff and listen to the negativity of this run and how many we’ve lost. We need to turn up full of optimism, but the mindset is hard to shift until we win.”

The man in the blue cap

Not something we have learned but more a reminder of the dazzling array of skills of Justin Tipuric.

The Ospreys captain was man of the match in the 34-31 win against Zebre and there could be plenty more to come given he can now fully focus on regional rugby following his retirement from Wales.

He led out the team at the Stadium with his four children to mark last week’s 200th appearance for the club and followed that with an all-action display.

The trademark blue scrum cap was everywhere, running the wide channels, soaring highest to win lineouts and topping the tackle chart with 13.

“He’s the biggest role model you are going to get… selfless, smart, talented and an unbelievable work ethic,” said head coach Toby Booth.

“It’s a privilege having him in the building with the influence he has on the group and the standards he sets.”

Scarlets out-muscled – again

Kicking off the season with back-to-back games in South Africa was always likely to be an ordeal, but Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel must have hoped for better.

A record 63-21 defeat by Bulls was followed by a 52-7 loss to Stormers, a total of 114 points and 18 tries conceded in just two games.

They just could not compete physically. Despite having a heavier pack than Stormers, the scrum still struggled while only Lions have posted a worse tackle success rate than Scarlets’ 81% at the weekend.

In comparison, Benetton’s rate was 94% from more tackles against Munster.

Peel hopes the experience can stand his squad in good stead for the rest of the season.

“A few of the boys have had their eyes opened. They now understand the level of physicality and application required at the top level. It has to become an obsession,” he said.

Johnny McNicholl is tackled

Crowd trouble

The regions already face a battle to attract big crowds but poor results, player departures, absent star names and TV coverage all combine to impact attendances.

Little more than 8,000 spectators attended the two regional matches in Wales this weekend – including a derby – and next weekend’s fixtures could also struggle to pull punters through the turnstiles.

Cardiff’s trip to Scarlets kicks off an hour after Wales face Barbarians at the Principality Stadium, a decision both team’s head coaches described as “far from ideal” and the WRU has since accepted was a mistake.

Just a handful more than 3,000 spectators echoed around the 21,000-seater Stadium watching Ospreys against Zebre on Saturday.

The Italians may not be the biggest draw but next Friday’s home game against Sharks has been switched to the Twickenham Stoop – home of Harlequins.

“There has been a lot of headlines about things not going right but to create an opportunity where we can try something different is good,” said Booth.

“Rugby in general needs as many positive experiences as it can get.”

One that got away

While Shannon Frizell was playing a World Cup Final for the All Blacks, his younger brother Tyson was continuing his achievement of becoming the first player to represent three countries in rugby league, latterly with Tonga.

The brothers’ father was originally from Swansea and Tyson began his international career with Wales, including playing at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

That prompted an approach from the Welsh Rugby Union to switch codes.

“There always was the option to potentially go towards union but with me doing what I was doing in rugby league, I never saw myself leaving,” said Tyson.

“I felt I had unfinished business and wanted to achieve a lot more things in rugby league, and now that I’m coming to the back end of my career, that option [to switch] probably won’t happen.”