It may have been a blank weekend for Wales' rugby regions, but there was still Welsh involvement on the European and Test scene, with the likes of Taulupe Faletau and Tommy Reffell featuring for their clubs in successful Challenge Cup missions.

There was disappointment, too, with Wales Women suffering a sobering 45-0 Six Nations defeat at the hands of Ireland.

It followed a heavy setback in round one against France.

MARK ORDERS looks at the weekend's winners and losers.

Winners

Tommy Reffell

This guy seems to have been forgotten about amid the glut of quality opensides in Welsh rugby.

But he’s a warrior whose displays for Wales at the 2019 World U20 Championship stick in the memory. Reffell made 75 tackles in that tournament, more than anyone else, with one of them memorably emphatic on Fiji’s Lino Mairara. If the hooker were a car, he’d have needed a few panels to be replaced after the Welsh openside caught up with him.

With Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake, Reffell stood out at the breakdown.

But he seems to have slipped off the Welsh rugby radar, with Wales boasting No. 7s of the quality of Justin Tipuric, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Macleod, James Botham, Jac Morgan and Taine Basham.

The Pencoed product is worth keeping an eye on, though.

He’s been playing regularly for Leicester of late as the east Midlands club have embarked on a mini-revival that’s seen them reach the European Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The tough, unflashy Reffell has been a significant part of the upswing and is a fans’ favourite, with one taking time out on social media to hail him as a “brilliant player” after the 39-15 win over Newcastle Falcons.

Rhys Ruddock

He may play for Leinster and Ireland, but he has a Welsh accent, spent a significant chunk of his childhood living in Wales, played for Swansea RFC and his dad Mike is a former Wales Grand Slam-winning coach.

That’s enough, then, for him to feature in this piece, especially after he played such a key role in helping his province into the Heineken Champions Cup last four.

There were 12 carries, a dozen tackles and a number of key takes at restarts from the big man in Leinster’s outstanding win over Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. His work at the breakdown was also of high quality.

And when his team needed someone to combat the hosts’ famed ruthless streak in the red zone, Ruddock frequently stepped forward to either knock back or hold up big home forwards who usually prove unstoppable from short range.

It was a mighty effort from the 30-year-old alongside Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan in a back row that gave Leinster a decisive edge.

Lions coach Warren Gatland would have noted the efforts of all three.

Much more of the same and Ruddock junior might just come into the category of potential bolter for the tour of South Africa.

Taulupe Faletau

Career-best form, anyone?

Possibly.

And that’s saying something for a man who won the Wales player-of-the-year award in 2016 and who didn’t miss a single tackle at the 2011 World Cup: 83 hits attempted, every one nailed.

Bath Rugby's Taulupe Faletau is tackled by London Irish's Tom Parton (left) during the Challenge Cup, quarter final match at the Recreation Ground, Bath. Picture date: Friday April 9, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story RUGBYU Bath. Photo credit should read: Steven Paston/PA Wire. Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

Faletau’s annus outstandingus continued last Friday evening when he helped his club Bath into the European Challenge Cup semi-finals. Playing at blindside flanker, he covered pretty much every blade of grass and showed the full range of his skills with rock-solid defensive work, piledriving carries, passes and even a left-footed kick over the top that helped set up a try.

The man overseeing the Bath player ratings for Somerset Live didn’t bother with detail when making his first-half notes, summing Faletau’s contribution in the first half against London Irish with just three words: “Outrageous attacking threat.”

The Wales international is simply a magnificent rugby player.

Luke Pearce

OK, not everyone agreed with his decision to yellow-card Liam Williams in the France v Wales Six Nations clash — “inexplicable” was one of the kinder descriptions of the sin-binning of the Welsh full-back — but the Pontypool-born referee who represents the Rugby Football Union is building a reputation as one of the top officials in the game.

He communicated superbly in that game in Paris, displaying an impressive calm, and he was at it again when Toulouse beat Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.

Speaking to players in French and English, Pearce was again authoritative and cool as he made a number of major calls and he appeared to command the respect of players on both sides.

Referee Luke Pearce

At one point he made a point of directing a few words of praise at Morgan Parra after the Clermont scrum-half showed his knowledge of the laws by avoiding an offside call that could have cost his side.

It was another fine performance from Pearce, prompting the Press Association’s Andrew Baldock to suggest on Twitter: “Whatever happens, Luke Pearce should get the final in my book. Been superb again today.”

It was hard to disagree.

Losers

Wales Women's chances

In a game of Come Up With The Biggest Understatement, ‘it hasn’t been a great start for Wales Women in this Six Nations’ would take some beating.

Warren Abrahams’ side lost 53-0 to semi-professional outfit France in round one and 45-0 at home to Ireland in round two in a game against fellow amateurs, although the Irish are credited with a better pathway than Wales.

Those are results the Welsh Rugby Union can’t ignore.

Players at elite level want to be the best versions of themselves and the question for those charged with running the amateur women’s game in Wales is whether all concerned are being given a fair chance.

To see captain Siwan Lillicrap with tears in her eyes as she sang the national anthem at Stade de la Rabine for the opener underlined how much she wanted to give for her country on the day.

The Welsh performance against Ireland was gruesome by any standard.

How much better could Wales be if their circumstances were different and they were afforded the opportunity to reach their full potential? The majority of the squad have full-time jobs to fit in around trying to compete at international level. Is there money in the pot to change things? Professionalising the team has been mooted for some time, and it emerged at the campaign's opening that the Welsh squad haven't been told contracts won't happen, nor had they been set performance targets.

Questions need answering.

The tears in Siwan Lillicrap’s eyes suggest it would only be fair for someone to provide answers.

Scarlets’ slayers

No matter how well a side plays, it’s never guaranteed that things will be the same the following weekend.

And so to Sale Sharks, 57-14 conquerors of the Scarlets over Easter.

Their coach Alex Sanderson later revealed the theme of the week he had adopted ahead of his team's visit to Llanelli, with an instruction to his players to metaphorically turn up the volume.

“‘Scarlets kicking game was like Sade – they want Smooth Operator,” he explained.

'Nice and easy...Sound of Music, Do-rae-mi, ‘a long, long way to run’. They want space to run.

“I played through clips and said: ‘They want Sade, they're getting f****** Slayer. They're getting heavy metal.’”

And so it was that Sale and their powerful South African contingent did a number on the Welsh team, winning the collisions and causing problems at both scrum and line-out.

Another day, another story.

Over the weekend, it was the opposition, La Rochelle, who had more power than Sale, stressing the English club’s scrum, while the French team’s backs were the ones breaking tackles, making ground and scoring tries.

It ended in a 45-21 rout.

The Scarlets’ slayers had been slayed themselves.

Presumably, not too many tears would have been shed in Llanelli.

Some thoughts?

The Scarlets are not as bad as they looked in that game — a side that contains Wyn Jones, Ken Owen, Sione Kalamafoni, Liam Williams, Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny must have plenty going for it, whatever the Challenge Cup result suggested — while Sale discovered the harsh reality they’re not as good as perhaps some felt.

Jonathan Davies

The Wales international and his old Scarlets team-mate Gareth Maule must have quietly enjoyed Potters Corner winning the Virtual Grand National in 2020, with the big race cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sadly, the renowned stayer pulled up when 2021 version of the event unfolded for real over the weekend.

It happens.

At 11, the Wales-trained horse could be back for another shot next year.

Davies and Maule, used to the slings and arrows of sport, may yet enjoy their Aintree day to remember.