Shane Williams: I won’t be tempted to write off Kings yet

The start of a new era in the Guinness PRO14 saw all eyes on Llanelli as defending champions Scarlets took on South African newcomers Southern Kings.

Yes, I know the final score and that Wayne Pivac’s men put 50 points on their opponents but I have to admit that I was really impressed by what the Kings delivered.

You have to remember the situation both the Kings and Cheetahs are in at the moment. It’s a hugely difficult position for them.

They’ve been thrown in at the deep end and playing two competitions – Currie Cup as well – means some of their results won’t be the best, especially early on this season.

But I saw enough from the Kings at Parc y Scarlets to suggest that they’ll be a huge asset to the competition moving forwards.

I was intrigued to see how they’d play the game, especially as a former back-three player myself who thrived off open, running rugby.

They didn’t disappoint me. The score was only 15-10 to the Scarlets at the break and I was impressed with the two wingers from the Kings. They were big, strong and powerful with plenty of speed.

Players like that can only improve, not worsen the PRO14 in my view.

So despite the Scarlets eventually running up a half century, I was impressed by the Kings and the important thing for me now is that they don’t get torn to bits by the critics.

I’m sure some will question them or look for a cheap shot, but you have to remember their introduction might be a case of short-term pain, long-term gain, both for them and the competition.

One other thing to point out, as obvious as it is, is that they were playing the defending champions. I thought the Scarlets were excellent and when their opposition tired, they were clinical.

I was delighted, too, to see Leigh Halfpenny get on the scoresheet in the 57 minutes he was on the field. Leigh didn’t play much rugby at the end of the Lions tour, but he’s a star man and this was only the start for him.

Like the Kings, Leigh will only get better as we approach 2018.

Down the road in Swansea, the Ospreys didn’t set the world alight in their narrow win over Zebre, but anyone looking for the panic button is hitting it too early, in my view.

Yes, we expected Steve Tandy’s men to win easily, but these early games in the campaign can be difficult and they often throw up some unusual results.

I’m sure Steve will be delighted just to get the win and I know for a fact he won’t be letting the boys get away lightly with anything.

He’ll have given them a right rocket and having been on the end of those myself in the past, I know they’re not pretty! That makes them a very dangerous side to prepare for moving forwards.

While the Ospreys and Scarlets got off to winning starts, I must admit I was hugely disappointed by the Cardiff Blues in their defeat to Edinburgh.

First, I wasn’t surprised by the away side’s performance. Richard Cockerill was always going to have an impact, but that shouldn’t detract from how poorly the Blues played. I’m sure Danny Wilson will have been very frustrated by the fact his team just didn’t turn up.

Quite frankly, that’s not good enough.

The Blues were outmuscled at the contact area, looked rusty behind the scrum and never really established a platform from which to play.

It was especially tough to watch because with all due respect to Edinburgh, this was the sort of game you’d expect Wilson’s men to win or, at the very least, be competitive in.

They weren’t and Edinburgh fully deserved to win.

That worries me because I really wanted the Blues to make a fast start this year and now they’ve got medical problems.

Ellis Jenkins is a big loss for a couple of months with a hamstring injury and with Sam Warburton not yet back, I think they’ve got problems on the openside.

As for the Dragons, we knew it was going to be baby steps for Bernard Jackman. I don’t think many people expected them to beat Leinster, but I was impressed by some of the performances from the younger guys in the forward pack, notably Elliot Dee. I also think Leon Brown is a good prospect at prop.

What these players will get out of this season is a learning experience second to none.

Leinster had Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Devin Toner and Scott Fardy in their front five and playing against people of that calibre will bring the young Dragons on.

That will benefit them hugely in the future, even if the results don’t arrive immediately.

Mark my words, I think the wins will start to arrive at Rodney Parade the more the season goes on.

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