Learn about the four Welsh teams, coaches and players competing in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, who will travel to South Africa for rounds 8 and 9 of the competition.
Former Wales and British & Irish Lions prop Dai Young is in his second spell in charge. He was first at the helm from 2002 to 2011, winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup and European Challenge Cup in successive seasons towards the end of his reign. He then spent nine years with Wasps before returning to Cardiff as director of rugby at the start of 2021.
Thomas Young – Like his father Dai, flanker Thomas is back at the Arms Park after a lengthy spell at Wasps, where he established himself as one of the most consistent opensiders in the English Premiership. The 30-year-old, who has won four caps for Wales, has made a big impact since rejoining over the summer. He’s made more tackles (109) than any other player in the URC this season and is second when it comes to turnovers won, with seven.
Rey Lee Lo – The Samoan international centre ranks as one of the best overseas signings ever to come into Welsh rugby. Since arriving from New Zealand’s Hurricanes in 2015 he has proved an absolute class act and has been a strong contender for the league’s team of the season multiple times. He’s 36 now but is still delivering the goods with his priceless ability to make an outside break and his offloading game.
James Botham – The grandson of cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham is maintaining the family tradition by forging his own successful sporting path. Born in Cardiff when his dad Liam was playing on the wing at the Arms Park, James joined the club after being schooled in England and has nine Welsh caps to his name. He is leading the Vodacom URC turnover chart with 10 and his ability to play right across the back row makes him hugely valuable.
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There’s been a significant improvement on last term when they finished 14th in the URC with just seven victories out of 18 games. They have won four of their seven matches so far this season to install themselves as the leading Welsh side in the competition, lying in sixth place. Ending the 15-match unbeaten run of reigning champions the Stormers on a euphoric evening at the Arms Park has been the high spot so far.
Former Cardiff and Ospreys flyhalf Dai Flanagan came on board from the Scarlets over the summer, having been the backs coach down in west Wales. He soon found himself fully at the helm at Rodney Parade, with director of rugby Dean Ryan no longer involved after the opening week of the season. Flanagan is young for the job at 37, but he has impressed with the assured way he has stepped into the hot seat.
Ross Moriarty – Rugby is in his blood, with father Paul and uncle Richard having both played for Wales. Ross has followed in their footsteps, with 54 caps to his name to date. An abrasive, combative back row who really makes his presence felt in contact, he is equally comfortable at 6 or 8. Not one to take a backward step.
JJ Hanrahan – The versatile Irishman has proved a valuable acquisition since arriving from French club Clermont Auvergne in the summer. He’s figured primarily at flyhalf so far, but can also cover full-back and centre, while he brings bags of experience to the party. Having had two spells with Munster, it was a big day for the 30-year-old when he kicked 18 points in September’s shock victory over the Irish province.
Aaron Wainwright – Like fellow back row Moriarty, the 36-cap Wainwright was left out of Wales’ autumn squad, which was something of a new experience for him having been a regular fixture with the national team set-up for some four years. He has responded to that omission by returning to his best, showing off the galloping athleticism and threat in wide channels that is very much his trademark.
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There’s been a significant improvement. They won just two Vodacom URC matches all last season, but they have already surpassed that after just seven fixtures, with home victories over Munster, the Ospreys and Zebre. That’s taken them up to the giddy heights of tenth in the table as the second-highest placed Welsh team in the league, which is a rare experience for a side that has regularly finished lowest of the four.
In Englishman Toby Booth, the Ospreys have someone with more than 20 years of coaching experience. In his mid 20s, he swapped life as an electrician for studying biology and sports science at St Mary’s College in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, going on to become director of sport at the college, while also being player-coach at Blackheath. He began to forge a reputation as an innovative thinker on the game, working with England Students and U21s, and then, over the years, at London Irish and Bath, before heading for Wales in 2020.
Keelan Giles – The re-emergence of Giles has been one of the real feel-good stories in Welsh rugby this season. He was tipped as a star in the making when he first burst onto the scene as a teenager in 2016, with his blistering speed and thrilling try-scoring exploits on the wing. But then two awful knee injuries checked his progress for the best part of three seasons. He never gave up though and now, at 25, he’s back and firing on all cylinders, having touched down eight times already this term, while also beating the second most defenders (18).
Morgan Morris – The back-row forward from the picturesque Gower Peninsula can consider himself unfortunate not to have received the call from Wales to date as he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the regional game over the past few years. He’s been at it again this season, featuring in the URC top five when it comes to carries (61), while he’s also very effective over the ball and is able to slot in at 8 or 7 with equal ease.
Rhys Webb – A Test Lion out in New Zealand in 2017, scrumhalf Webb has won 38 caps for Wales, scoring nine tries along the way. To the bafflement of a fair few, he hasn’t featured on the international front for the past two years, but that’s proved to be the Ospreys’ gain, with his experience, leadership and game management making him a major asset. Attended Brynteg School in Bridgend, which also produced the likes of JPR Williams, Rob Howley, Gavin Henson and Josh Navidi.
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On the plus side, there was an impressive 32-17 victory over Glasgow and a battling draw with champions the Stormers in appalling conditions. But there’s only been the one win so far from seven matches, with narrow home defeats to the Lions and Connacht serving as particular frustrations. They lie 13th in the table, having been Wales’ highest finishers last season, earning Champions Cup qualification in the process.
Dwayne Peel enjoyed a glittering playing career, winning 76 caps for Wales at scrumhalf and also starting all three Tests on the Lions’ 2005 tour of New Zealand, the year he played a big part in the Welsh team winning the Grand Slam. He is now back at the club where he first made his name as a No 9, following coaching stints as an assistant at Bristol and Ulster.
Sione Kalamafoni – Last season, the Tongan No 8 made the second-most carries of any player in the league and was sixth-best when it came to tackles. This term, he has moved up to another level again. After the first seven rounds, he is way out on top of the carrying chart, with 117, which is 30 more than the next best, Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata, and he’s also leading the way for successful carries (59). As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also fourth for tackles-made (79) and metres gained (367). What a signing he has been.
Ryan Conbeer – Only Edinburgh’s Scotland star Darcy Graham has scored more tries in the URC this season than 23-year-old winger Conbeer, who has touched down nine times. He’s the kind of player who could beat you in a phone box, so quick are his feet, while his stats confirm what a fine finisher he is. His predatory form has seen him tipped as a Wales squad contender.
Vaea Fifita – Having won 11 caps for the All Blacks between 2017 and 2019, back-five forward Fifita has now just launched a second international career, making his debut for the land of his birth Tonga as a result of new eligibility rules. A high-profile summer signing from Wasps, he will be wanting to make up for lost time on the Scarlets’ trip to South Africa, having missed their last three URC matches after being sent off against Cardiff.
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It’s been pretty grim. They have only won one of their first seven URC matches and that was against the only team now below them in the table, Zebre. There was an opening day draw with the Ospreys and the other five games have all ended in defeat. Disciplinary issues haven’t helped, as they have picked up two red cards and ten yellows.
But they do have a number of seasoned Welsh internationals in their 30-man squad for South Africa, including the likes of Jonathan Davies, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies and Scott Williams, plus overseas Test players in Kalamafoni, Fifita, Sam Lousi and Tomás Lezana.
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