Welsh rugby regions facing Euro shut-out
WELSH rugby is said to be enjoying a golden era at the moment — but its regions probably feel like uninvited guests at a party, left outside in the cold.
Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering said at the governing body's annual general meeting in Port Talbot on Sunday that this is a period of rich success akin to Wales's years of dominance in the 1970s.
"There is a feelgood factor and we are witnessing a new golden era. It is a wonderful feeling reminiscent of the halcyon days of the 70s," he said.
Having won three Grand Slams in seven years and reached the semi-finals of last year's World Cup, the national side are undoubtedly basking in an age of glorious success.
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But for the four regions, these are hard times.
After just two weekends of European competition, the Ospreys are the only Welsh team who seem to have any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.
Their 39-22 defeat to Leicester on Sunday was damaging, but there remains a chance they could qualify for the quarter-finals, even if that would require wins against the Tigers and fellow former Heineken Cup champions Toulouse.
For the other three, their remaining European fixtures will serve as little more than sight-seeing exercises.
The Scarlets were crestfallen after losing 20-13 at home to Leinster on Saturday, their second defeat from two matches.
With just one point to their names, the Llanelli region still have daunting fixtures against Clermont and Leinster to come, while a trip to Exeter's Sandy Park also awaits.
As valiantly as they are sure to battle, head coach Simon Easterby has already admitted that, realistically, they are out of the Heineken Cup.
Blues boss Phil Davies might not have made as definitive a concession, but the picture is no rosier in the Welsh capital.
Like the Scarlets, the Blues have mustered only one point from their two fixtures to date.
Their demise has been particularly galling, throwing away a 27-12 lead against a poor Sale side to lose 34-33 before producing a more spirited display in Sunday's loss to Toulon.
Heineken Cup semi-finalists and Amlin Cup champions in the last four years, the Blues' descent into mediocrity has been alarming.
Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas even fears his old side are becoming one of the weakest teams in Europe.
The Amlin Cup, meanwhile, has brought no better results for the Dragons. Their 22-19 loss to Bayonne on Saturday night and a defeat to Wasps the previous weekend mean the Gwent side are staring at another early exit.
Wales's hopes of being represented in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals rest precariously on the Ospreys' shoulders.
Desperate to purge the memories of last season's crushing pool-stage elimination at the hands of Biarritz, Steve Tandy's men already have enough of an incentive to progress to the next round.But their chances of doing so are teetering on the precipice at the moment.
So while Wales prepare for their autumn Tests with talk of record profits and golden eras ringing in their ears, the regions will look ahead to the next round of European fixtures with trepidation.