The last weekend of league action before the decisive December ERC fixtures. A weekend which saw positive results for Zebre Rugby and Dragons. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Glasgow Warriors win their tenth league win in a row
At first glance, many will assume that Cardiff Blues were under the cosh throughout and were given a hammering (40-16) but this was far from the comfortable league fixture for the Warriors.
Cardiff Blues can take enormous positives from this fixture despite the final quarter cameo but it all hinged on the red card decision from Nigel Owens.
The Taufa’ao Filise’s red card incident has created plenty of debate on the social media. The fact that Owens did not think much of the incident when it happened in real-time gives some credence to say that the red was harsh.
However, player safety is paramount for rugby players on the pitch. Owens and officiating crew after viewing the footage then felt that Taufa’ao Filise had a case to answer with his tackle on George Turner.
The decision was red and the game was effectively ended as a contest. The red card is the key debating point here; another officiating crew would not have sanctioned the dismissal so consistency is required. Anything high or dangerous needs to be given red, pure and simple.
Cardiff Blues held their own until the final quarter when Glasgow Warriors started to assert pack dominance finally and swift ruck ball creating the width to score several excellently worked tries courtesy of Vunisa (67′), Sarto (76′), and Matawalu (79′).
The true test is for the Warriors to produce this free flowing try scoring game plan to ERC competition format and with Montpellier in the next two weeks, it will be an intriguing test. Pro 14 playoff berth is pretty much secured after this win. Cardiff Blues will look to the European Challenge Cup with confidence despite this reversal; promising signs in terms of game plan and brand of rugby being played.
Les Kiss under pressure as Ulster misfire again
32-32 draw. Lealiifano last gasp try looked to have given Ulster Rugby another get out of jail win and break Dragons hearts in the process but the subsequent conversion went wide. A draw and probably a fair result.
This is a game which yet again puts pressure on Les Kiss and Ulster Rugby management. The front five again was a mixed bag. The scrum set piece was a disaster and the starting front row was hauled off pretty much immediately after the restart.
The line-out was decent and Ulster’s back line when given early ball to work with looked extremely dangerous. McCloskey, Bowe, Piatau all looking to create line breaks.
The issue was whenever Ulster Rugby strung an excellent passage of play, they lapsed almost immediately allowing their hosts to get back into the contest.
Dragons will take great heart from this encounter. The side to a man could have shirked the responsibility when Gilroy crossed for Ulster after nine minutes but with Gavin Henson increasingly becoming a factor with boot and game management in line breaks, the hosts were starting to gain in confidence.
Hewitt looked dangerous all game, a pacy winger and his brace of tries looked to give the hosts the gap required to close out the contest. Griffiths in the back row was having a heroic game, his tackle count and ball carrying were immense throughout. Potential new back row talent for the Welsh national side.
The last five minutes were chaotic. Dragons with Hewitt taking the lead but then the inexperience kicked in, a poor restart from the hosts giving Ulster good field position and after a couple of penalty concessions, Leililfano saw the gap to cross over at the death. The draw was a fair result.
Ulster Rugby have now a potent Harlequins to deal with in the next two weekends. The level and consistency of performance is not there from Ulster Rugby at present and you would fear for Ulster in the pack exchanges even with the likes of Rory Best and Ian Henderson in the ranks. The scrum is regressing at a rate of knots and the style of play is uncertain.
Zebre Rugby claim deserved win against toothless Connacht
Kudos to Michael Bradley and the Zebre Rugby team management. The game plan was on point and Connacht quite frankly ran out of ideas well before the final whistle in this encounter.
24-10 triumph for Zebre Rugby to consolidate their progressive run of form and supporting the credibility of their result against Ulster Rugby in round five and hard working performance against Munster Rugby in round nine.
For Connacht, it is getting to crisis management proportions. Two significant road losses and any thoughts of playoff rugby are probably put on the back burner this season.
This was an insipid performance from the Irish province. Line breaks were attempted but there was a distinct of cohesion, urgency and game management from the half backs on duty to unlock a hard working opponent.
Zebre Rugby engulfed the breakdown with bodies, some of it bordering on infringements. The tactic worked a treat as Connacht’s ball was slowed down to a crawl and with Crosbie shaky at best at ten, attacking moves were started well behind the game line. The lack of depth in the ten position was fully exposed.
Crosbie was not the only player to have a bad day at the office but his penalty kicking was pretty poor. Two good penalty opportunities squandered in the opening period and to be fair, Marmion was not assisting his besieged ten with no variety in play. No significant kick game and when he did have a line break, his offload was poor at the laces of his supporting runners.
Zebre Rugby were patient and line breaks appeared mostly due to their best player on the pitch Canna, Connacht’s defensive shape started to rock badly. The closing exchanges of the opening half should have earned a home try but a poor pass out wide gave Connacht time to regroup and hold the Italians up on the line.
Connacht’s invention was the hallmark of Pat Lam’s stewardship, quick ruck ball, players comfortable to take ball in hand and make the right decision. This group of players look far removed from the team of two seasons ago. Individual players going for line breaks, no supporting runners and breakdown support far too late to clear out rucks.
Kieran Keane has a massive job on his hands. The side looked dejected come the final whistle and the late try concessions with several poor missed tackles will have a furious video analysis inquest. European Challenge Cup comes at a good time for Connacht but the side have not kicked on since the Munster derby win. Disappointing.
Kudos to Michael Bradley and Zebre Rugby management this season. Given the circumstances at the start of the season, the season has progressed well. They have being increasingly competitive against the Irish provinces this season and the hope is that this upward curve will continue into next year. In Canna, they have a ten who is capable of changing games.
Munster gave van Graan a comfortable home debut win
36-10 says everything about this contest. Munster took advantage of an early Ospreys sin bin to score two tries which setup the platform for a bonus point win.
Ospreys again showed glimpses of promise but defensive lapses and unforced errors proved costly. Sam Davies kick into touch which went out in the full early doors was the prelude for what was to come.
Tougher tests ahead for Munster but this was a fixture to run the rule over Sam Arnold and the three quarter rose to the occasion with an excellent display, great line break in the lead-up. Cleote was superb again at seven.
Given the lack of options in the thirteen position for the visit of the Leicester Tigers, Arnold surely will given the thirteen jersey locked and one hopes from a Munster standpoint that the player again rises to the occasion.
Sweetnam was prominent throughout and his try was opportunistic in nature capitalizing on a loose ball. The pack were efficient as they took advantage of the absences in the Ospreys pack due to international commitments.
Ospreys have already started to plan for next season. Scott Williams and now Aled Davies will be in Ospreys jerseys next season, progressive moves. Davies’ switch from Scarlets will be observed closely and whether he can fill the boots of Toulon bound Rhys Webb.
Munster saw out the final quarter having to perform defensive duties. Ospreys to their credit continued to play until the final whistle and were rewarded with a late consolation try. The hosts will monitor the fitness of Simon Zebo during the week while Liam O’Connor is out for an extended period due to injury.
James Lowe announces himself to Leinster fans
Leinster Rugby recruitment should take a bow after seeing the cameo of New Zealander James Lowe in their bonus point victory at Benetton Rugby.
Lowe had a superb debut. His game management, vision, speed and physicality at times were too hot for the Italian side to handle. An interesting team selection poser beckons for Cullen and Lancaster next weekend as the player scored a brace of tries, looks to have fitted in seamlessly to the system already.
Leinster Rugby will be delighted with the result. Patience was the key and virtue in this encounter as Benetton Rugby resolutely tackled and kept their defensive shape for the opening hour.
However, with an ever increasing tackle count and a sin bin to boot, Benetton Rugby were simply to unable to sustain their defensive shape and Leinster Rugby were clinical in their execution.
Ringrose looked sharp throughout, lovely side step for his try. Lowe trusted his power and pace to easily evade the hosts defense out wide for his try. Excellent work from the Leinster pack before these tries.
Benetton Rugby have progressed well but Saturday’s result shows where they have to compete with the likes of Leinster Rugby. Half back consistency is key; solid game management and realizing when to launch back line plays at times were absent at times during this performance.
The back line creativity is also an issue, some interesting individual line breaks but little support for the ball carrier. The pack were industrious but the penalty count started to rise as the tackle count rose at the end of the first half. A work in progress.
Leinster Rugby now focus on the Exeter Chiefs in their home / away reverse fixture. A decisive set of fixtures for Leinster Rugby. Exeter Chiefs coming into the game on a good run of form with a road trip against Saracens and emphatic win over Bath Rugby. A potentially potent opponent, the pack will be well warned. Fireworks will be expected.
Hidalgo-Clyne inspires Edinburgh Rugby to victory
An emphatic victory for Edinburgh Rugby on the road in Port Elizabeth. They did not give the Southern Kings a chance to settle in this contest with the fixture pretty much in the books by the end of the first quarter.
As mentioned in my preview blog, Edinburgh Rugby needed to negotiate the early exchanges and they certainly did that and more as the pack dominated early doors. McKenzie, Mata and Gilchrist all scoring tries benefiting from Kings indiscipline within the first twenty minutes.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne dominated the final exchanges, scoring a hat-trick of tries and converted all his tries to boot. Twenty-one points haul for the scrum half whose form on this road trip to South Africa has being nothing short of sensational.
A miserable evening for the Southern Kings. The statistics of the fixture make for horrendous reading. Only 144 meters gained and over 600 meters to their visitors. The side needs to reflect and come back stronger next year. This South African side is struggling all ends up.
Toyota Cheetahs keep in touch with a hard earned win over Scarlets
Bloemfontein is a Guinness Pro 14 fortress. The Toyota Cheetahs continue their sublime home form with a 28-21 win over a gallant Scarlets side.
This was an evenly matched contest through. The statistics showed every little in the contest and so it proved during actual game time.
The difference on the night was Craig Barry who scored two excellent efforts, speed of thought key to the scores along with sensational pace to evade the covering Scarlets just after the hour.
Scarlets responded well. Ioan Nicholas produced a stunning solo score of his own, the youngster showing a clean pair of heels to the Cheetahs back line before Jones added the extras to make it 23-18.
Barry was not to be denied and he crossed for his second try of the evening, all about the pack as they worked through the phases before Barry took control of the lose ball to score.
Scarlets pressed for another response but could only score a penalty to get a loser bonus point. Toyota Cheetahs are the real deal in South Africa and are a playoff contender.