Guinness Pro14: Round 8 Reflections (Irish Provinces)

Glasgow and Leinster had good weekends

A weekend where the November test match series kicked into action with several sides looking at their squad depth to ensure vital victories. It was a weekend where Glasgow Warriors and Leinster Rugby extended their leads in both Conference A and B respectively. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Irish provincial success in South Africa 

The Twitter reaction to the Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby road trip successes in South Africa has me cracking up this evening while writing this blog article. Look at the sides named by both Irish provinces today, the potential in the side undoubted but there was always going to be passages of play when the cohesion with or without the ball was missing. Cue fan reactions (knickers in the proverbial figure eight). Bonus point try wins secured. Mission accomplished. 

Leinster Rugby accuracy may not have being to the armchair fan’s liking  but the 31-38 road trip win provides the Irish province with such a healthy lead at the top of Conference B. Nine points clear of Ulster Rugby and ten points clear of Scarlets in third with both sides facing the daunting task of having to secure results at fortress RDS. It is a time position to be in at this early stage of the season. The squad depth of the province shown when you see the likes of James Tracy, Scott Fardy, Dan Leavy on the pitch. They are the form side of the league at this moment in time. 

Munster Rugby secured their first road win of the league with a hard earned 26-30 road trip win to the Cheetahs. The good and the bad seen to full effect as Munster Rugby secured a bonus point try win; some great attacking play and the cameos of the back three was a real positive. The bad was the defensive meltdown in the third quarter where Cheetahs exploited big defensive gaps. The altitude was a factor but the parting of the Munster Rugby defense was seen in the previous round at home to Glasgow Warriors so something for management to look at in the coming weeks. 

Kevin O’Byrne was a standout today, put the hand up for more game time with an all action performance. The youngsters in the side did not let the side down and was delighted to see Liam Coombes cross over for a well earned try.

Mike Haley continues to settle nicely in the full back position and his running line for the game winning try was well executed. Munster Rugby secure a vital win on the road; move up to second place in the Conference A where Glasgow Warriors are well out in front and debatable whether they can be caught at this stage. Their demolition of Ospreys (albeit understrength) was a Matawalu showcase of skill and pace to score a hat-trick of tries. 

Bernard Jackman is a man under pressure

After a red eye flight back from Boston in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I headed to the Sportsgrounds in the hope of a thrilling encounter. This was an encounter which Connacht Rugby needed to come out fighting after a horrendous road trip performances to an Ospreys selection missing numerous first team stars at Bridgend last time out. The fixture was competitive for the first quarter but as soon as Connacht Rugby hit the front, Dragons’ heads dropped and a 26-0 lead at half-time to the hosts spelled the end of the contest. 

Connacht Rugby admittedly increased the tempo in that second quarter, better clear out work in the ruck exchanges with Marmion and Horowitz starting to create more line breaks as the game wore on. Horowitz produced an interesting cameo; he plays off the cuff evident in the Colby Fainga’a’s try where the Australian ten spotted a gap and created the line break opportunity. His kicking to the corners impressed me and thankfully for Connacht Rugby, there is a player who can push Jack Carty to the next level. 

Bernard Jackman stated post-game that he can see progress and improvement from his charges but the performance after the first quarter was a horror show; three deplorably blotched line breaks in the opening period which exhibited a distinct of composure on the final pass or handling is a coaching issue.

The number of tries conceded this season is sky rocketing out of control (33) and unless Dragons can secure a much needed morale boosting win next time out, there will be questions on his tenure. Dragons progression this season was expected given the high profile Hibbert and Moriarty signings but it has being anything but. Hope Jackman pulls the situation around but the skill set in his side on this weekend’s showing lacks the quality required to unlock opposition defenses at regular intervals.

Connacht Rugby win but they will rarely have an easier home contest all season. The back three looked a threat all game and the pack carries exposed massive defensive holes in the Dragons’ first line of defense. Buckley and Dillane for me stood out in the ball carrying stakes. Colby Fainga’a along with Jarrod Butler provided mobility and pace off the back of the scrum.

Horowitz has being duly mentioned and Godwin provided a timely reminder of his potency with ball in hand from three quarters. Connacht Rugby need to kick on now until the festive period; key games to get well and truly into the playoff mix now as it looks like a four way battle for the second and third spot in Conference A.

Ulster secured road trip win to Benetton Rugby

A significant result for Ulster Rugby on the road. Benetton Rugby have being progressing nicely this season and leading 7-0 at the break, the Italians would have fancied finishing off the job in the second half due to Ulster Rugby’s recent road trip woes. 

Credit though to Ulster Rugby, thought it was a very professional and efficient display in the second half. Speight’s creativity to the fore with ball in hand and the pack finally created a platform for Shanahan and Burns to launch their runners in the third quarter with tries from the impressive Reidy and Herring.  

The result was key here; the situation that Ulster Rugby found themselves in and the resiliency to get a result on the road in Italy has to be applauded. The fans made have a different perspective but this could be a key result for Ulster Rugby in the context of the playoff picture come next April. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 7 Fixtures (Friday)

Squad depth the key this weekend

After the excitement of European Cup action, it is back to the Guinness Pro 14 league action. This period will see squad depth charts tested to the maximum as the November test match series looms large. This weekend will see depleted first team lineups for the Welsh and Scottish sides in particular. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the Friday night fixtures. 

Isuzu Southern Kings vs. Scarlets 

A depleted Scarlets squad travel to South Africa to face the Southern Kings who after two weeks without match action will be eager to get off the blocks quickly. The side selected by Scarlets is good but there is potential for the Kings to expose their visitors particularly in the front five. The hosts name an unchanged line from round six, continuity retained and it is a fixture which the South African side could pull a surprising win here. Kings by less than seven points provided that their basic fundamentals are on point.

Ulster Rugby vs. Dragons 

A strong Ulster Rugby lineup has being announced for this league fixture. Dragons have no less than ten changes to the side that played in round six. The quality of the Ulster Rugby back line has the potential to cause absolute havoc for Dragons. Speight returns with Addison and McCloskey also featuring. A big day for Robert Baloucoune who makes his debut, the winger is an absolute speed merchant and could be in line for a couple of try scoring opportunities. I am fearing for Dragons here. Ulster Rugby look well placed to secure a bonus point try win ahead of the November test series. 

Zebre Rugby vs. Edinburgh Rugby 

Intriguing fixture awaits here. Edinburgh Rugby fresh from their comprehensive beat down of Toulon last weekend in Europe must refocus and get their away form sorted in the Guinness Pro 14. Zebre Rugby have had a good of their own; beating Bristol Bears at home last weekend. Squad depth in the closing quarter will be key and I think the visitors have the edge. Edinburgh Rugby to shade this by less than seven points. Mata is the key player for Edinburgh; his ball carrying providing the required platform. 

Ospreys vs. Connacht Rugby 

This is a key fixture for Connacht Rugby this season in the context of the Guinness Pro 14 season. The side selected by Andy Friend is strong with Aki, Marmion and Roux in the starting lineup. Ospreys are without numerous Welsh internationals and the squad depth will be tested in this fixture. The starting lineups would favor the visitors but their road trip form despite the Ulster Rugby win last time round have being a mixed bag. A difficult game to call. Connacht Rugby have had a wretched time at the Liberty Stadium but given the side named, pressure aplenty to get a result here. Connacht Rugby to secure a rare win in Swansea. If not, then questions will be asked of the side and the progress made this season. 

Guinness Pro 14 Round 19: Irish Provinces Review

Round 19 in the books. Several standout results to digest and review. A weekend where Ulster Rugby produced a road trip performance that showed the ability and potential of this side when their precision and work rate is on point. It was all too much for Connacht Rugby at the Liberty Stadium as Ospreys continued their recent upturn in form in emphatic fashion. Leinster Rugby were too strong in the second half for a gallant Zebre Rugby while Munster Rugby recovered from a slow start to win at George, an emotional return for CJ Stander. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

It has being a turbulent couple of weeks for everyone connected with Ulster Rugby. The much documented court case, the decision of Jono Gibbes to leave at the end of the season, the performances on the pitch not at the level required have left plenty of doom and gloom around the Kingspan Stadium but this 20-32 win at Murrayfield (even though it is probably too little too late in terms of the playoffs) provided evidence if needed this side’s ability and potential.

This was a cohesive, efficient performance from Ulster Rugby. Yes, there were lapses in concentration but the quality of their work with ball in hand was too much for Edinburgh Rugby who must be getting worried as they drop to a second consecutive loss in as many weeks.

The Irish international contingent with Ulster came to the party with gusto. Best was his dynamic best in the loose, his set piece on point. Henderson was sublime in work rate and his late try in the second half secured this much deserved road win. Stockdale’s try scoring assist with the side’s first try; a superb effort which involved quick offloading from Piutau to Stockdale who then passed to Cave to score.

The first thirty minutes of this contest was on point from Ulster Rugby. Their pack was dynamic, particularly impressed with O’Toole in the front row, a player who looks to have a good future in the game. The back line were exciting and sharp with ball in hand. Cooney game managed superbly in this period.

Edinburgh Rugby did respond well. Their pack improved in the second half and forced Ulster Rugby to concede a penalty try just before the end of the third quarter. With recent league form, many would have presumed that the hosts would have gone on and won the contest but Ulster Rugby were not to be denied. Excellent tackling and opportunistic attacking the keys to secure victory.

This is a morale boosting win for Ulster Rugby, hopefully this is a result that is the springboard for better performances down the home stretch. They are still a long shot to get into the playoff picture but if Edinburgh Rugby continue to show vulnerability in their defense, it could be evenly poised for an exciting playoff race in Conference B for that final playoff spot.

Where do you start with this performance? If you had seen my blog and podcast last week, the loss to Gloucester Rugby signaled the end realistically of the Connacht Rugby season. There was a faint hope of making the Guinness Pro 14 playoffs but that was completely extinguished by an Ospreys side who yet again produced an excellent performance at home to win 35-10.

Connacht Rugby probably knew it was not going to be their day when playing with a man advantage, they are primed to score an opening try to get back into the contest. However, Hassler picked off Eoin Griffin’s pass outside to run eighty meters and score. 6-0 now turned 13-0. Long way back.

The Ospreys back line statistics makes for sorry reading for Connacht Rugby. Evans: one try and 85 meters gained. Hassler:  one try and 181 meters gained. Beck: one try and 46 meters gained. Dirksen: one try and 33 meters gained. It was at times all too easy for the hosts as Biggar was able to pick out his back line runners with unerring accuracy as Connacht’s defensive line speed deteriorated at a rate of knots.

Ospreys’ form in recent weeks has being on point. Watkins at thirteen was excellent when introduced and the front five controlled exchanges throughout. This is a good end to the season and wonder if Clarke has done enough to secure a permanent head coaching role next season.

For Connacht Rugby, the season is over; time to review the season, give fringe players game time and look to identify better defensive organization before season’s end. Daunting task when you consider Leinster Rugby are coming to Galway before the end of the season. Kieran Keane and management have work to do! The less we say about that Connacht penalty kick attempt the better

A sluggish opening period but Leinster Rugby overpowered a gallant Zebre Rugby outfit 41-6. The weather conditions were monsoon like for good portions of the opening period but the Italians fronted up well and created a couple of key try scoring opportunities. The opportunity right on the Leinster Rugby posts was unlucky but other chances went a begging due to inaccuracy and they were made to pay.

James Lowe continues to impress; sublime ball carrier and try scoring on point again with a clinical brace (one in either half). The big players in this Leinster Rugby for me were Max Deegan at eight and Barry Daly deployed at full-back. Deegan’s two try haul was an excellent return for a display full of creativity and work rate. One of the tries was akin to Conor Murray’s Munster try against Toulon Rugby. Good game management from the back rower.

Barry Daly at times showed sublime moments when hitting the line. His speed and ability to break the gain line a prominent feature for Leinster Rugby. His line break in the opening period securing a Leinster Rugby try. The player could be a surprise option to go on the Ireland tour of Australia in the summer. Good form being shown but will he get an opportunity to impress with Leinster Rugby in European or Pro 14 playoff games? 50/50.

A game where Leinster Rugby will acknowledge was a performance that failed to fire in the opening period but the second half performance was very much on point. No significant injuries of note and a couple of squad players produced good cameos to increase management’s thoughts on the European Cup semi-final squad. Top of Conference B. All looks rosy for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s charges.

Munster Rugby’s first foray to South Africa in a Guinness Pro 14 league fixture yielded a 22-39 road trip win in George, the hometown of CJ Stander. It was a fantastic game with the venue packed for the return of Stander to his hometown. The Munster Rugby supporters were in good voice throughout.

A fixture where the defensive coaches will need to look away at the missed tackle count. The Southern Kings missed a whopping 35 tackles while Munster Rugby missed 16 themselves, quite a few tackles missed in that opening period when the Southern Kings were the dominant side.

15-3 down. Credit to Ian Keatley to game manage and get the Munster Rugby team back into the contest. His passing was on point and his gain line break setup the Stander try. Munster produced some excellent expansive moments in this contest. Scannell’s pass to Goggin was a round nineteen league video moment of the round.

Munster’s pack were now in the ascendancy in the second half and Marshall crashed over in the final quarter along with Dave Kilcoyne who capped off an excellent performance with another try nine minutes from time. The prop was destructive with ball in hand throughout and the Southern Kings struggled to stifle the influence of the UL Bohemians club man.

Five points on the road. A key result for Munster Rugby given the result at Bloemfontein as Cheetahs left it late to beat Cardiff Blues. A six point gap between Munster Rugby and Toyota Cheetahs ahead of their Friday night match-up. It will be an interesting contest in the altitude. Toyota Cheetahs will relish an open contest but sense Munster Rugby will look to produce a far more structured performance; an intriguing clash of styles awaits!