An intriguing weekend of action with some keynote results for the Italian clubs, Glasgow Warriors punching their ticket for the playoffs already (yes, it is only February) and excellent wins for Cardiff Blues, Leinster Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby and Ospreys. Hawkeye Sidekick picks out the key moments from round fifteen.
Italian team resurgence
It is only right to start off with giving kudos to Zebre Rugby and Benetton Rugby who had excellent road trip victories. Zebre Rugby started the Italian club renaissance with an excellent performance full of work rate, creativity with ball in hand and defensively well organized.
Connacht were under par but take nothing away from this performance from Michael Bradley’s charges who nullified the hosts attacking play, stifled in the pack exchanges and with Canna on point in game management, the eight point win was well deserved. The ability of Zebre Rugby to create line breaks with subtle passing inside was evident from early doors. The disallowed opening half try was a superb passage of play and should be the blueprint for the side to progress and compete in this league.
Zebre Rugby were boosted undoubtedly by the return of their Italian contingent. Canna, Mbanda and Meyer were excellent throughout. Their performances set the tone and others around them followed suit.
The line speed defensively from Zebre Rugby was immense throughout evident in their third try. Connacht’s exit strategy blocked by impressive pressure from the Italians. A result which hopefully sees the side grow and prosper. The trip to Foto for the Zebre Rugby team last week worked wonders!
Benetton Rugby held out to beat a Dragons team who are now without a Pro 14 league win since September. The 15-18 road trip win was a case study in resolve, refusing to panic after a disappointing start to the contest leaking ten points early. The ability of the side to regroup and then scored two tries of their own in the opening period was striking.
Marty Banks has become a prominent member of the Benetton Rugby side. His experience and game management again stood out particularly in the second half when the game was in the balance. The New Zealander picked the right option in the final quarter and his sixty-five minute penalty was the game winner.
A magnificent weekend for the Pro 14 Italian clubs. This blog at times has lamented the lack of form of the Italian national side but sincerely hope that these set of results are the stimulus to provide renewed confidence and performance levels for club and country. Pro 14 tournament organizers will hope this is a key weekend for the competition; the league needs competitive Italian sides. Time will tell but this weekend has being superb for all involved with Italian rugby.
Glasgow secure playoff rugby
Congratulations to Glasgow Warriors for securing their ticket to the playoffs already. They have being superb in the league and their expansive style of play was showcased again in an exciting encounter against the Toyota Cheetahs last Friday night. Matawalu was his typical sublime best, making line breaks from nothing, offloading to colleagues with unerring accuracy in wintry conditions at Scotstoun.
Glasgow’s cohesion was on point this weekend and some of the tries were superbly created and executed. Dave Rennie’s charges ability to suck opposition players into contact to move the ball seamlessly out to the wing has being superb this season. The traits were seen again as the pack gradually wore down a determined Cheetahs outfit, breakdown work improved in the third quarter and opportunities then were created.
A marvelous achievement for all involved with Glasgow Warriors. Playoff rugby secured already, key is to keep the form consistent for the business end of the season. The squad has being decimated by international call-ups but the players who have stepped into the side have seamlessly executed the game plan.
No disgrace for Toyota Cheetahs on this performance. Like last weekend, their expansive open play saw several eye catching moments and were competitive for long periods but once the Glasgow Warriors pack asserted momentum and platform, they had no answers. Playoff rugby still a realistic aim but pack improvements particularly on the road is required.
Edinburgh strike late to secure decisive win
The manner of the victory will increase further confidence in the Edinburgh Rugby ranks. The composure at the death to control an attacking scrum five meters out from the Ulster line, the ability to control the subsequent breakdown, the ability to pass to Weir and the drop goal execution were all on point.
Ulster Rugby will rue this 16-17 loss but there was some positive facets of play throughout. The manner in which Cooney scored the opening try of the contest was excellent; swift ball handling setting up a player overlap on the wing which ultimately saw John Cooney superbly supporting the play to score.
Edinburgh Rugby have flourished in recent months under RIchard Cockerill who has the side playing a lovely brand of rugby. Abrasive, well organized yet creative when the opportunities present themselves. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne personally was a standout performer, constantly looking for weaknesses around the Ulster defensive fringes. His line break in the opening period and drubber kick for the first Edinburgh was sensational. Wonder if Gregor Townsend was watching?
The second try for Edinburgh Rugby was well worked, a superb line taken by Carmichael who continues to impress with each passing week. The second row pace and power to get over was superb and setup a scintillating last quarter which ebbed and flowed until the final whistle.
Edinburgh Rugby jump to third in the Conference B standings and are setup well to challenge for the league playoff push now after successive victories over Leinster Rugby and Ulster Rugby now. Gibbes and Ulster Rugby management know now that there is a battle to secure playoff rugby, interesting to see how the side react to this latest reversal.
Cardiff Blues pace too much for Munster Rugby
25-18 scoreline but it does not tell the full story of this encounter. Munster Rugby have being guilty of not starting well in recent fixtures albeit not punished. However, Cardiff Blues punished a very slow Munster Rugby start to create decisive daylight in the opening period to win this contest.
The two sides style of play were poles apart. While Cardiff Blues played with flair and creativity, creating line breaks at regular intervals in the opening period, Munster Rugby were incapable of making any genuine line breaks in open exchanges. Munster Rugby cohesion was well and truly off and the first two tries emphasized this point.
The first Cardiff Blues try taking advantage of slack defensive over at the line out, swift passing exchanges setting Rees away for an easy twenty meter carry which led to the opening try. The second try was a nightmare for Duncan Williams, a slow exit strategy was blocked (Marshall lax in defensive duties too) and the resultant passage of play leading to Cardiff Blues scoring their try. Williams struggled for tempo throughout and Hart’s cameo in the second half will ignite debate on the backup nine position.
Owen Lane was tipped on this blog during last week’s preview as one to watch. Lane’s incredible pace was too much for Munster Rugby’s back field for the Cardiff Blues third try. The drubber kick was superbly executed but it was all Lane in his pace and execution for the try. An immense player with ball in hand and one to watch for the Cardiff Blues going forward.
After a slow season start, Cardiff Blues have picked up key momentum in recent months. Qualification out of the Pool of Death in the European Challenge Cup has boosted confidence, which has resulted in player confidence to execute a more expansive game plan. Two impressive Pro 14 wins in consecutive weeks has Cardiff Blues well set to secure European Champions Cup rugby next season, great to see!
Munster Rugby will be first to admit that the performance levels were not at the standards expected but the second half performance was spirited with the pack improving with good cohesive spells in the set piece and maul. Cleote and Fitzgerald tries were well worked but they left themselves too much to do in the second half. The penalty from Bleyendaal at the death secured a loser bonus point, something which looked beyond them in the opening half.
Johann van Graan and management will look to address the glaring performance issues this week. They need to and more with a rampant Glasgow Warriors arriving this week for a key conference battle. A win is required but the display this week will have focused minds in the Munster camp to step up and become more accurate, otherwise face home field embarrassment.
Leinster win but Scarlets secure a losing bonus point
20-13. Leinster Rugby win the battle of the top two Conference B sides, shame that the fixture was not played with full squads. James Lowe was the standout performer in this contest. His line breaks and threat will ball in hand sensational and his two try haul in the opening period pivotal to the win.
Leinster Rugby have additional injury concerns heading into the business end of the season. Luke McGrath’s withdrawal will be monitored closely by the club and national team. Any significant layoff and Leinster Rugby squad depth at nine will be tested. An interesting medical prognosis beckons early this week on the scrum half.
Credit to the Scarlets, played with width as always and Beirne again stood out for the Welsh region. McNicholl looked sharp before his withdrawal and this losing bonus point effort could be golden in who reaches the top of the conference come end of April. Dan Jones was unerring his goal kicking at the death to secure that point. All to play for Conference B summit battle, the return battle should be epic.
Ospreys overcome the Southern Kings
Southern Kings continue to look for that elusive Pro 14 league win. On the positive side, their opening half performance was encouraging with two well worked tries but the second half saw a much more improved Ospreys pack performance to secure victory and a bonus point try to boot. Positive signs from the South African side but plenty of scope for improvement to get that elusive win.
The Ospreys pack pivotal to the home win scoring two penalty tries in the second half and the win was completed with an excellent Hassler effort whose running line was sublime. 26-12 scoreline. Ospreys will be happy with the result, the performance was a mixed bag particularly in the opening period after a promising start allowing the Southern Kings field position and game line breaks.