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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Welsh regional rugby preview
By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

How will the Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets fare in 2005/6?

TEAM-BY-TEAM PREDICTIONS
With the regional structure bedding in and the country riding the high of a Grand Slam-winning season, the Welsh sides could be considered set for a golden year.

Pessimism seems in remarkably short supply, but - at the risk of raining on the parade - the danger of falling victim to success needs to be considered.

Understandably eager to cash in on rugby's re-found popularity, the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions have driven through the new Anglo-Welsh Powergen Cup competition for the coming season.

That adds to a crowded fixture list, featuring the Heineken Cup and a Celtic League intensified by Ireland's commitment to base European qualification on league positions.

In addition, Wales face the three Tri Nations giants plus Fiji in the autumn, ahead of the demands of their Six Nations defence.

The Ospreys celebrate winning the 2004/5 Celtic League title
Can Welsh sides continue their success in the Celtic League?
With Wales' Lions tourists kept out of the early part of the season following their summer exertions, the regions must face up to losing their international stars for significant periods this year.

The increased demands on players have disrupted the long-term planning of the regions, sparking controversy and debate over the import of foreign players and the merits of short-term pragmatism over long-term development.

The Ospreys have been lauded as the great success story and future hope of Welsh regional rugby, but their coach Lyn Jones has acknowledged that, for the coming season, his squad may be too heavily based on development.

Their season's cause has not been helped by a horrendous Heineken Cup draw, pitting them against Stade Francais, Leicester and Clermont Auvergne.

That would seem to be too much for the Ospreys, and, as they appear to be the Welsh side best equipped to cope with Europe's flagship club competition, another season of Heineken heartache could be in store.

PREDICTED WINNERS
Celtic League: Scarlets
Heineken Cup: Biarritz
Powergen Cup: Ospreys
Challenge Cup: Gloucester

Hopes could be brighter in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, if only because the tournament will not be high on the Guinness Premiership teams' list of priorities, and the cross-border shoot-out is sure to appeal to the fans.

But the Celtic League continues as the bread-and-butter competition for the Welsh sides, who will look to continue their dominance of the tournament in its current format.

Ireland's challenge looks set to be more sustained, but Munster and Leinster are due for some rebuilding and Ulster will need to show significant improvement from last season's disappointing showing.

As for the Scots, Glasgow and Edinburgh showed the odd spark last season, but no-one expects a realistic challenge from this quarter.

A third successive league title for Wales could result, with the Scarlets' reinforced foreign legion my tip for the crown.




CELTIC RUGBY

MATCH PREVIEWS/REPORTS
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SEE ALSO
Transfer talk - Welsh regions
15 Jun 05 |  Welsh
BBC Wales Sport coverage
03 May 05 |  Wales
Wales' rugby fixtures
31 Jan 05 |  Welsh
Heineken Cup 2005/6
05 Jul 05 |  European Club
Anglo-Welsh Powergen Cup 2005/6
29 Jun 05 |  Rugby Union
Season preview: Cardiff Blues
25 Aug 05 |  Welsh
Season preview: Ospreys
25 Aug 05 |  Welsh


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