Excitement, expectation, and excellence in Europe – this isn’t the regional rugby game in Wales we’ve come to know and love.

Or in the case of many, come to know and loathe.

In fact, so many issues regarding the infrastructure of Welsh rugby in recent years have provoked negative publicity and hostile debate. Supporters feeling alienated by the regions, our international stars opting to play in England and France, the now Pro14’s lack of financial power and appeal: all issues which have come to the surface with an abundance of anger and discontent bubbling beneath.

And to pretend that all is now fine and dandy because we have a region in the quarter finals of the European Champions Cup this season would border on lunacy.

Clearly, there is still much to be improved before we produce a system in Wales whereby the amateur and professional game, not to mention those who support both forms, can exist harmoniously.

But fuelled by exhilarating wins for the Scarlets over Bath and Toulon, these past two weeks have seen a refreshing change.

I suspect it’s temporary, but suddenly regional rugby in Wales has hit the headlines for the right reasons.

Since the latter victory, a 30-27 nail biter in front of a packed out Parc Y Scarlets that secured Wayne Pivac’s side a place in the last eight of Europe’s elite competition, excitement amongst the public has hit fever pitch.

The date for their quarter final at home to La Rochelle has been set for Easter Friday – the countdown to tickets going on sale has already begun.

Since regions were introduced in Wales for the 2003/2004 season, rarely have we produced a side to galvanise and excite the nation like the Scarlets have done of late.

A decade ago, Sean Holley’s expensively assembled Ospreys were considered on the brink of greatness, and a failure to make at least a Heineken Cup semi-final represented an under-achievement.

But their rise to prominence was different. Fans in Neath and Swansea of course embraced the so called ‘galacticos’, but elsewhere in Wales, their star studded up line up was often sneered at.

This has been different. The Scarlets are creating their own stars, and playing in a style that many thought had gone out of fashion since the professional game began to embrace heavy weights and protein shakes.

And believe it or not, they have even won praise aplenty from supporters of other regions.

For some it may have been through gritted teeth, but the recent well wishes and messages of congratulations signify the appeal of Pivac’s team.

Indeed, trying to play expansive rugby at pace is one thing. Pulling it off whilst also achieving success, is another entirely. It’s a feat that has not gone unnoticed.

But the Ospreys themselves also deserve great credit for their European efforts this season. In a group where they were given little hope, they took the battle to qualify down to the wire before a final game loss in Clermont.

The departure of head coach Steve Tandy has perhaps overshadowed the levels to which they defied the odds.

And the Cardiff Blues have qualified for a European Challenge Cup quarter final away to Edinburgh. When our game needed it most – Welsh teams have risen to the challenge in Europe.

What would boost regional rugby more than ever of course, is if the Scarlets could progress past La Rochelle and then better still, a final in Bilbao in May.

In any sport, success galvanises public interest and support – and it may even raise the heads of those lamenting the good old days in Wales where there were no merged club teams, no fancy-dan half empty stadiums, and if you were a Llanelli RFC fan who chose to marry a Swansea RFC supporter, you did so without your family at the wedding.

Before that comes the Six Nations, and given his injury list, if Warren Gatland is serious about continuing this new enterprising style he could do a lot worse than selected a host of Scarlets for the opening game against Scotland on February 3rd.

Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Gareth Davies, Rhys Patchell, Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams, Steff Evans and Leigh Halfpenny would all be in my starting XV for that crucial opener – whilst James Davies and Aaron Shingler would be seriously considered to join them.

If the WRU have any sense, those are international choices that Pivac himself, together with his backroom staff, should be able to make himself post-2019.

But anyway, before the inevitable doomsayers take over next month, and we get sucked into a hyperbole of headlines about injuries, TMO’s, and people having the audacity to wave daffodils, let’s appreciate a rare period of harmony and positivity in Welsh rugby.

Whisper it quietly, but maybe regional rugby is not in such a bad place after all…….