It was an extremely tumultuous season in Wales and the turbulence continued right up until the end of the regions involvement in the United Rugby Championship (URC).
Cardiff lifted the Welsh Shield and qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup with Saturday’s 38-21 win over the Ospreys at the Principality Stadium.
But they did so in the absence of their director of rugby, Dai Young, who was suspended ahead of the Judgment Day clash.
That’s the sort of campaign it’s been in Wales, amid a series of off-field problems that have grabbed the headlines.
It was also tough to take the field, both internationally and nationally.
In terms of URC, there will be no Welsh presence in the play-offs, with all four regions finishing in the bottom half of the table.
Overall, they have played 48 league games against teams from other countries and won only 13 of them.
For the second year in a row, Wales had to rely on the geography-based qualification system to take one side into the European Cup, tenth-placed Cardiff.
Starting next season, that secondary road will be closed and entry into the European elite event will once again be decided by pure meritocracy.
And, for Welsh sides, securing the required top eight finish will be very challenging, with playing budgets and squad numbers reduced due to major cost cuts.
This is the future. As for the URC campaign that just wrapped up, here’s a more detailed look at how the four regions fared.
They were the best-placed Welsh team in the league virtually all season and, in the end, finished nine points clear of their nearest rivals the Ospreys.
Their win tally – nine – was also well above the second best in Wales, the Scarlets with six. In addition, they have won the most derbies: four.
So there is no doubt that they are deserved Scudetto winners.
At one stage, they were looking for a good play-off bet, making the top six after winning five of their first eight matches. That good start included an eye-popping 35-0 triumph away to the Sharks, as well as notable wins over the Stormers and Munster.
But subsequent home defeats to the Ospreys and Scarlets over the festive period have seen them lose momentum, while they will also look back sadly on further defeats at Arms Park to the Lions and Edinburgh.
On the individual front, flanker Thomas Young made a big impact on his return to the club after eight years at Wasps. She showcased both his class and his character with a superb display in the Judgment Day decision against the Ospreys, in the difficult context of the situation with his father Dai.
The emergence of talented youngsters Mason Grady and Teddy Williams was a real boon, while prop Corey Domachowski had a strong season and captain Josh Turnbull drove tirelessly from the front.
Along with the notable league wins, there was also a memorable Challenge Cup knockout win against Sale on an emotional night at Arms Park, just days after the death of Life Chairman Peter Thomas, who contributed so much to the club.
Going forward, there will be a lot of changes with a host of familiar faces leaving as the gaming budget drops from around £7.8m to around £5m.
Fly-half Jarrod Evans and prop Dillon Lewis are both bound for Harlequins, while center Max Llewellyn is bound for Gloucester, with a number of further departures to follow. There’s also now uncertainty on the coaching front, following Chief Young’s suspension amid reports of employee complaints.
The manager turmoil came at the start rather than the end of the season for the Gwent region.
After a heavy defeat to Edinburgh in the URC opener in mid-September, director of rugby Dean Ryan publicly criticized the players, questioning their work-rate and desire.
English was absent from training afterwards, with new manager Dai Flanagan tending to first team affairs amid speculation of Ryan’s departure. His departure was finally confirmed nearly four months later.
With Flanagan at the helm following his arrival from the Scarlets, there was quite a rebound going into the season. The Dragons had three league wins before the end of October, including scalps from Munster and the Ospreys, topping their tally for the whole of the previous season.
But they wouldn’t win another URC match until the campaign wrapped up with a Judgment Day victory over the Scarlets at the weekend.
As for players to shine, winger Rio Dyer has proved to be one of Wales’ best performers after joining the national team, while hooker Brad Roberts and center Steff Hughes have been strong signings.
Some well-known names are now leaving, with Welsh internationals Ross Moriarty, Will Rowlands, Sam Davies and Rob Evans all moving on, while scrum-half Dane Blacker is coming on board from the Scarlets.
The highlight of the Ospreys’ season really came in the European Cup where they claimed impressive victories over English and French title holders, Leicester and Montpellier.
As their manager Toby Booth says, the Welsh regions are now arguably better equipped for the rugby cup than the league, given their limitations in squad depth and the fact that Europe are a part of the season where they are able to constantly deploy full teams.
In the URC, the Ospreys managed to keep pressure on Cardiff during the run-in and had a shot from outside at the Shield before Judgment Day, but their hopes were dashed by the interval when they trailed 24- 0.
Morgan Morris, Nicky Smith, Rhys Webb, Keiran Williams and Jac Morgan have all had commendable campaigns.
It was a tale of two halves of the season for the Scarlets.
They won just one of their first nine matches in the URC during a tough first few months.
But with the Challenge Cup kick-starting their campaign, they won 11 of their next 13 matches in all competitions.
In the league, victories over the Bulls and Sharks were the high points, while Europe saw them knockout triumphs against French sides Brive and Clermont to set up next weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Glasgow has already attracted more than 10,000 ticket sales.
Their trio of Tongan forwards Sione Kalamafoni, Vaea Fifita and Sam Lousi have been outstanding during the resurgence, while Johnny McNicholl, Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies, Ryan Conbeer, Joe Roberts and Dan Davis have all turned up well.
As with the other regions, there are some big names departing, including Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Patchell and retired Aaron Shingler, while number eight Kalamafoni is heading to France after three years of ruthless carry.
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The article Letter from Wales: Review of the United Rugby Championship after a turbulent season on and off the pitch first appeared on Planetrugby.com.