Judgement Day was a chance for some of Wales’ best players to book their place on summer tours and while some did exactly that, others flopped on the big occasion and I’m sure the coaches would have looked at the action on the field and made their minds up about who, will and won’t be heading Down Under.
It’s a massive few months ahead with the Lions travelling to New Zealand and Wales taking on Tonga and Samoa and I’m looking forward to both tours. One thing I’m not so happy with is the Ospreys’ performance yesterday in the first game.
Just when it matters most they’ve hit a poor run of form and their lack of confidence showed itself here once again. They simply made too many basic errors and if you do that at any level, you’re going to struggle to get momentum with ball in hand. Invariably, that means you end up losing games.
Surprisingly, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric were virtually anonymous and I can imagine that Warren Gatland wouldn’t have been too impressed in the crowd.
Everyone knows how big a fan I am of Sam Davies, and he has to face the Pacific Islanders with Wales this summer. But when it came to the big occasion and starting at fly-half, I thought he was outplayed by Gareth Anscombe. Sam wasn’t helped by being part of what was a poor team display. He seemed to lack options whenever he had the ball and if you’ve watched the Ospreys this season, you’ll know that it’s not very often you’ve been able to say that about them.
While the Ospreys and Sam struggled, it was a different story for the Blues. I thought they were excellent and this was a performance that has been coming. Their previous games with Leinster, Gloucester and Ulster had seen the Blues play some brilliant rugby and they were at it again here.
I thought Anscombe was at the heart of everything they did well. I think he’ll tour with Wales.
It’s been interesting to watch Gareth from afar because he clearly has so much talent. He hasn’t quite been able to string a run of games together at international level yet and in his defence, injuries have played their part in that. That’s allowed Sam – deservedly so – to get his chance, but Gareth edged him in this match.
He’s had four of five excellent games since returning from his groin problem and the thing I really like about him is the way he marshals his backs around the field. He’s an excellent general, takes control of his forwards, and shows some lovely touches on the gain line. I love how flat he plays to the opposition defence. Sometimes that can lead to an intercept, but the positives outweigh the negatives and he helped bring the Blues’ powerful runners into the game.
Alex Cuthbert was one of those, and I thought he, Gethin and Ellis Jenkins were two other stand-out performers. I think both will be with Wales, as I’m not sure Gethin has had enough games to make the Lions. But he impressed me with his defence, shooting out of the line and helping to stop of the Ospreys in their tracks. As for Ellis, he’s one of a number of talented young sevens we have in Wales and that was shown in the Dragons’ defeat by the Scarlets.
What a talent Ollie Griffiths is! The Dragons have had a rough time of it of late, but they competed well at the breakdown and they were the better team going into half time.
They looked very comfortable in defence, covering the Scarlets’ kicking easily and Griffiths was at the heart of it all, he was everywhere. He was a complete nuisance at ruck time and very effective at choosing when or when not to compete. He doesn’t look particularly big, but he more than matched guys like John Barclay in the tight exchanges. I’m not sure if either he or Ellis will tour with Wales, but if Robin McBryde can afford to leave either of them out then we can’t be doing too badly.
For the Scarlets, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams came up with the game’s crucial moments and they were already on the plane for the Lions before this game.
Those two aside, Steff Evans was the man wearing red to impress me the most. In a dour first half, he was the Scarlets’ shining light. His work rate off the ball is excellent and if you’re willing to do that, you’re always going to be in with a chance or two of a try. When he gets into space, he’s incredibly dangerous and he’ll be pushing to start in a red jersey in the next few months.