This is what Scarlets, Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Dragons realistically need

European rugby returns this weekend with all four regions in action.

Last year, there was Welsh interest in the latter stages of both European competitions – with the Scarlets reaching the Champions Cup semi-final and Cardiff Blues winning the Challenge Cup.

But will any of the regions escape the pool stages this time?

Here’s how things stand ahead of the December double-headers.

CHAMPIONS CUP

SCARLETS

It’s been a similar story for the west Wales region as last season – with two defeats from their opening two fixtures leaving the Scarlets with little room for error.

A losing bonus point at home to Racing 92 was a wasted opportunity for an opening night victory, while the following week saw them outmuscled by Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.

Now, anyone who even casually followed Welsh rugby last season will know that the Scarlets ended up reaching the Champions Cup semi-final, so there is a precedent when it comes to defying the odds.

How things stand in the Scarlets’ Champions Cup pool

But, in an arguably tougher group, it’s going to take something special.

The Scarlets will concern themselves with Leicester visiting Llanelli before a daunting trip to face Racing 92 in France in January, but, for now, their focus will firmly be on Ulster.

Anything less than two victories against the Irish province in the December double-header and their European qualification dreams are all but over.

Last year the Scarlets did it the hard way. This year, given their patchy form, looks practically improbable.

You still wouldn’t rule it quite out yet.

CARDIFF BLUES

The capital region are still in contention for qualification after a mixed opening two rounds.

A stunning win in Lyon showed just what the Cardiff Blues can do when at their best in Europe, only to disappoint the following week with a meak display against Glasgow that will be best remembered for a dreadful kit clash.

However, things are only going to get more difficult for John Mulvihill’s men with a double-header against Saracens coming up.

How things stand in Cardiff Blues’ Champions Cup pool ahead of the December fixtures

The English giants are looking like they will run away with this pool.

In an ideal world, the Blues might surprise the likes of Owen Farrell and co and secure a shock win over Saracens. Both the Ospreys and Scarlets have pushed them hard in recent years so it’s certainly possible if things click for the inconsistent region.

However, the key for the Blues might be trying to hang onto their coattails enough to sneak a bonus point or two to keep their qualification hopes alive come the final straight.

CHALLENGE CUP

OSPREYS

The last time the Ospreys were in the second tier of Europe, they finished the group stages with a maximum 30 points from 30.

A defeat to Worcester means they won’t be able to match that, but qualification is still there for the taking.

A double-header with Stade Francais will determine whether they head into the final two games with a chance of qualification.

How things stand in the Ospreys’ Challenge Cup pool

Allen Clarke is treating Europe with plenty of respect, naming a number of his Welsh internationals to start.

Quite whether Stade Francais do the same is unlikely – with French outfits rarely bothering in the second tier of Europe and Stade effectively out already following two defeats.

Two wins should be the target here and that would set them nicely for January’s final fixtures.

DRAGONS

Europe already seems like a write-off for the Dragons. Truth be told, it was the moment the draw was made.

Despite beating Timisora Saracens away from home first up, they were humbled by Northampton at Rodney Parade and the announcement that several Wales stars won’t feature in the return match at Franklin’s Gardens should do little for the confidence of fans of the region.

The Dragons’ Challenge Cup pool as things stand

As is so often the case with the Dragons on their away trips, a rag-tag side will head out ultimately on a hiding to nothing.

And things don’t get easier for Bernard Jackman’s side either. After the journey to face Northampton, they travel to France to face Clermont Auvergne.

It could be a long couple of weeks for the Dragons.