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Season review: Ospreys shine during a tough campaign for the Welsh regions

09 Jun 2024 11 minute read
The Osprey’s celebrate during the win against the Stormers. Photo ©INPHO/Steve Haag Sports/EJ Langner

Simon Thomas

With the Ospreys bowing out of the URC title race with a 23-7 quarter-final defeat to Munster at Limerick’s Thomond Park, that’s now the end of the season for our pro teams.

So, how have they fared against a backdrop of swingeing cuts to playing budgets and reduced squad numbers?


The stand-out team in Wales by some distance.

In the end, Thomond Park was a trip too far for Toby Booth’s men, but what a journey it has been.

It’s been a chastening season for Welsh rugby overall, with a Six Nations whitewash and three of our four teams finishing in the bottom five of the URC table.

But, amid the gloom, the Ospreys have provided a “beacon of hope” to quote former Scotland captain John Barclay.

The stats speak for themselves. They have won more games (14) than the other three regions put together (13).

They also reached the quarter-finals of two competitions – the URC and the Challenge Cup.

Their home form has been particularly impressive, with 10 wins from 12 matches representing an 83.3 per cent success rate.

What they have achieved has been all the more laudable when you take two factors into consideration.

Firstly, there have been the major cuts in Welsh rugby which have seen regional playing budgets and squad numbers slashed. In that context, the Ospreys have punched way above their financial weight.

There have also been the injury issues they have had to contend with. At various points this season, the likes of Jac Morgan, George North, Justin Tipuric, Adam Beard, Dewi Lake, Morgan Morris, Alex Cuthbert, Nicky Smith, Rhys Davies, James Fender have all been sidelined, some of them for lengthy periods.

But, to quote Toby Booth’s catchphrase, they have “found a way”.

Booth and the rest of his management team deserve huge credit for the manner in which they have conducted themselves, squeezing the absolute maximum out of the charges at their disposal.

The same plaudits go to the players who have given absolutely everything for the cause and shown huge togetherness and team-spirit.

The Ospreys Morgan Morris comes up against Jacjivah Dayimani of the DHL Stormers. Photo ©INPHO/Steve Haag Sports/EJ Langner

The likes of Morgan Morris, Nicky Smith, Dan Edwards and Keelan Giles have deservedly received the rave reviews, but everyone has contributed along the way.

Booth has said one of the big targets for this season was to earn respect and they have certainly achieved that.

All in all, they have done Welsh rugby proud.

The final word goes to skipper Justin Tipuric: “Hopefully we are heading back in the right direction where this amazing club should be.”


Played 25, Won 14, Drawn 0, Lost 11
URC: Quarter-finals – 8th
Challenge Cup: Quarter-finals

Best result

Very few teams go to Cape Town and win, so April’s 27-21 bonus point victory away to the Stormers was a huge effort, with wing Luke Morgan scoring two of their four tries.

Star performer

Morgan Morris – You do wonder what more he needs to do. He has been just about the most consistent performer in Welsh rugby over the last three or four years, with his relentless ball-carrying from No 8, and he has continued to hoover up the Man of the Match awards this season, but still he is overlooked by Warren Gatland.

Breakthrough player

Reuben Morgan-Williams – The Neath-born scrum-half is now seven years into his Ospreys career, but this has arguably been his finest campaign. Provides a swift service, can beat defenders with his pace and agility, while he also runs excellent support lines.

Players leaving:

Nicky Smith (Leicester)
George North (Provence Rugby)
Toby Fricker (New England Jacks)
Jack Regan (Toyota Industries Shuttle)
Alex Cuthbert
Mat Protheroe
Cam Jones
Dom Morris
Will Hickey

Players coming in:

Kieran Hardy (Scarlets)
Will Greatbanks (Soyaux-Angouleme)
Steff Thomas (Scarlets)
Phil Cokanasiga (Leicester)

James Botham scores for Cardiff. Photo ©INPHO/SteveHaagSports/Willem Loock

Cardiff Rugby

It’s been a strange old season for Cardiff.

Their total number of wins in all competitions is the joint lowest among the Welsh teams, along with the Dragons.

Yet there has been a significant amount of positivity surrounding the region.

There are various reasons for this.

To start with, they have been pretty competitive, as demonstrated by the fact they picked up no fewer than 11 bonus points in URC defeats.

As coach Matt Sherratt said a while back “No one is leaving early”, amid a succession of matches going down to the wire.

There’s also been the emergence of a number of young home-grown talents, with the likes of Cam Winnett, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin and Evan Lloyd forcing their way into the Wales set-up to be followed now by Jacob Beetham and Ellis Bevan, plus the recalled Ben Thomas, while Theo Cabango might well have been on board but for an untimely Judgement Day injury.

Supporters have also bought into the style of play and attacking ambition under Sherratt and these factors have combined to produce encouraging attendances.

There were three successive 12,000 sell-outs for the home fixtures against Dragons, Harlequins and Connacht, while the average crowd at the Arms Park has exceeded 9,000.

In addition, there has been the takeover by Helford Capital Limited which has provided hope of a secure future.

Looking ahead, the signing of Callum Sheedy from Bristol will provide welcome support at fly-half for Tinus de Beer who started every match bar one following his arrival from South Africa.

Losing Tomos Williams and Rhys Carre to Gloucester and Saracens respectively are significant blows, with scrum-half Williams one of the most skilled players in the game, while ball-carrying prop Carre was the club’s top try scorer this season with eight.

The recruitment of Ed Byrne from Leinster will bring seasoned experience at loosehead, while we wait news on the scrum-half recruitment, with Welsh international Aled Davies tipped as a target.

Further signings are expected, with a second row, centre and openside also on the shopping list.

What is certain is the picture will be healthier than it was last summer when there was a grand total of eight players in pre-season training at one point!


Played 22, Won 4, Drawn 1, Lost 17
URC: 12th
Champions Cup: Group stage
Best result

The 31-24 victory over the Stormers in November, with replacement prop Rhys Litterick claiming the late winning try among jubilant scenes at the Arms Park.

Star performer

Ben Thomas – After making his Test debut in the summer of 2021 and then facing the All Blacks that autumn, Thomas saw his progress stall somewhat amid positional switching and limited game-time, but this season he has really blossomed at No 12, bringing both play-making and great running lines, earning a fully deserved Wales recall.

Breakthrough player

Cam Winnett – The young full-back had started just three regional games before this season, but ended up starting all five games for Wales in the Six Nations. He’s taken it all in his classy stride. Nothing seems to faze him.

Players leaving:
Tomos Williams (Gloucester)
Rhys Carre (Saracens)
Shane Lewis-Hughes (Dragons)
Owen Lane (Valence Romans)
Arwel Robson (Chambery)
Willis Halaholo
Aled Summerhill
Gonzalo Bertranou
Lopeti Timani
Max Clark
Mathew Aubrey
Ellis Jenkins (retired)
Josh Turnbull (retired)
Ciaran Parker (retired)

Players coming in:

Callum Sheedy (Bristol)
Ed Byrne (Leinster)
Iwan Stephens (Newcastle)
Danny Southworth (Exeter)
Joe Cowell (Cardiff Met)
Steffan Emanuel (Bath)
Tom Bowen (Clifton)

Aaron Wainwright of the Dragons. Photo ©INPHO/Ashley Crowden

Dragons RFC

The Gwent region have been something of a Jekyll and Hyde outfit this season.

At their Rodney Parade home, they have been very competitive. All four of their victories came there – against Ospreys, Oyonnax, Scarlets and Zebre – while there were bonus points in defeats to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Connacht, plus a scare for the Stormers.

But it’s been a different story on the road, where they picked up just one league point and suffered a number of heavy defeats.

In the end, they finished 15th in the URC table, just one point above Zebre, while their points difference of minus 311 was the worst in the competition.

On the individual front, Aaron Wainwright was a shining light at No 8 – both at regional and international level – while there was youthful promise from the likes of Will Reed, Joe Westwood, Ryan Woodman and Ewan Rosser.

There have been some notable overseas signings for next season, with Aussies Steve Cummins and Harry Wilson bolstering the pack and midfield respectively, while Solomone Funaki will add uncompromising Tongan physicality to the back row.

But perhaps the most significant signing of all is that of Ospreys legend Filo Tiatia who will bring both experience and a real off-field presence in his role as defence coach.


Played 22, Won 4, Drawn 0, Lost 18
URC: 15th
Challenge Cup: Group stage

Best result

The 20-5 win against the Ospreys in November, with hooker Bradley Roberts storming over for the fans’ favourite try of the season and Wales wing Rio Dyer sprinting away for the clincher.

Star performer

Aaron Wainwright

A strong contender for Welsh player of the season. He made some 25 appearances for club and country, maintaining a high standard throughout, with his athletic dynamism, fleet footwork and huge work-rate, Back to his very best.

Breakthrough player

Will Reed – With experienced fly-halves Sam Davies and JJ Hanrahan both having moved on, opportunity knocked for the young Reed and he has responded by putting in a real shift, figuring in 20 of the team’s 22 matches.

Players leaving:

Sean Lonsdale (Ealing)
Corey Baldwin (Australia)
Jack Dixon (retired)
Sio Tompkinson
Aki Seiuli
Lewis Jones
Nathan Evans
Chris Hollis

Players coming in:

Steve Cummins (Pau)
Solomone Funaki (Moana Pasifika)
Shane Lewis-Hughes (Cardiff)
Harry Wilson (Waratahs)
Oli Burrows (Exeter)

Gareth Davies. Photo


The season began in just about the toughest possible fashion with back-to-back games out in South Africa and the 115 points conceded to the Bulls and Stormers marked a bruising start to a challenging campaign.

There were to be just two wins in the first 15 matches in all competitions, both of those coming against Cardiff, with the Challenge Cup defeat at home to Georgians Black Lion in December being the low point.

But there were signs of hope towards the end of the season, with three wins in the last seven matches and improved performances overall.

You have also started to see the future being put in place, with youngsters Eddie James, Tomi Lewis, Joe Roberts, Kemsley Mathias and Carwyn Tuipulotu coming to the fore, while the likes of Gareth Davies, Taine Plumtree, Alex Craig, Ryan Elias, Sam Lousi, Johnny Williams and Vaea Fifita provide an international core of quality.

There’s something of the sense of a changing of the guard and the end of an era, with great servants like Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Scott Williams and Wyn Jones moving on, along with fellow Welsh international Kieran Hardy, while a new rugby performance director is to be appointed to work alongside head coach Dwayne Peel.


Played 22, Won 5, Drawn 0, Lost 17
URC: 13th
Challenge Cup: Group stage

Best result

Completing the double over Cardiff with a five-try 29-23 bonus point victory at the Arms Park in early December, when scrum-half Gareth Davies touched down twice.

Star performer

Alex Craig – Such has been his form since arriving from Gloucester last summer, the 27-year-old has forced his way back into the Scotland set-up. An old school second row who makes the hard yards and puts in the hard tackles.

Breakthrough player

Eddie James – With greats Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams moving on, James has a key role to play in the centre moving forward and has shown his promise with the hard-running which has earned him a call-up to the Wales squad.

Players leaving:

Kieran Hardy (Ospreys)
Steff Thomas (Ospreys)
Joe Jones (Doncaster)
Iwan Shenton (Ampthill)
Ken Owens (retired)
Jonathan Davies
Scott Williams
Wyn Jones
Ryan Conbeer
Dan Jones
Eduan Swart

Players coming in:

Alec Hepburn (Exeter)
Marnus van der Merwe (Cheetahs)
Max Douglas (Canon Eagles)
Ellis Mee (Nottingham)

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