It was something of a mixed weekend for our four Welsh regions in Europe with a 50% success rate from the group stages.
While the Scarlets and Blues can look forward to quarter-finals against La Rochelle and Edinburgh respectively in the Champions and Challenge cups, for the Dragons and Ospreys it was heartache at the final hurdle though Bernard Jackman’s Rodney Parade region dod see off French outfit Bordeaux-Begles 33-17 in Newport.
Down the food chain it was an inevitable whitewash for the four regional select sides in the now soon to be defunct British and Irish Cup while a full programme of games were due to be played in the WRU National League (weather permitting).
With that in mind we give you the Welsh winners and losers on the weekend……
SCARLETS AND PARC Y SCARLETS CROWD
It was the perfect storm sweeping into Llanelli on Saturday night that European heavyweights Toulon just couldn’t weather.
A Scarlets side coming off the back of a blockbusting win over Bath and roared on by a packed house in Llanelli was just too much of a heady brew for the three-times Champions Cup winners.
For the first time in 11 years, the Scarlets are in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier rugby tournament, achieved on a night that those packed into Parc y Scarlets are unlikely to forget in a hurry.
This game had been hailed as the biggest match since the move across town from the iconic Stradey Park and it matched up to the billing.
And their pulsating 30-27 defeat of the mega-rich star-studded French outfit has booked another French exam at home to La Rochelle in a couple of months time.
It was a sad if not totally surprising end to the Blues Premiership Select participation in the British and Irish Cup as the Arms Park region were sunk under a 68-0 scoreline at big-spending Bristol.
The Championship leaders packed their team with 10 internationals to score 10 tries against the Blues.
But it was one of their uncapped stars, Williams, who more than caught the eye and gave the Dragons a glimpse of the future when he moves to Rodney Parade in the summer.
It was a stunning display from the 24-year-old former Scarlet as his pace, nifty footwork and offloading skills was simply too much for the Blues to handle.
The full-back scored his side’s second try of the night in sensational style, collecting his own grubber kick to dot down in the corner. Late on, it was Williams’ break and outrageous offload that led to Joe Joyce crashing over out wide.
There will be no Welsh regional representation in the knockout stages of the B&I Cup with the Scarlets two wins in finishing third in their pool, the only successes this season.
But across the border there’s a Welsh enclave in west London that could well bring home the silverware as Ealing Trailfinders ended the group stages with a perfect 30 points from 30 on offer.
And again it was Welshmen to the fore in their 63-36 thumping of Richmond on the weekend with Newport-born former Dragons, London Welsh, and Bedwas scrum-half Walker scoring a hat-trick of tries.
WAYNE PIVAC, STEPHEN JONES, BYRON HAYWARD AND IOAN CUNNINGHAM
I don’t think there would be too many grumbles if the wise men down west followed the WRU star east and moved en-bloc into the Welsh set-up post the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
You sense there may be some wishing it would come sooner rather than later such is their impact on the Scarlets on the domestic and European front. Either way, Wayne Pivac and his team are surely now the favourites to succeed the Warren Gatland regime.
The Llanelli region are now the standard bearers in the Welsh game following up their win in last season’s PRO12 final by making the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup with an epic 30-27 win over three-times winners Toulon on the weekend.
And the coaches ability to make the likes of Tadhg Beirne, Tom Prydie and Dan Jones the players they are today can only be applauded.
It’s not been an easy couple of seasons for the 21-year-old Pontypridd-born outside-half at the Blues since making his debut against Glasgow back in November 2015.
There’s been a battle with Gareth Anscombe for the No.10 shirt alongside a few injury issues including a broken jaw back in 2016.
But Evans is starting to fulfil his rich promise judging by his performance for the region in their 21-18 European Challenge Cup win in Lyon on the weekend.
“To score on the stroke of half-time with good play from Jarrod and a good finish from Lloyd Williams was key,” Sherratt told the BBC.
“Jarrod’s a cracking running 10 and if any team gives him a bit of space, he’s got the ability to hurt them with brilliant inside support from both nines (Lloyd Williams and Tomos Williams) for both tries.”
PONTYPOOL RFC FANS
It’s probably only an even money punt booking a weekend break away in the height of the British summer and not getting bad weather… but in January the odds are even shorter.
And so it proved for Pooler fans on the weekend as they checked into hotels in some west Wales holiday resorts for the Championship leaders’ tough clash with Narberth.
The sun deserved to shine on Pooler and the fans after their gesture in donating all the gate money from their match with Bedlinog the previous week to local club Talywain following a break-in at their Emlyn Park clubhouse.
But just as Pooler fans were about to head off from their west Wales base to the Lewis-Lloyd Ground a couple of hours before kick off, news came the match was off due to a waterlogged pitch meaning a 210-mile round trip without the main event being played out.
An overthrown lineout close to your try-line never ends well.
And so it proved for Dragons-bound Wales hooker Hibbard as Gloucester missed out on a golden chance to top their Challenge Cup group against Pau at Kingsholm on Friday night.
The Cherry & Whites went into the game, knowing they would have to win by at least six points to top the group it didn’t help when the French outfit went into a 7-6 lead after Hibbard’s lineout throw to the tail failed to find its mark and former Toulon flanker Steffan Armitage pounced for the try.
It helped Pau to top Pool Six with a 34-24 victory meaning Glaws must now travel to Connacht in the last eight rather than hosting Stade Francais at Kingsholm.
It was perhaps prophetic when the former Wales and Lions scrum-half warned of the dangers of Ulster playing Wasps in their final pool match.
Peel, the backs coach at Ulster, travelled to the Ricoh Arena off the back of a stunning victory over La Rochelle at the Kingspan Stadium, but they proved no match for Dai Young’s side in Coventry with the Aviva Premiership side finishing their European campaign with a flourish in a 26-7 victory.
It meant Peel’s Ulster fell at the final hurdle and missed out on the last eight in Pool One despite four Pool wins while Saracens went through in Pool Two with just three victories.
Rugby sage Stuart Barnes had a bit of a pop at Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb for kicking the ball dead in injury time against Saracens with the score locked at 15-15.
The former England and Lions No.10 argued with the Ospreys near the halfway line, they should have ploughed through some more phases to try and eke out a penalty or try, pointing out a win over Sarries in the final minute was far more achievable than a victory in Clermont Auvergne over 80.
And Barnes was spot on as the French outfit produced a masterclass of clinical rugby to beat Steve Tandy’s men 24-7 to deny the Liberty Stadium region a place in the last eight.
TOMAS FRANCIS AND PHIL DOLLMAN
It was a chill wind that blew away Exeter Chiefs’ hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup in Glasgow.
The Warriors entered the match on the back end of a 55-19 thumping in Leinster and Aviva Premiership champions Exeter were much fancied to make the knockout stages.
But once the snow was cleared from the Scotstoun playing surface, Glasgow produced a blisteringly hot second period to send the Chiefs crashing out as Stuart Hogg gave Wales a timely reminder what they could face in the Six Nations opener next month.
Former Bedwas man Dollman started at 15 for Exeter while Francis came on for the final 30 minutes as the Chiefs were well and truly under the pump.