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Rugby Union: OLD HABITS DIE HARD; RUGBY UNION: MAGNERS LEAGUE ACTION.

Byline: PHIL BENNETT

THE opening skirmishes of the Magners League have proved that old habits die hard.

The Dragons are still chucking away hard-earned leads, the Cardiff Blues cannot deliver on the hype, the Scarlets can still run their way down an escape route, and the Ospreys flex muscles the rest can only dream about.

At least the Scots and the Irish have picked up a new script - and very welcome it is, too. Glasgow showed they can tough it out away from home when they won at Newport, while the sighting of Leinster stars Brian O'Driscoll and Felipe Contepomi on Welsh fields proves the Irish are not stricken by travel sickness as we once feared.

All we need now is for the quality of rugby to stabilise at a consistent level and for the crowds to flock into the stadiums.

The second point there is dependent on the first. Money is tight everywhere and fans are feeling the pinch. The onus is on all four regions to provide entertaining, winning rugby in decent facilities.

Only 24,000 fans watched the opening games in the Magners League, while the Guinness Premiership - with only one more game - managed over 90,000. There were just 8,000 fans at the Liberty Stadium in midweek to watch the Ospreys hammer the Blues - at least they will want to come back for more if the Ospreys play as they did in a very onesided second-half.

Lee Byrne (below) was outstanding and his ability to attack from deep bodes well for the club. Shane Williams also looked energised and eager and he remains the classiest act in European rugby.

When you think the Ospreys still have Gavin Henson and Mike Phillips to come back from injury, you can see why they are many people's tip to be the most successful of the Welsh regions this season.

The Scarlets will also be happy.

Nigel Davies seems to have them playing with confidence and the word coming out of Stradey Park is the players have been impressed with the new regime.

It's only the Dragons who must feel as if they are caught in some cruel time-warp - just like last season they are unable to hold on to a lead in front of their own fans.

Interview: DAVID WILLIAMS
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 14, 2008
Words:382
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