After a three week hiatus, the Guinness Pro 14 league resumed with gusto. A weekend where the main protagonists sent clear statements of intent to mark the start of this phase of the league, the wannabes lost further ground in conference playoff battle while for the Ospreys, the season took another devastatingly morale sapping blow.
Glasgow romp to easy road win to Ospreys
What is going on at the Ospreys? Three weeks to regroup and start the campaign with renewed vigor but what was produced yesterday fell well short and heaps more pressure on management.
Looking at the Ospreys side, the side on duty should have competed better than a forty-one point drubbing. Seasoned performers in the likes of Evans, Dirksen, Hook, Beck, Hassler, James, Arhip, Davies featured but zero cohesion with confidence collapsing in the second half.
Trailing 6-14 at the break, the hosts capitulated on the resumption. George Horne was the star of the show for the Warriors who ran at will in the second half. Horne scored two well taken tries.
Cummings, Thomson, Sarto, Turner and Hasting all went over the white wash. Warriors were far too slick in their passing and movement. Ospreys were reduced to chasing shadows at times.
To add insult to injury, the last two tries came from intercepts. Ospreys have zero respite with a trip to Cork to face Munster Rugby where new head Johann van Graan will look to build momentum into ERC action. Ospreys are a proud club and expect a reaction this weekend. Munster will be well warned.
Glasgow Warriors will not have many easier road trips than this fixture. The squad depth was on point in this victory and with the likes of Cummings and Horne, the future is bright. The future is Warriors as they secured their ninth league win in a row.
Playoff bound come May and dare I say could be top seeds the way the season is panning out. Dave Rennie’s influence is complementing the game plan inherited from Gregor Townsend. Their running lines and quick up tempo game is a joy to watch.
Scarlets secure road win at Southern Kings
The lineup looked experimental in nature but credit to the Scarlets for this victory on the road to the Southern Kings who will feel yet another Pro 14 home fixture victory slipped from their grasp.
This game ebbed and flowed throughout. Exciting start to the contest with quality scores from Beirne and Makase. Offloading and vision the key traits for the tries respectively.
The emergence of Mike Philips was a key turning point for the Scarlets and fly half Jones secured the win ten minutes from time, excellent running line before converting.
Kings showed flashes of brilliance but again unforced error count increased in the second half, gave Scarlets field position and with the dry track surface, the reigning champions despite without many first team stars did enough to secure the road trip.
Leinster stroll to easy home win over hapless Dragons
It has being a humbling league fixture period for Dragons as the Welsh region were again trounced by Irish province opposition. Fifty-two points leaked speaks volumes.
It had started so well for the Dragons and a 10 point lead was established. Henson’s dropped goal and then an excellent Benjamin try converted by Henson, an upset perhaps?
Leinster Rugby were having none of it and the response was emphatic with the bonus point try secured on thirty-two minutes. Gibson Park led the fightback and with the pack in full flow, Nacewa strode over for the second try.
Key contributions followed from Murphy and Deegan. Dragons’ side were deflated and the second half was a stroll for the hosts. Further tries from Nacewa, the impressive Larmour and O’Loughlin completed the rout.
This was tough viewing for any rugby neutral, let alone Bernard Jackman and squad who looked light on a number of key pack and back line positions. Angus O’Brien looks a prospect but more defeats like this could be the order of the day for the Welsh region.
The announcement that Ross Moriarty is now a Dragons player is a step in the right direction but this is only one player, many more players are required. Jackman realizes the enormity of the task given these most recent fixture performances.
Munster discipline issues
Five points secured in Parma but disciplinary issues were the order of the day for the Irish province resulting in two sin bins in the opening period.
Offside and breakdown infringements (some harsh) were prominent game notes in the opening period as Zebre fought back to only trail the Irish province by three points at the break (14-17).
Credit Munster though, the tries when they arrived were well worked. Scannell, Hart, Wootton (2) and Nash tries were on point. Zebo’s creativity on the second Wootton try was different class.
Munster under van Graan formally from today will have learned plenty from the game. The breakdown area was chaos throughout as only one side was pinged in this facet of play. Ospreys fixture at home hopefully will provide a sterner test ahead of the Leicester ERC home / away fixtures.
Cardiff Blues beat Connacht in topsy turvy affair
Most exciting game of the weekend was in Cardiff. Six point win for the hosts but Connacht will feel that victory was very close. Both sides contributed massively to the contest.
Three tries for Cardiff Blues who had excellent performances from Olly Robinson and Owen Lane who looks potentially a talent to watch out for as the season progresses.
Nick Williams had a mixed bag (what’s new). Sublime ball carrying but then got involved in silly stuff; obstruction cost his side a try and then was sent to the bin in the closing stages to setup a frantic finish.
Connacht left Cardiff with two points. Four try haul as Shane Delahunt (2) crashed over from short range following good maul work from the pack. Adeolokun and Muldoon also crossed over with the winger looking extremely sharp in ball carrying and open play.
Discipline also reared its head for the visitors. Griffin adjudged to have deliberately knocked on when Cardiff Blues were on a promising line break. Enter Lane for an emphatic score during this period.
The quality of penalty kicking at the end was enough for Cardiff Blues; Anscombe was prominent in two key penalties in the final ten minutes. This in contrast to Connacht who missed a couple of conversions albeit tough angles. The hosts worked the scoreboard and got a much needed win in the league.
Connacht lose further ground to their Conference A rivals and Kieran Keane’s charges realize that any further significant slip ups could consign their league campaign to a swift conclusion come the New Year.
Cheetahs impress again at home
No disgrace from Edinburgh. Cheetahs at Bloemfontein is a fortress and the second half performance sent a clear message to conference rivals that the South African side will be key players in the playoff shakeup.
Edinburgh’s hard work in the opening quarter was undone by a quick ten minute blitz from the hosts who scored courtesy of Barry and Bernardo. The ability of the hosts to see field position and pick the right option was key in the first try.
A super drubber kick in behind the Edinburgh defense for Barry to score. Excellent offloading and expansive play from the hosts led to Bernardo’s try. Edinburgh to their credit did fight back with Hidalgo-Clyne scoring thirteen points but then came the final quarter.
The altitude factor was key. Edinburgh’s efforts to get back into the game were paying heavily now as the hosts regained the ascendancy. Further incisive passing and running lines allowing Pokomela, Mapimpi and Meyer to cross.
Cheetahs have being a joy to watch this season and their presence in the playoffs will be seen as a success for tournament organizers. With Munster Rugby scheduled to visit Bloemfontein, the battle for second place in Conference A will intensify.
For Edinburgh, it is a chance to regroup and look to reclaim the lost ground to the likes of Ulster, Leinster and Scarlets. This was a key lesson in game management and Cockerill’s men will be all the better for the experience.
Ulster avoid embarrassment
Credit Benetton Rugby as with a depleted squad depth, they were within three minutes of causing a massive upset at Kingspan Stadium. For Ulster, the get out of jail card was issued and one wonders where the side is going this season.
A fixture on paper which should have seen Ulster Rugby assert dominance to setup the platform for victory. The first half of this statement was achieved when Bowe crossed over on seventeen minutes but the lack of cohesion and precision was an issue.
This was an almighty struggle for Ulster and with Allan and Banks on form with the tee, the visitors gained in confidence with each passing minute evident in Barbieri crossing over after intercepting van der Merwe’s ponderous line pass. It captured Ulster’s night perfectly; ponderous, zero invention.
It was left to experienced players Leali’ifano and Trimble to rescue the tie at the death for the hosts. Superb finish from Trimble and Leali’ifano’s conversion was ice cold under pressure but the lack of consistency in the game plan and execution is leaving massive questions on Ulster management. Les Kiss looks vulnerable.