Friday night drama a plenty. Congratulations to Glasgow Warriors who efficiently cast aside Connacht Rugby 35-22 to secure top spot in Conference A. Munster Rugby finish their SA tour with a morale boosting 17-19 win over a Toyota Cheetahs outfit while Ulster Rugby huffed and puffed and had to wait until the final minute to secure a 8-0 win over a gutsy Ospreys side. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Glasgow Warriors emphatically secured top spot in Conference A with an opening period trouncing of a Connacht Rugby side who have a look of a side who cannot wait for the season to end. Glasgow responded to an early set concession to score three tries in the opening period. A quick try response from Hogg on three minutes opened the floodgates and Connacht Rugby defensive line as Alex Dunbar scored on twenty-six minutes and the industrious Fraser Brown crashed over after sustained pressure on the Connacht Rugby try line. Pyrgos secured the bonus point try immediately after the break. Defensive resistance non-existent. Gain line yards easily made by the hosts.
Mission accomplished. Glasgow Warriors took the foot off the gas and Connacht Rugby responded with a late Blade try but the damage was done. Glasgow Warriors were so accurate with ball in hand, great running lines for the ball carrier. In contrast, Connacht Rugby were reduced to one out ball carrying attacks and when they tried to create out wide, it was ponderous, no-one committing Glasgow defenders to tackle, all very predictable. Connacht Rugby’s twenty-one missed tackles way too high. Glasgow proceed with confidence to the playoffs. Connacht Rugby are devoid of any confidence heading into the final stretch and with a home tie against Leinster Rugby, it is a daunting finish to the season. Kieran Keane and management have issues to address!
An efficient second half display where the pack asserted a platform in the set piece combined with excellent penalty kicking secured a 17-19 win over the Toyota Cheetahs. The hosts started so well and exposed Munster Rugby in the opening period with excellent offloading. Blommetjies scoring an excellent team try on eleven minutes; good lineout possession and quick hands from Venter at thirteen to allow Blommetjies to cross over. The try scorer leaves Toyota Cheetahs for Scarlets next season; a shrewd piece of business from the Welsh region. Tian Meyer crossed over in the second quarter; quick hands creating the player overlap and Meyer had the simplest of tasks.
James Hart was injured in the lead-up to the Meyer try and enter the game changer, Conor Murray. The scrum-half was the class act of the fixture. He made his presence felt immediately with a sharp close range finish. JJ Hanrahan who had an excellent game kicked the conversion to make it 14-7 but then Munster Rugby gave three points straight back with a needless penalty. Goosen at ten slotting over, an impressive opening game for the ex-Racing 92 player. 17-7 at the break. The task for Munster Rugby looked daunting.
However, the visitors pack regrouped at the break and started to assert dominance in the set piece and open exchanges. Penalties were being leaked by Toyota Cheetahs at a rate of knots and JJ Hanrahan slotted over a couple of regulation penalties to make it a 17-16 game. Cue the monster penalty kick from Murray. The ball is still travelling in orbit such was the distance of the kick. World class strike and Munster Rugby defensively and disciplinary wise remained on point to win; a potential let off on the second scrum at the death but a win was secured.
The officiating on display was at times tragic. Munster Rugby were reduced to fourteen players (Zebo sent to the bin) for an innocuous incident. Adamson refusing to ping Cheetahs players not rolling away from the ruck, increased penalty count not yielding any warning; facets of the game which will be punished next weekend in European Cup action. A superb SA tour for Munster Rugby; good PR created for the club over in South Africa.
8-0. Ulster Rugby battered Ospreys tonight but there was a distinct lack of creativity or ambition in the attacking play of the hosts. Fifty-two minutes in and Ospreys were already on 120 tackles made but still Ulster Rugby inability to execute in the opposition twenty-two was starting to rile up the local support. Shanahan at nine looked one dimensional in game management. Cooney did not provide any kicking game when switched to ten. Lateral, players receiving the ball too deep and could not break the gain line. It was a shocking attacking display. Ospreys were defensively sound but it was very predictable attacking lines.
Timoney’s disallowed try summed up the night perfectly for Ulster Rugby. A well executed kick in behind the Ospreys defense but the lack of conviction from the back rower to secure possession allowed Watkin the time to dislodge the ball and prevent the try. 3-0 heading into the 78th minutes. Ulster Rugby fans may have being fearing the worse as Ospreys started to summon a late attacking threat. However, Dan Biggar’s pass out wide was poor and the loose ball was collected by try scoring machine Jacob Stockdale to score from midfield. 8-0. Full time.
Ospreys will rue a couple of officiating decisions that went against them. The disallowed try when Kieron Fonotia charged across the Ulster line after a turnover, but the officials chalked it off for an alleged earlier infringement by Alun Wyn Jones in the opening period was a huge call. The Hassler yellow card was 50/50 for me personally. Ospreys showed amazing resiliency to continue to defend as manfully as they did. It was an incredible effort; 186 tackles made tonight.
Ulster Rugby continue to fight for their playoff lives. The emphatic performance never materialized but the key men of the side led from the front. Best, Henderson, Deysel and Piutau were immense. The distinct lack of attacking threat will be reviewed this week, perhaps it was the enormity of the fixture which stifled creativity. Cooney’s penalty in the opening period created the buffer but this result should not have being in question given the dominance enjoyed by Ulster Rugby tonight. Gibbes struck a frustrated figure. Dwayne Peel will be shaking his head in video review. To be a fly on the wall for that attacking video review.