Forwards: Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (capt, Cardiff Blues), Dan Lydiate (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lewis Evans (Dragons), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys)

Backs: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Shane Williams (Ospreys), George North (Scarlets), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets)

So to answer my previous question, Gatland and co have largely gone with an experienced squad to challenge the Wallabies. The squad selection has been hindered by players being ruled unavailable by their non-Welsh clubs.

After a strong showing away at Northampton I think one or two of the Scarlets' forwards can be disappointed at not being included this time, though it is good to see Ian Evans finally making his return to the international stage after a series of blighting injuries. Speaking of injuries, Wales have been dealt a series of blows in most key positions; Adam jones is reportedly out with a calf injury, Paul James carrying a thumb injury and Craig Mitchell unavailable Wales are somewhat short at the front row, with relatively inexperienced players Scott Andrews and Ryan Bevington looking likely to play. On the whole the forwards look to have the edge over the southern hemisphere side; they performed well in the Bronze Medal final in New Zealand and with the additions of Evans, Andrews, Lewis Evans and Justin Tipuric the pack should have an added aggression this time around.

The backs, shorn of overseas players James Hook, Mike Phillips, Lee Byrne, Dwayne Peel and missing Aled Brew and veteran Stephen Jones, still look an exciting prospect. Liam Williams, who has made an excellent debut for the Scarlets earns a call-up, and could challenge Halfpenny (if he recovers from injury) for the full-back berth. Alex Cuthbert of the Blues also deserves the chance of a first cap, though could find it difficult to stake a claim, with one wing already taken by the retiring Shane Williams and the other likely to be claimed by George North, assuming his groin injury has healed by December.

Injury concerns are rife throughout the squad, the Wales selectors having named eight players currently carrying injuries in the 28-man squad. Injuries to Jamie Roberts, North, Rhys Priestland, Halfpenny, Dan Lydiate, Jones, Luke Charteris and Huw Bennett could be either a blessing or a curse to Gatland. Injuries caused the arrival of Toby Faletau, Rhys Priestland and more onto the international scene, and could therefore be seen as a stepping stone for Williams, Andrews etc. On the pessimistic other hand, injuries could easily be exploited by the hugely talented Aussie backline. Assuming all the players currently injured can't play in the game Wales will be in a little bit of a crisis, with so many important leaders and positions ruled out.

The squad selection has raised several eyebrows, including both of my own, for the omission of Stephen Jones. I'll admit bias, being a both a Steve-o and Scarlets fan. However I don't think this was the right way to deal with the current overflow of fly-halves. I also am unsure as to the readiness of Dan Biggar to re-attempt taking the reigns at international level. I personally think Stephen Jones deserves to be played, and the squad needs him to be selected. He's a steadying influence, able to control the game and is experienced enough to take on the Australian back-row and backline. This is also an opportunity for Wales to take an elusive victory over a southern-hemisphere side that Stephen Jones deserves to have a chance at participating in. I think retaining Sam Warburton as captain for this match is a fair decision, with Gatland citing his reason as carrying on with the momentum from the World Cup.

The inclusion of the uncapped players shows promising continuity with the practice of introducing new players to the team, in practice for the future. There is a possiblility this squad is a bit too much of a gamble in terms of injuries and omission of experience. However this will be a great send-off for one of Wales' greatest ambassadors both on and off the field, and Shane Williams deserves all the celebration he will surely get on December 3rd, as one of the greatest wingers ever to take the field.


Okay, cheesy title I know, but it has to be celebrated.

I was lucky enough to be at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night to watch the Heineken Cup clash between the Scarlets and Northampton Saints. It was a brilliant occasion for all those wearing red, but judging from the occasionally violent reaction of the Saints fan in front of me, this jubilation was not one shared by all...

Before the game I had my doubts as to how the Scarlets' pack could stand up to the formidable Northampton scrum, but was pretty sure the Welsh backline had a considerable edge over the likes of Ashton, Artemyev et al.

I'll be honest, quality-wise it was a reasonably bad game. The Saints in particular had appalling handling and at times the Scarlets themselves seemed determined to give the home side an actual try-scoring chance. But nevertheless it was the Scarlets who struck first, and from a scrum, no less. Liam Williams crossed the line after three minutes, before anyone could make sense of the Scarlets' strong start. With the conversion added by Rhys Priestland the visitors were off.

Two more tries before half time from the Scarlets effectively sealed a famous victory for the Welsh team. Granted, the second try was kinda controversial. But hey, who's complaining? Well to be honest every Northampton fan sat around me, and very loudly at that. There was a pretty blatant knock-on off Sean Lamont from a restart and Aaron Shingler followed the most basic rule of rugby - he played to the whistle. Now, I'm not one to rub salt into the wounds of opposition fans after a loss... *Ahem*, but what were the Saints players thinking? You learn at Mini Rugby to play to the whistle, and all those irritating coaches at grass-roots level were vindicated on Friday when the Saints players halted in their tracks and allowed Shingler to score. They can blame referee Fitzgibbon as much as they like, but they shouldn't have let that go through. Simple.

Ryan Lamb added a few penalties to give the Saints a faint glimmer of salvaging the home-tie and were caught napping when Jonathan Davies set up Shingler's replacement Matt Gilbert who made it over the line to make it 21-9 at the break. Well-deserved, even if the swarms of Saints fans leaving to drown their sorrows after 30 minutes didn't agree.

I expected the home side to come out all guns blazing in the second half, and they really should have capitalised on the sin-binning of Scarlets' flanker Jonathan Edwards. Instead, bucking the trend it was the Scarlets who scored whilst they were reduced to 14 men, with Rhys Priestland hacked the ball ahead, highlighting George Pisi's defensive weaknesses in the process. Bonus point in the bag, and guaranteed happiness for the weekend.

I don't give any value to this talk of Jim Mallinder's links to the England job causing the Saints to play like buffoons. Northampton are usually a slick and powerful outfit, and with a professional of the calibre of Mallinder (unintentional rhyme) it's hard to envisage something like that getting in the way of the Heineken Cup. The defeat is simply down to the fact that the Scarlets took their chances, played by far the better rugby and had a game plan that was better thought out than that of the home side.

The Saints clawed their way back to salvage the losing bonus point, but two successive defeats seemingly spell the end of hopes of emulating last season's knock-out round success.
On the other hand the Scarlets are flying after two impressive victories in the first two rounds. They top the pool with 9 points, edging out next opponents Munster who are on 8 points. The Irish outfit will surely be the toughest opposition yet, and the next two clashes against them will prove crucial in the battle for quarter-final qualification. The only downside for the Scarlets could be a few injuries sustained at the game, with Shingler exiting the field after only 30 minutes, Matthew Rees having to have treatment on his recent neck injury, Iestyn Thomas being replaced after 65 minutes and George North being helped off the field after taking several knocks. But, with a whole raft of youngsters mixed with seasoned professionals in the Scarlets' ranks, the next few months will be fascinating, as two of the best-supported clubs clash. Which red will come out on top? Only time will tell.

(Well I had to have a cheesy ending to round it off, didn't I?)



So the Welsh regions continue to impress in European competition and reamin unbeaten after the first two rounds of games in the Heineken and Amlin Challange Cups.

The stand out result of the weekend has to be The Scarlets excellent win at Northampton. I don't think many people fancied them to get a result up there. I certainly didn't but victory has set them up nicely to advance from Pool 1. Of course they still have the ever difficult Munster to play, but on current form they can top the group.

Cardiff Blues won an ugly match against London Irish and are now placed second in pool 2 behind suprise leaders Edinburgh. The Blues did not play well on Friday but will be pleased to have got the result. They should be good enough to beat Edinburgh home and away to take control of the group.

Many saw the Ospreys draw in Treviso as a big dissapointment. Of course they would have wanted to win the match but the Italian team have improved this year. Just ask the Dragons who were stuffed there a couple of weeks ago. Yet again the Ospreys are in a difficult group and may struggle to advance because of the quality of the teams around them. As for Treviso I am certain that they will win at least one home game in this years competition.

The Dragons comfortable win over Perpignan on Thursday is difficult to judge in terms of quality. For me the Franch giants didnt seem to have their hearts in it from the start, although much credit must go to the Gwent region for the way in which they clinically put away a team that featured so many quality players.

As always here are a couple of photo's from the weekend, first up is Perpignan substitute Nicholas Mas (told you they had a quality squad) followed by some action from the Blues game Friday.

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I'll be honest, a couple of months ago I was pretty sure we would be watching the World Champions (or at the very least some World Cup finalists) on December 3rd. Instead, we have what many perceive to be Damp Squib 2.0. The Third Place Play-off is not most people's idea of a scintillating contest, and this was reflected by the depleted viewing figures for the game and the decrease in fingernail gnawing across Wales. As such, one could assume the upcoming fixture against Australia would not really be such a big deal for Welsh rugby.

On the contrary, this game is hugely, vastly, astronomically important in terms of Wales' growth and development. Coming off the back of what was in reality a brilliant World Cup performance, the mood within Welsh rugby could be better. Most supporters still feel aggrieved, gutted and about 50 other synonyms for coming fourth. Because most of us got swept up in the wonderful performance within the tournament, most of us are forgetting to take each and every success and failure in the context of the team, squad and recent history. True enough, the IRB rankings mean nothing. Less than nothing. But it is important to remember that going in to the tournament it was not really widely accepted that our boys would end up standing toe to toe with teams like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and France with regard to performance and prestige - and in some casesz coming out firmly on top. The barnstorming performances and gaining a solid place in the rugby world's heart was a big bonus to what most rational people were anticipating beforehand. Hence why a success in two weeks would be greatly appreciated.

It's important to carry on the momentum from the successful campaign in New Zealand. Okay, so it finished the way it started; with a loss. But those losses were minute. By the smallest of margins and left most rugby fans conceding the better team didn't win. With a whole fresh new crop of players the remainder of this season will surely set the tone for the next ten years of Welsh rugby.

There is a relatively big call to make as to whether Gatland and co. will opt for a strong experienced side (albeit sans Mike Phillips, James Hook, Lee Byrne and probably Stephen Jones), or whether they will continue to leave their faith with the 'youngsters' of the likes of George North, Tavis Knoyle, Lloyd Williams and Leigh Halfpenny.
Rhys Priestland looks to be virtually the first name on the team-sheet these days, with Jones likely to play for the Barbarians on 26th November. There is much talk of Dan Biggar of the Ospreys being drafted in as fly-half cover in the absense of former teammates Hook and Jones. There are, of course, various options Wales have at stand-off, with players playing outside of the principality such as Steven Shingler of London Irish, Nicky Robinson of London Wasps and Nick Macleod at Sale Sharks to name just a few. There are also excellent options at the four regions that are yet to get a real chance at staking a claim to a Welsh 23 spot; I'm thinking of the Dragons' Jason Tovey and the Scarlets' 10-in-waiting and great young talend Jordan Williams.

The squad selection for this game is likely to generate almost as much debate as the game, so watch this space.

The Welsh players and their individual skillsets have attracted many plaudits over the last few months -Preistland for his distribution, Warburton for his jackling and Lydiate for his tackling. But there's another member of the Welsh set-up whose key skill has gone unnoticed recently, and that's The Welsh Rugby Union, whose 'handling' has been superb over the past 12 months.

The WRU is often criticised and rarely praised. Sometimes that criticism has been deserved. Many of the Welsh Valley communities still feel the loss of the Celtic Warriors (the Pontypridd based region who were disbanded by the WRU in 2004). Some still rue the governing body's decision to dismantle the Welsh A-team, and more recently there has been an outcry over the price of tickets to watch the national team play.

But whilst some may suggest that the WRU has dropped a few balls in the past, recently, their handling has been calm and assured.

Re-contracting Shaun Edwards until 2015 is a monumental achievement. His impact on the Welsh squad has been marked. Wales's defence is arguably the most effective that it has ever been, certainly since the game turned professional. But it isn't just the tackling, defensive organisation and rapid line speed that can be directly attributed to Edwards, he seems to have hammered a solid steel core into all aspects of the Welsh game.

The WRU has in recent days cut the ribbon on their North Wales Academy. The facility will concentrate on developing rugby within the region and will also house a North Wales representative side which will join the national league system from next season. It is a master stroke. Historically North Wales has been seen as unfertile ground - the rugby desert of Wales - but that's only because it hasn't been irrigated properly. The new academy should ensure that North Walian talents like George North and Rob McCusker are no longer a rarity, but the norm.

Despite being almost 16 years into the professional era, money is still deemed a vulgar subject by many in Welsh rugby. But talk about it we must. And whilst we are talking about it, the WRU are doing a very good job of making it and looking after it. Last year the WRU posted a pre-tax profit of £26.2 million and allocated £19.3 million of that into the elite and community game across Wales. That's very good going during a recession.

The WRU should also be congratulated on its dealings with unruly players during the pre - World Cup build up. 'Burger Gate' threatened to derail the ambitions of the Welsh team and the career of Mike Phillips. But the WRU chose to act quickly and slapped Phillips with an immediate and undefined ban. It did the trick. Phillips went on to play some of the best rugby of his career during the World Cup and reasserted himself as Wales No.1 nine and the form scrum half of the tournament.

The WRU's restructuring of the Welsh Premiership for the 2012/13 season should not be underestimated. The concentrated, 10-team format will undoubtedly focus the Welsh talent pool and increase the skill level and intensity of the competition. We also shouldn't underestimate Roger Lewis's bargaining skills in reaching a restructuring agreement at all - the quality of rugby and its future impact on the national team will bring smiles to the faces of the Welsh public, but it can't have been easy negotiating with hundreds of grumpy old men.

But the WRU's greatest achievement by far is stability. There's no more hiring and firing in car parks and the soap opera style histrionics seem a distant memory. Gatland and his backroom staff look set to stay for another four years and guide this exciting squad through to the next Rugby World Cup. Keeping the same management team until 2015 will give the Welsh squad 7 years of consistent leadership and preparation, something the national Welsh team has never managed in its history.

The Welsh players may have attracted the plaudits for their skills in recent months, but the WRU's handling' should not be over looked. They haven't dropped the ball in a long time. The same cannot be said of their English counterparts.



Well I say weekend but the games are all over the place. Anyway, I will be at two and they are both interesting encounters. First up on Thursday night we have The Dragons vs Perpignan. I've not had any team news yet but chances are that James Hook will start for the French club.

Despite some slightly dissapointing performances at the World Cup I am still a big fan of Hook and I hope that his time away from Wales works out for him. If his game improves by the same amount that Stephen Jones' did during his time in France we will have a back as good as any in world rugby.

I'm also looking forward to this game because I think The Men Of Gwent can record a famous win against a top class side. They will miss Lydiate and Charteris no doubt but it takes a good side to come to Rodney Parade on a Thursday night and win.

Following Thursday's action I'm heading up the road to the Cardiff City Stadium where the Blues take on London Irish. Last weeks win in France has put Cardiff in a strong position already, in theory they have now already won what should have been the hardest match in the group. I'm sure it won't be an easy game but the Blues should win and take early control of pool 2.

As always, I will do my best to share some photographs here, so in that spirit here's a couple from The Scarlets win over Castres on Saturday.

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Positivity is coursing through the veins of Welsh rugby this week. A Heineken Cup treble against French opposition is no mean feat. Last season's winners Leinster could only manage a 16-16 draw with Montpellier, while Toulouse overcame an admittedly inspired Gloucester 21-17.

It was a good weekend overall for the Celtic nations. Dark horses Ulster continue to impress, as their thrilling fly-half Ian Humphreys scored all his side's points for a 16-11 win against Clermont Auvergne, for whom Lee Byrne set up the only try. Glasgow also shocked Bath, with pocket-sized dynamo fly-half Duncan Weir in fine form.

Munster rained all over Northampton's parade from a great height in a manner that epitomises why they could easily be considered one of the greatest club sides of all time. 41 phases to set up a winning Ronan O'Gara drop goal: priceless, with just a tinge of lunacy. Say what you like about the Irish 10, but every team would love to have him. With Edinburgh shocking London Irish at home in Reading, our domestic competition can afford to be a little smug.

Looking at the form of the Welsh regions, it was one of the finest performances from a Cardiff Blues back three in recent memory. Chris Czekaj, Tom James and former UWIC alumnus Alex Cuthbert posed a triple threat to Racing Metro, showing bundles of strapping energy and speed, breaking through defensive lines when they had almost no right to. It was rousing stuff from them.

Unleashing them was a battling Blues pack that bounced back from a horrific leg injury to second row James Down. They gave a solid performance, often gaining more than just parity against a weighty Racing scrum. Sam Warburton, like the rest of his forwards, was unfailing proficient in ensuring a precious away win in Paris. A nerveless Dan Parks showed his worth with the boot, not only with some tough pots at goal but with his tactical kicking.

The outstanding Welsh fly-half in this round was, without a doubt, Dan Biggar. His eight from eight gave him a haul of 23 points against Biarritz. Thought the scoreline shows 28-21, it should have read more convincingly in favour of the Ospreys - despite the dangerous yards gained by the clever and hard-running Basques. An intercept try for Iain Balshaw turned what looked to be a dead-cert victory into a very tense finale indeed for the region.

Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i had on the previous weekend been named man of the match against the Scarlets; a stagnant game where nobody stood out. This time out, he pushed half-back partner Biggar very close for the accolade, and at times had the Ospreys stringing together some lovely phases of play.

Jonathan Humphreys will have been pleased at the way his charges scrummaged against a formidable Biarritz pack, especially with Adam Jones' back-up, Aaron Jarvis (formerly of Bath), proving himself a worthy candidate at tighthead when the British Lion departed. An A.J. for an A.J., if you will. In the future, the Welsh selectors just might.

Lastly, there was the Scarlets who edged Castres and denied them the losing bonus point so precious in this competition. Though the region scored three tries to two, Castres were unfortunate to have their flanker Steve Malonga commit the ultimate embarrassing act on the field: dropping the ball over the try line. Such errors by the opposition should be seen as a gift to the Scarlets, and not to be dwelt on, because there was much to be happy with, especially considering the pulsating form of their big name players. At the moment, they don't get much bigger than George North, and he is lighting up the game in West Wales.

Up next for the Scarlets, Ospreys and Blues are, respectively: Northampton Saints (A), Treviso (A) and London Irish (H). Nigel Davies's men face undoubtedly the sternest opposition in this round for the regions, with the excellent Saints snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at Thomond Park in the best game of the weekend.

Despite their good form in the Pro12, after Treviso's 42-17 capitulation to Saracens, a loss to Ospreys is all but guaranteed. The Swansea boys have got too much class (although Treviso's wing Brendan Williams is electric), regardless of the Italians' home advantage.

Blues must carry on their good work in Paris against an Exiles team which lost at the Madejski to Edinburgh. Toby Booth's side are always great to watch, and with Blues showing real attacking intent, this should be one of the livelier games of the weekend.

Still, another treble wouldn't go amiss; thus the onus is on the Scarlets to push their game to the limits in one of the most demanding venues in the UK, Franklin's Gardens.

The Northampton faithful are always out in force, but the same can't be said for their counterparts in the Welsh regions for the opening round of the Heineken Cup. It was disappointing enough to see that almost 6000 fewer fans turned out for the local derby between Ospreys and Scarlets compared to last year; but to then see fewer still present for the Biarritz clash was mind-boggling.

Some people would go to extreme lengths to witness rugby legends such as Imanol Harinordoquy and Dimitri Yachvili in action. No doubt many were there on Saturday afternoon, but a crowd of under 8000 isn't an adequate reflection of the occasion. I heard a depressing claim that some our regional stadia generate enough funds from hospitality boxes not to worry too much about dwindling crowds - which is about as sad as it gets.

It has been suggested that big crowds come with success, which is perhaps why Munster and Leinster have such phenomenal attendances (nearly 50,000 this month at the Aviva). Some of the newer grounds face accusations of being devoid of atmosphere, to which I would say this is down to a dearth of ticketholders. The Liberty has a similar capacity to Toulouse's Stade Ernest Wallon and both are equally no-frills. The difference is the crowds.

Are economic factors driving this downturn? I still believe, as many do, that more can be done to bring schools into games, which would boost not only the atmosphere but the sport at that age group. Either way, something must be done, and soon.

I failed to mention the Dragons in last week's column, despite having a soft spot for the Men of Gwent. Currently in the second tier European competition, the Amlin Challenge Cup, they beat unknown Italians Cavalieri Prato 33-3 in a game which saw the return of the deadly duo Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau.

For them, this season's Heineken Cup might have proved to be a bridge too far - better that they gain some confidence in the Amlin, especially with Thursday's home game against James Hook's Perpignan to come. Rodney Parade: now there is a ground with atmosphere, but one whose capacity is in keeping with realistic expectations.

I'm sure I wasn't the only person who breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that Shaun Edwards would be continuing his role as Wales defence coach. Unusually for a coach, he is the poster boy for the national side's tenacity; his presence alone gives the side an edge.

While he's yet to reach the giddy defensive heights of 2008 with Wales, when only two tries were leaked in five games, neither has anybody else. Quite simply, he is the best man for the job - as is Warren Gatland.

There was an interesting circus of speculation in the papers recently, with The Sunday Times proclaiming confidently that Edwards would continue with Wales, while the The Sunday Telegraph said he wouldn't. I was nervous. In the event, Edwards has proven himself a master in the art of contract negotiation.

It is likely he will one day be coaching England. We can take heart that, by then, he will have sown the seeds for a generation of Welsh players to come with his innovative approach to the game.

The most shocking thing? He claims he wasn't even approached by the RFU for a role with England. Rob Andrew seems to be the Emperor Nero character in this charade, playing his fiddle while the RFU burns down around him.

As a member of the Twitterati -that is, someone who tweets- I'm still trying to find my feet and often question whether it is worth the effort. I was recently marvelling at some of the dross that is posted on the site when an image posted by one of the Ospreys reminded me of why I signed up in the first place. If you're a rugby fan and are yet to become a member of this social networking phenomenon, perhaps this image of these familiar -if youthful-looking- faces will make you consider it.

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Scarlets vs Castres Olympique

By Jon North on Nov 12, 11 01:49 PM in



So after the dissapointment after last weeks derby match being called off I'm back into the photo work with the return of the Heineken cup.

Currently I'm sitting in the press room at the lovely Parc Y Scarlets awaiting the Scarlets vs Castres match. Hopes here are high that this young Scarlets side can grow into something special and a quick look at their backline today makes me think the same.

The test today will come up front against a traditionally big and mean French pack led by former All Black and Richie Mccaw understudy Chris Masoe. It wont be easy, but the pack should be able to win enough ball to allow this backline to sparkle.

Best advice I've been given so far today? "Keep an eye on George North, he's on fire."
I plan to do so, I recommend you guy's do as well.

Tales of eccentricity among the historic Racing Club (now Racing Metro 92) are legendary in French rugby circles. Born out of aristocracy, the club stayed true to its blue-blooded roots by performing such zany antics as wearing berets, wigs and bow ties during matches. (The bow ties would later lead to some of their players forming the clothing company Eden Park.) They famously drank champagne at half-time during a domestic final in 1990. How deliciously wacky of them. Racing were a precursor to the Stade Francais of today, who have made it okay for men to wear pink on the rugby field. Men in the Rhondda Valleys rejoiced!

I bring you this opaque sporting history lesson in light of the recent moratorium on fake tans and flash boots -which could be the title for the new Stereophonics album, should they ever choose to go back to their roots and make a good album- at the Ospreys. It's a story that has caught the attention of even the most rugby-shy media outlets.

In looking to shake off their 'glamour boy' tag, are the Ospreys relinquishing the very thing that has given them such a high profile? Probably not. Gavin Henson's multicoloured boots don't make him a great player, regardless of his 'I look good, I play good' rhetoric: hard work and bags of talent does. The same could be said for James Hook, Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips. It is no surprise that this new rule has come into effect now that all of the above are Ospreys no longer; or that they've all chosen sunnier French climes, for that matter.

Ospreys forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys says it's a move to ensure fans don't get alienated, and his views will be welcomed by many a fan of the game in Wales, not just 'Libertines'. For a moment, it was like listening to Arthur Scargill, former President of the National Union of Mineworkers, in his pomp:

"Sometimes the values that come from being working class is what we want to be. This region stands for those values. This region represents the steelworks, this region represents BOC in Margam, this region represents the road-sweepers. It doesn't represent people in banks, it doesn't represent city slickers."

Dramatic? Yes. Humphreys would have been better suited standing on a soapbox in a colliery in Gwent, rather than sat at a table in a non-descript media room. But he should be commended for speaking out for the working class people who pay through the nose to watch regional rugby. Maybe it's not so much the fake tan itself, but what the fake tan represents, that has led to the ban.

Fake tans are so widespread among young men and women in Wales, it's become a non-issue, commonplace. In fact, on nights out, you'd think some girls were paying homage to their grandfathers' mining days - such is the deep, ochre-like colour of their skin. The question of whether or not it belongs on the rugby field is one the Ospreys have deigned to answer themselves.

Flamboyance is accepted in French rugby, even though they've been known to chop the heads off of those who take it a bit too far (hello, Marie Antoinette!). The fact of the matter is, fans of Welsh rugby don't have much in common with Parisians. Except for their love of rugby, of course.

Incidentally, Racing Metro take on the Cardiff Blues tonight. With such renowned professionals as Juan Martin Hernandez (sorely missed by Argentina recently) and Lionel Nallet in the team, chances are slim that they'll be popping open a bottle of Veuve Cliquot at half-time.

Time was in Welsh rugby when our boys would have been the first to get their hands on the bottle, but this was Pre-Warburton (or P.W., as the era is now affectionately known). A period when to be a Welsh rugby player and not drink was anathema.

Warburton went to New Zealand a boy and came back a man. Along with Lloyd Williams, he managed to cram an awful lot of experience into a short space of time at the World Cup, and I imagine that Blues will reap the benefits.

Wales' first choice number seven was in the news recently 'admitting' that his red card was the correct decision against France. Of course he was going to say that. He's clearly well versed in the art of diplomacy (and the black arts of Public Relations), and his level-headedness in such situations is one of the main reasons he was given the captaincy. All eyes will be on him tonight.

Ospreys versus Biarritz is an opportunity for the Swansea side to rectify another costly refereeing blunder, again from an Irishman. In the 2010 Heineken Cup, George Clancy had indicated a penalty in front of Biarritz's posts after a deliberate knock-on from Dimitri Yachvili, but failed to make good on that promise. 29-28, another one point loss. Tomorrow's match will determine how much the manner of that defeat affected the Ospreys.

Biarritz are most certainly there for the taking, especially when you consider that a) they lie bottom in the Top 14, and b) they are playing in the Ospreys' backyard, where the home side very rarely lose. It would be a great start for Alun Wyn Jones's men to put away a side that has historically done well in the Heineken Cup.

It is time for the regions to step up their European ambitions. That goes for the Scarlets too, who take on Castres on Saturday. A tough challenge for Nigel Davies' men, Castres lie third in the Top 14 and have a squad which includes Scotland centre Max Evans, former All Blacks flanker Chris Masoe and the talented South African scrum-half Rory Kockott.

What they don't have is class throughout their squad, which arguably the Scarlets do. Importantly, the West Walians have some of Warren Gatland's stand-out performers starting for them.

There is a very realistic chance that our representatives in the Heineken Cup can do the treble on the French this weekend. It wouldn't make up for the semi-final debacle, but it would be a good start.

This week the International Rugby Board (IRB) decided to turn a blind eye to Aurelian Rougerie's alleged gouge on Ritchie McCaw during this year's Rugby World Cup Final. The IRB stated that the video evidence was inadmissible as it fell outside the three day 'citing window'. That's not a very good window then is it? Surely one of a window's primary functions is its ability to be opened once it has been closed?

This ill-judged decision sums up the IRB's recent cock-eyed approach to overseeing the game as a whole. Gouging is the foulest act that can be committed on the rugby pitch. 'Tip tackles', raking and the odd punch are rightly frowned upon in the professional era, but their presence was an integral part of the amateur game and their occasional reoccurrence is arguably palatable. Gouging however has never been part of the rugby code, written or otherwise. It is the scourge of the game, particularly in France, and within a sport that rewards bravery and courage, gouging remains the preserve of the gutless.

The IRB's lack of focus on eye related offences seems at odds with their recent obsession with teeth. During the Rugby World Cup they imposed a series of fines on players who were wearing 'unofficial' gum shields. Manu Tuilagi, Lewis Moody, Courtney Lawes were all charged with wearing inappropriate mouth protection. Don't get me wrong, I rarely long for the 'amateur' days and I appreciate the commercialisation of rugby more than most. Squeezing every last drop out of official sponsors allows the IRB to cascade money throughout the game - but teeth protection should not take precedence over eye protection.

The IRB's short sightedness doesn't end there. Their recent interpretation of what constitutes a 'tip tackle' is more blurred than ever. After Sam Warburton's red card in the semi-final against France we heard endless recitals of law 10.4(j) which reads: "Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player's feet are still off the ground such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play".

Yet last Saturday's Pro 12 fixture between Ospreys and Scarlets saw Steven Jones lift Tommy Bowe off his feet and then plant his head and shoulders into the ground. Whether you agree with the current interpretation of 'tip tackles' or not, according to the rule book, Jones's offence was as bad if not worse than Warburton's, yet it only received a yellow card on the field and no further punishment off it.

The IRB are supposed to be the eyes and ears of the game, yet at times their approach borders on the senseless. Rogueries' alleged gouge may well have forced the IRB into reconsidering their citing procedure in recent days, but the actual reform can't come a moment too soon.

If the IRB continue to turn a blind eye, that may well be the outcome.

Fixtures

  • WalesvAustralia

    Saturday, December 3rd at 2:30pm
    Millennium Stadium

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Jamie Powell

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I’m Jamie Powell, a Welsh rugby exile living in east Sussex. My parents are from Ebbw Vale so growing up there was only one team for me to support! I watch all the Wales games and also try and watch as many club games as possible. I have also started to go to London Welsh games.

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Exiled Wirraller and Ospreylian trapped in the capital; by day I sort out the lives of others but by weekend I report on all things rugby for the womenfolk of this fair hemisphere.

When I’m not aiding and abetting the hot flushes of the femmes of terraces around the land, I help report on the RaboDirect Pro12 for some of the more serious websites, so I’ll be here to bring you the lighter side of goings on.

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My name is Jonathan North and as head photographer for Welsh photographic agency ASI I get to see a lot of Welsh rugby from up close. Through my work I enjoy rugby at all levels from the local club game right through to the national side.

In my blog I try and share my experiences from pitchside and the opinions that form there. As well as that I also include my latest photographic work to accompany my tales from the touchline.

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I live in Birmingham, raised in Swansea, I’ve just turned 32. I live with my wife, I’m a Welsh rugby fan as well as a huge Swans and Ospreys fan. Myself and a group of friends go away to Edinburgh/Ireland every year for the away fixture in the Six nations.

I get more excited about the Six Nations than I do about Christmas. It’s going to be a very difficult campaign with expectation very high due to us making the semi-finals of the World Cup. We have very difficult away fixtures in Dublin & Twickenham. I manage to follow most regional games on the internet so I’m able to see who’s in form etc. I shall be in Dublin in February for the fixture. I’m looking forward to seeing the Welsh players back at their regions, hopefully they will maintain their high standards.

Kumari Tilakawardane

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I'm a student from North Wales – where, believe it or not, we know as much about rugby as do those in the south! I am a former captain of the Gogledd Cymru Girls U18 Team as well as being a qualified coach and referee.

I fancy I could give Gatland a run for his money and I'm almost always convinced I'm right and the ref's wrong – something I have in common with most of Wales I think, particularly after recent events...

 

As a lock and Number 8 I am an ardent supporter of the pack. Not one to shy away from confrontation on the field, the same goes for my reporting. Currently located in London, living with the enemy, so to speak... I have to make my opinion heard down here. So, let me hear you... Come on Cymru!

Rene Merideth

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American with Welsh heritage and a deep love of Welsh rugby in her blood.  So much so I blog from Los Angeles where International games are on at 6am!

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My name is Sebastian Barrett. I'm from Cardiff. Like most Welshmen, I view rugby as the be all and end all.

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34 years old, but I look 44. I work in advertising and if rugby OCD is a legitimate syndrome, then I have it.

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