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 4 (Saturday Fixtures Preview)

Home wins the order of the day

Isuzu Southern Kings vs. Glasgow Warriors

A successful 100% win South African tour for Glasgow Warriors should be secured with a bonus point try win over the hosts who have shown resiliency but ultimately have being outgunned in the pack and skill set department. Glasgow Warriors have rotated their squad around for this fixture, still look strong enough to win this contest. Seymour set to have a keynote game. 

Connacht Rugby vs. Scarlets

A fixture which I am looking forward to. It is a must win for Connacht Rugby after a road loss to Edinburgh Rugby last weekend; discipline and pack platform must improve for the hosts to upset Scarlets who will look to consolidate their solid start to the season. Connacht Rugby welcome Robin Copeland into the pack and with several Scarlets first team regulars out of this fixture, is this a potential game which Connacht Rugby can win? Connacht to win only if they produce a smart, disciplined game plan performance; otherwise Scarlets could run riot out wide. Slight edge to Connacht Rugby as the weather improves here on the Irish West Coast. 

Dragons vs. Zebre Rugby

A key game for the Dragons and the long term managerial tenure ambitions of Bernard Jackman. Dragons have looked well exposed this season; their loss to Leinster Rugby was tough to watch as Leinster Rugby systematically broke Dragons defensive system to shreds. Zebre Rugby will arrive to Rodney Parade in good confidence; a superb late win over Cardiff Blues last weekend at home the standout performance last week. Zebre Rugby will realize that their discipline and fundamental set piece execution have to be on point and provided that they are not far behind at the interval should win this contest in a close, tense affair. Dragons to win need to drastically improve and I do not see the improvement required for this game in just seven days!

Leinster Rugby vs. Edinburgh Rugby

The standout fixture this weekend until I saw the Edinburgh Rugby team lineup; several pack first team regulars missing and with a strong Leinster Rugby team announced, can only see one winner. Edinburgh will look to restrict quick Leinster Rugby ruck ball but to be honest, Leinster Rugby are so good in changing the focus of attack that the pack may score a couple of tries from mauls. Leinster Rugby with a late bonus point try win. 

Ospreys vs. Benetton Rugby

A tricky fixture for Ospreys to negotiate today as Benetton Rugby with fourteen players scored four tries on the road to the Scarlets last weekend. Ospreys must be careful when they look to become expansive. Ospreys should have their first team regulars back and that could be decisive in the final outcome. Benetton Rugby will show well again but I think Wyn Jones, Tipuric, North and Williams’ cameos if selected will steer the hosts home.

Guinness Pro 14: Round 3 (Friday Night Fixtures)

Crunch playoff fixture at Independent Park

It might be only the third round of the tournament but a couple of key fixtures are up for decision tomorrow night. Munster Rugby play host to Conference A table toppers Ospreys while Connacht make their first road trip of the season to Edinburgh Rugby who will be desperate to secure their first win of the season. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Must win game for Munster Rugby? 

Munster call some of the big guns to the lineup

Fans of this blog (I know there is a few of ye out there) will wonder on the headline but it is a key fixture for Munster Rugby. A loss to Ospreys this weekend will see the Irish province at a minimum nine points or a maximum ten points behind Ospreys after three rounds. In a conference where Glasgow Warriors look destined to make the early season pace, it is imperative for Munster Rugby to reduce the gap to Ospreys, a key rival in the playoff race this season.

Ospreys come into this game with a 100% record. An opening day fixture win at home to Edinburgh Rugby was thoroughly deserved, a game which exploded in the last quarter and saw George North return to the Guinness Pro 14 with a debut try; some things never change. They backed this result with an emphatic dismantling of Cheetahs last weekend; the side were expansive with ball in hand throughout and the pack dominated throughout. 

Munster Rugby come into this fixture looking to redeem themselves after a torrid league loss to Glasgow Warriors last weekend. Glasgow Warriors were well deserving of their victory and will rue not adding a bonus point to the 25-10 win late on. Munster Rugby struggled in all facets of the game, struggled with game tempo and cohesion particularly in the opening period and unforced errors were plentiful for video analysis sessions in Limerick at the start of this week. 

I was eagerly looking forward to this game; podcast which will appear later tonight predicted a standout fixture but I cannot but feel short changed by the Ospreys team selection. I wanted to see Ospreys have a real cut off Munster Rugby but leaving Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Dan Lydiate, Aled Davies, Owen Watkin, Bradley Davies, Dan Evans, Scott Williams or captain Justin Tipuric is a kick in the solar plexes for the tournament organizers and the crowd which will assemble in Cork tomorrow. 

Munster Rugby’s team selection is interesting in stark contrast. A seasonal bow for the likes of Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Chris Cleote and Peter O’Mahony. Darren O’Shea gets the opportunity to stake a claim in the second row along with Tadhg Beirne; a second row partnership full of physicality and mobility. A solid back line containing Goggin and Arnold which should see plenty of ball considering the Ospreys lineup provided that Duncan Williams is quick with his distribution. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby

A fixture which looks a home win banker considering the personnel changes in the Ospreys side. Disappointing not to see the likes of Tipuric, Jones and North feature but what can you do. Ospreys obviously identifying other fixtures to use these players. Stuart Berry officiating may add an unpredictable element to proceedings particularly at the set piece but Munster Rugby should have more than enough to win this contest. If not and the alarm bells will start to ring loud and clear for van Graan. BP win. 

Edinburgh Rugby in must win fixture territory

Win vital for Edinburgh Rugby

A late heartbreaking loss to Ulster Rugby last weekend has left Richard Cockerill and his side backed into the corner. The penalty award at the death from Stuart Berry was debatable and Cooney’s penalty was the final act in a game which Edinburgh conspired to lose after being 13 and 15 points up at two different periods of the contest. 

This fixture will reveal the resiliency in this Edinburgh Rugby side. There were standout phases of play last week; superbly worked tries and Simon Hickey was on point off the tee throughout. The issues were the defensive and disciplinary lapses which allowed Ulster Rugby back into the contest. Edinburgh Rugby could not handle the attacking threat of Addison last weekend; his running coming into the line caused havoc and provided superb platform for the rest of the Ulster Rugby back line unit to flourish. 

It will be interesting to see the adjustments (if any) have being made this weekend by Edinburgh Rugby. Watson, van der Merwe and Johnstone come back into the first team lineup with Bennett and Mata out of the squad entirely due to injury. Hamilton switches to eight to compensate for the loss of Mata. An abrasive pack on show which will look to dominate and look at the line out as a source of success. Connacht beware!

Connacht Rugby head into their first road trip fixture on the back of an excellent win over Zebre Rugby last weekend. Five tries scored with defensive improvements seen. Paul Boyle was a standout performer along with Blade. The set piece was decent even though the line out misfired particularly in the opening period (inclement weather a factor). 

The Connacht Rugby team sees a seasonal debut for Kieran Marmion and bench impact is assured from Bundee Aki on his opening cameo too. The front five is rotated with O’Donnell and Dillane coming in. Niyi Adeolokun slots onto the wing for Cian Kelleher. 

Verdict: Edinburgh Rugby

Nothing better to focus the mind than an opening home fixture, a must win to get the season back on the road. Murrayfield is a tough venue to get a result and I worry for Connacht Rugby in the pack exchanges as I expect Edinburgh Rugby to attack the line out and scrum from minute one. Connacht Rugby will look for the game to be expansive as possible but I think the result is the objective for Edinburgh Rugby and Cockerill will instruct his side to keep it tight until the game is secured in the final quarter when an explosive back line will express themselves. Connacht Rugby to have good moments and after a few nervy moments, Edinburgh Rugby to win by seven points.

Guinness Pro 14: Round 2 Reflections (Saturday)

Round Two. This is not the time for any teams to panic but there are grounds for concern particularly for the Cheetahs who shipped yet another heavy loss; hopefully they can bounce back in the upcoming rounds. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Benetton Rugby Renaissance

You have to start with the story of the weekend. Benetton are top of Conference B and what a dramatic way for the Italian side to do so. It looked like so near, yet so far hitting eighty minutes. Cardiff Blues down to thirteen players with Benetton Rugby deep in the visitors half; the composure shown to setup the scrum and timing the pass out wide to perfection for Ioane to score the try is a sign of the progression in the ranks, last year they would have botched the chance. Allan’s conversion was sweetly struck; the crowd roar was enough. An incredible result for Benetton Rugby and Cardiff Blues are left to rue more woe in the final quarter. 

Ospreys impress but big concerns for Cheetahs

Ospreys needed a hit out this weekend and Cheetahs were the perfect opposition to increase confidence in their creativity and line breaking ability. The performance was professional and this game was done well before half-time. Jones and Tipuric were the standouts with George North continuing to impress with ball in hand (another try for the winger). 

The pace of the Ospreys was all too much for Cheetahs in the third and fourth quarters with points leaked at an alarming rate. All facets of play looked sharp (despite the opposition) but Aled Davies at nine is a key squad addition.

The departure of Rhys Webb was a big position to fill but Aled Davies has provided speed in distribution around the ruck area. Ospreys will enter the fixture with Munster Rugby with good confidence. North’s threat out wide is providing a x-factor for the Welsh region; great to see the player back in the Pro 14 league. 

Connacht Rugby off the mark

32-13. Andy Friend and management enjoyed their first win in the league with a convincing victory over an ill-disciplined Zebre Rugby outfit. Played in slippery conditions, Connacht Rugby started on the front foot and after an early Carty penalty started to vary their attacking game plan. 

Blade was particularly impressive; sharp in passing distribution but his ability to pop up out wide to pick up attacking breaks was prominent in the early try scores. Paul Boyle continues his early season promise with two good tries, a player who has emerged well in preseason.

Zebre Rugby’s discipline was at times erratic at best; four quick penalties in the first thirteen minutes of this contest told the tale and it was no surprise that two of their team were sent to the sin early in the second half when the referee finally lost patience. 

Connacht Rugby won the sin bin period (15 vs. 13) by only 7-3; another moment where the hosts let their opposition off the hook but Zebre Rugby fatigue from this period was seen in the tries scored by Griffin and Adelokun. 

The set piece at times was a mixed bag in the opening period; a couple of poorly executed line outs in good attacking positions will be reviewed by the hosts but this fixture was to get a win on the board; mission accomplished and next up is a road trip to Edinburgh Rugby who are under the gun to get their first win of the season next weekend. 

Dragons but only just

The good, the bad and the ugly was seen with the Dragons in their 27-22 win over Isuzu Southern Kings at Rodney Parade. A great opening period saw two good tries scored and all looked good; the back three pace and speed causing Southern Kings massive issues. Griffiths and Moriarty looking the part in the back row. 

There is a good young talent in this side but the lack of composure in this side is never too far away. Rhodri Williams’ yellow card saw the visitors score two quick fire tries as Dragons defensive organization went to pieces; the half-time whistle could not come quick enough. From a position of dominance, the hosts were only 17-10 up and was quickly chalked in the third quarter. 

The contest in the balance saw the experienced squad players come to the fore thankfully for Bernard Jackman and management and Lewis’ cameo in the third quarter was instrumental to victory; a good try and conversion giving the breathing room required as the Southern Kings again probed at the death. 

An opening season win for Dragons but there are plenty of improvement areas to address. Southern Kings were resilient but better teams will rip through their pack and ten channel as the season progresses. A match which exposed both sides’ weak points. 

Scarlets win but Leinster Rugby close

It was a close call for Scarlets as the Leinster Rugby juggernaut started to gain momentum in the last quarter. Scarlets had to summon all their defensive and breakdown nous to secure their opening league win. 

Ken Owens was inspired for Scarlets; the early try should have set the platform but McFadden / Lowe responded with excellent tries. The game ebbed and flowed throughout but Gareth Davies try looked to open game for the hosts but back came Leinster Rugby with Ruddock crashing over for Leinster’s third try. Cue frantic closing exchanges. 

No disaster for Leinster Rugby; a loss yes but the fight and spirit of the team again spoke volumes. The Irish international players who were in the team got quality game minutes; the only issue is the second row options. Toner, Ryan, Fardy and then you are looking at the options. Nagle, Kearney, Molony need to push on this season for Leinster Rugby. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 1 (Friday Fixture Preview)

Roll on the new season!

The wait is finally over. The eve of the second Guinness Pro 14 tournament is upon us; an intriguing off season with several clubs acquiring potentially astute signings. The season kicks off on Friday night with three fixtures up for decision. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to predict the opening night winners and losers. 

Can Cardiff Blues upset Leinster Rugby? 

A tricky opening night road trip fixture for Leinster Rugby to negotiate. The reigning Guinness Pro 14 champions will be without numerous first team starters who played for Ireland in the Australian summer tour. It is an opportunity yet again for the squad to impress.

Leinster Rugby’s team sheet sees a debut for the physically imposing Joe Tomane in the three quarters where he will be partnered by Rory O’Loughlin who will look to kick on after an excellent season with the Irish province last term. 

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have named the promising Caelan Doris at eight. It will be interesting to see how the Ireland U20 star fares in this opening fixture with the likes of Max Deegan eager to get back into the first team fold. 

Huge onus will be on Scott Fardy to provide the experience and leadership in a front five which will sees Tracy, Bent, Molony in the ranks. Rhys Ruddock captains the side in Johnny Sexton’s absence. The back three have a point to prove and Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne and leading try scorer in the league last season Barry Daly will look to get their season off to a solid start. 

Cardiff Blues will look to kick on after an incredibly positive second half of last season culminating in the European Challenge Cup final win. This final win should increase confidence within the camp and head coach John Mulvihill will look for the likes of Ellis Jenkins to provide key leadership this season with the shock retirement of Sam Warburton.

The hosts name a solid side for this opening fixture. Arhip and Thornton with debuts for the club after their moves from rivals Ospreys. Arhip in particular looks a shrewd signing; the Moldovan is an efficient scrum operator. The workhorse Nick Williams will be asked to setup primary platform ball, looking to smash Ross Byrne in the ten channel. 

Cardiff Blues half back pairing looks quality. Williams and Evans forged a successful partnership last season and if they can establish quick ruck ball, their back line has the ability to put Leinster Rugby under massive pressure. Halaholo and Lee-Lo have the perfect mix of creativity and physicality and this can only be good news for Harries (on debut), Lane and Morgan to impress with ball in hand. 

Verdict: Cardiff Blues

Tough encounter beckons, expect tries from both sides given the personnel in the ranks but Cardiff Blues know that they need to start this season much better than last year and I edge this encounter to the hosts as Leinster Rugby cohesion issues will surface in the back and pack units. Leinster Rugby to secure at least a loser bonus point. Pressure is on Cardiff Blues to win this fixture. 

Quality match-up at the Liberty

A potential standout fixture with several standout players on both team sheets and the victor tomorrow night will look with confidence going into the early season fixture list. 

Ospreys’ were made to pay for a poor start to last season; the departure of Steve Tandy who was replaced by Allen Clarke sparked a revival in the second half of the season but defeat to Ulster Rugby in the end of season playoff means European Challenge Cup this season. 

Ospreys have made several astute signings. The key marquee signings were Scott Williams (Scarlets), George North (Northampton Saints) and Aled Davies (Scarlets). Tom Botha (Cheetahs) has the potential to be a dark horse signing this season. All players make their debut for the club. 

The hosts have named a strong pack. Alun Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies provide experience, leadership and set piece efficiency. The back row is stacked with talent as Tipuric, King and Lydiate will look to disrupt Edinburgh Rugby quick ruck ball. 

The key area of interest is the half-back partnership for the Ospreys. Webb and Biggar have departed. Aled Davies and Luke Price start the post Webb / Biggar era and it will be interesting to see how the new half back partnership fare. Sam Davies on the bench will look to make an impact if this unit does not fire early doors. 

Edinburgh Rugby were the most progressive side of the tournament last season (close call with the Cheetahs). Richard Cockerill and backroom staff have really impressed; there is a winning culture at the club and they have not being afraid of cutting players who fell below the standards expected of a professional rugby player, not looking at anyone in particular John Hardie. 

The Scottish side name a strong side for this opener as well which makes this fixture so mouthwatering. Debut cameos for Scott, Hickey, Pygros, Schoeman and Luke Hamilton. Hickey in particular has the potential to provide that extra creativity required to get Edinburgh over the line in key playoff fixtures. Duhan van der Merwe will look to push on after a superb debut season in the league.

The pack looks experience with quality performers throughout. McInally, Berghan, Toolis, Gilchrist and Mata will be tested to the maximum by the Ospreys pack unit; the breakdown battle has all the ingredients to be explosive. Luke Hamilton will be a player to watch this season for Edinburgh; abrasive work rate and ability around the fringes. 

Verdict:

A very close fixture to call. There are going to be some exceptional back and pack battles on show. The key duel is the half back contest and siding with the experienced Edinburgh combination. Cohesion issues will be apparent early but there should be some excellent passages of play. Both teams have the ability to secure bonus point tries such is their threat out wide. Nip and tuck but Hickey looks the key man here for the visitors. 

Zebre Rugby look a solid bet

The transfer in and outs for each side is usually not that remarkable in the Guinness Pro 14 league typically but the rate of turnover in the Cheetahs and Southern Kings is astounding. Just the twenty-two departures for the Southern Kings who floundered badly in their debut season last year. 

I am looking at the starting lineup and the word cohesion and game time leaps out. Thirteen new faces in the squad and six of those will be in the squad with full-back Michael Botha, lock Schalk Oelofse and flanker Henry Brown in the starting XV as JC Astle, Ulrich Beyers and Luphumlo Mguca are named amongst the replacements.

Zebre Rugby have invested in their squad for the new season. Eleven signings to the squad and four of those look to make an impact off the bench. Francois Brummer, Massimo Ceciliani, Giosue Zilocchi and Apisai Tauyavuca are all primed to make their debuts in a Zebre jersey.

Michael Bradley given the circumstances last season has done an excellent job as head coach; last season was to provide structures and foundations to build on this season. The hope is that Zebre Rugby can compete well in the majority of the league fixtures but easier said than done! 

Verdict: Zebre Rugby

This is a game where Isuzu Southern Kings personnel changes and lack of playing time together will be exposed. Zebre Rugby have a more solid squad and starting lineup and I expect Canna at ten to control tempo and game management to allow their back line to secure a bonus point win. Kings hopefully compete here but the signs look grave even at this early stage. 

Guinness Pro 14 Round 21 Review

No genuine drama from the last round of league fixtures. After Ulster Rugby failed to beat Munster Rugby at Thomond Park, Edinburgh’s ticket to the playoffs was confirmed. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action in Wales, Scotland and South Africa.

Congratulations to the Toyota Cheetahs on securing their playoff spot with a 20-29 road trip win over Southern Kings who scored early with a Dukisa try. Banda then increased the lead for the hosts with two penalties until the Toyota Cheetahs hit a quick three try salvo in the second quarter. Marais , Schoeman and Cassiem all crossed over with excellent offloading and support running which the Southern Kings struggled to stifle. The game was well and truly up despite the Klaasen try straight after the break. Cheetahs were able to control the game in the final quarter to close out with comfort.

This is an superb achievement for the Toyota Cheetahs and great news for this tournament. The Cheetahs were off the pace in the first few weeks of the season but they have built a formidable fortress in Bloemfontein and their expansive brand of rugby has won many admirers this season. With fast track conditions, they will travel to Scarlets in confident form. The missed tackle count will have to improve (23) but they will relish the dry conditions and Scarlets need to be careful on how expansive they go against a team who have the skill set to beat you from anywhere on the pitch. Superb coaching work from Rory Duncan and staff!

The 1872 Cup was won by Edinburgh Rugby on a special night for anyone associated with the club. The night where they were confirmed as the third team in Conference B to participate in the playoffs, confirmation of their participation in the European Rugby Champions Cup next season. A magnificent coaching performance from Richard Cockerill and coaching staff to turn the fortunes of the side. Edinburgh Rugby have always had the talent and potential but consistency was a core issue.  The side have produced consistently high performances this season to deservedly clinch their place in the playoffs.

This local derby was abrasive and physical with several eye catching moments. Edinburgh’s composure was tested early with the early Glasgow Warriors try from DTH van der Merwe but their response was emphatic as Johnstone crashed over evading two Glasgow Warrior players enroute. Further questions were asked when Gibbins crossed over but again the hosts leveled with a robust Lay finish from close range and then not to be out done Duhan van der Merwe powerfully scored on the stroke of half-time to give the side 21-14.

Glasgow Warriors did look to get back into this encounter with another DTH van der Merwe effort on the sideline and Edinburgh Rugby were forced to defend for long periods in the last ten minutes. Each player to a man tackling on point and disrupting Glasgow ball from the ruck. Several key breakdown wins in the last five wins sealed victory. A huge morale booster for the side and the fact that they reclaimed the 1872 Cup is a perfect tonic heading into the playoffs. The most improved side of the league this season come to Thomond Park next weekend with no fears and will look to prey on Munster Rugby’s playoff failures.

A late gasp drop goal from Dan Biggar secured victory for the ever improving Ospreys side against Cardiff Blues. A game which ebbed and flowed throughout; several standout moments of creativity. Jones’ try was a perfect case study of this point with an excellent line break from Jeff Hassler before the ball made its way to Alun Wyn Jones who touched down out wide.

Cardiff Blues produced a stunning response when Anscombe scored the try of the day. His ability to evade Ospreys defenders sublime as he ran from halfway to score a sensational score. The Blues then suddenly had their second try as Smith collecting a good grubber kick from Steve Shingler to dive over.

Ospreys determination to get back into the game was seen in the second half. Biggar scored a superb effort; quality finish from close range when Cardiff Blues defensively looked to have the situation well in hand. Biggar added the conversion to make it 20-20 to setup an exciting finish.

It suddenly was becoming the battle of the tens from the kicking tee. Anscombe slotted over a tricky penalty to gave Cardiff Blues the lead again only for Biggar to level again with another penalty. Cue the end of the game, good composure from Ospreys to create the phases to put Biggar into position and the drop goal was on point. Ospreys held out for another morale boosting win.

Cardiff Blues enter European Rugby Champions Cup next season but no playoff rugby this season. Their focus turns to the European Challenge Cup final against Gloucester Rugby in Bilbao. Ospreys’ form in the second half of the season has being excellent; they will enter their key playoff tussle with Ulster Rugby with confidence. A place in the European Rugby Champions Cup is on offer. Massive reward if victory is earned!

Scarlets shook off the European Cup blues with an emphatic bonus point win against Dragons who were out gunned in all facets of play. As soon as Elias emerged with the ball for the opening try, things looked ominous for Bernard Jackman’s charges but the Dragons stayed in touch until half-time. The second half was a different story entirely.

A penalty try was awarded to the Scarlets as Dragons scrum was struggling; several scrum resets eventually causing the match official to lose patience with the Dragons. A quick brace of tries from the marauding Tadhg Beirne spelled the end of the contest and the bonus point try. Evans put further gloss on the scoreboard with a late try.

Scarlets enter the playoffs next weekend and face a dangerous home fixture against Toyota Cheetahs. Dragons’ season is now over. A season of transition and the second half of the season had plenty of setbacks. Recruiting needs to continue to supplement the talent at the club. Dee, Landman, Wainwright, Amos, Hewitt and Kirchner.

However, the discipline and defensive lapses have plighted their season. Missed tackle count was high (24) and this has being a really sore statistic this season. The pack have had positive moments but this reward was not seen on the scoreboard, allowing opposition to get back into contests.

Zebre Rugby have earned Italian derby bragging rights with a deserved road trip win over Benetton Rugby. A closely fought encounter as Benetton Rugby scored first with a good cohesive move involving Tebaldi and Allan to unleash Sgarbi to score.

Zebre Rugby absorbed the pressure from the hosts and then built their attacking platform in the second quarter. Violi (34) slotted over a penalty after concerted attacking phases and then Zebre Rugby went into the dressing rooms ahead with Sisi crashing with the pack once again prominent in the maul.

A quick try after the break from the impressive Canna (44) was a well worked score. Zebre Rugby sucking in Benetton Rugby defenders to allow space to be created for Canna out on the sideline. The pivotal score of the game as Benetton Rugby were now forced to chase the game; credit to the hosts after Sgarbi scored another well worked try and Allan slotted over.

However, Zebre Rugby were not to be denied. A composed pack performance from Michael Bradley’s side setting up several penalty opportunities. Violi slotting over three penalties to make the game safe. A quality win from Zebre Rugby and one that should be a blueprint to winning further games in the league next season. A season of transition; a season where Zebre Rugby have provided good moments and identified players capable of representing the Italian team. Biagi, Bellini to name but a few.

Eighteenth league win for an Italian side in the tournament is a new record. Additional progress and improvement is required from both Italian teams and hope springs eternal here. Good fundamental structures are being built in Italy via underage and at professional club rugby structures. Whether Michael Bradley is around to see the progress next season is another story; a man who may be subject to speculation on a couple of head coaching roles over to Ireland. Time will tell!

Guinness Pro 14: Round 21 Preview

Round 21. The final round of the regular league season has arrived. The organizers perhaps have missed a weekend on scheduling but more to that later in this blog. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

The South African sides start the final round on Saturday afternoon. It is a fixture which the Toyota Cheetahs have a vested interest in. A win against the Southern Kings will secure playoff rugby and a road trip to either Leinster Rugby or Scarlets depending on which side finishes second in Conference B.

Toyota Cheetahs will be disappointed with their second half performance against Munster Rugby. Team indiscipline providing Munster Rugby with penalty opportunities which were slotted over in the second half. It was a disappointing result considering the opening period performance where the Toyota Cheetahs scored two well worked tries. Tian Meyer very prominent in game management and passing game.

Southern Kings have had a season to forget; the crowd attendances coupled with some heavy losses this season has provided a massive reality check for the franchise. They need to recruit well in the off season which starts next week. Their win against Dragons is their video reel moment of the season. It needs to be more next season.

Local bragging rights but one side has all the motivation to win this contest. Toyota Cheetahs to take this win with a bonus point try secured well before the final quarter. The back line of the Cheetahs with the likes of Venter, Small could have standout days in the statistics front. Kings to compete need their front eight to come to the party; difficult to see this happening.

This derby is about one person and one person only. This is the last Connacht Rugby playing appearance for the legendary John Muldoon. The Portumna native signs off from the Sportsground after 327 games with the province. Muldoon has being at the club through thick and thin. He has experienced the highs and lows. Define commitment, honor and leadership, look no further than John Muldoon who joins Bristol Rugby (Bears)  next season!

An intriguing subplot to this game is how Leinster Rugby will approach the game. After their emphatic win against Scarlets last weekend, will Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster decide to rest front line players? I am expecting a mixed team selection from the Conference A leaders. They need to top their conference and would expect a couple of marquee players to feature. Lowe, Larmour, Daly come into the reckoning. Ruddock, Deegan, Molony perhaps coming into the pack. it will be a side with intent and Connacht Rugby need to produce a top performance to sigh off Muldoon’s playing career with Connacht Rugby with a win.

Connacht Rugby team selection should be along familiar lines to recent weeks. O’Halloran, Healy and Adelokun should provide pace and threat in the back three. Aki surely starts at twelve, questions abound on who will partner the Irish international. Robb, Farrell or Griffin (if fit) could come in. Marmion and Carty form the half-back partnership which will play behind a pack whose mobility and passing threat will be a threat. Dillane needs to produce a stellar game here for Connacht Rugby and for the Irish rugby neutral. The Kerry man has had a difficult season and needs a good performance here to show Irish management of his worth.

Interesting game. I thought before round twenty that Connacht Rugby could potentially win this contest but due to Benetton Rugby’s win against Leinster Rugby, the stakes have being raised. Leinster Rugby will look to continue their impressive form and for a couple of fringe players, a chance for redemption after some indifferent performances. Connacht Rugby to provide entertainment but their defensive shape will be exposed more than once this weekend. Leinster Rugby to win this game narrowly.

Scarlets travel to Rodney Parade to face a Dragons side who need a win desperately. No league win in this calendar year; several near misses which have exposed squad depth and game management issues at key junctures. Bernard Jackman and team have endured a miserable second half to the season and need a win here to sign-off with some optimism heading into the off-season.

Scarlets were given a lesson last weekend; their pack were negated from the breakdown as Leinster Rugby’s clear out work was sublime. Scarlets team selection will be interesting; expect several personnel changes but with a chance of top spot in Conference B, Wayne Pivac may decide to play the likes of Evans, Parkes, Williams to provide the go forward ball required.

Dragons to start this contest with gusto but a lack of attacking nous not to put points on the board will be exposed. Scarlets will eventually wear the Dragons pack down and it is a road win for the Scarlets. I am not sure if this will be enough to secure conference top spot but a good performance will do wonders for the side after last weekend’s performance at the Aviva Stadium.

Bernard Jackman and club player recruitment needs to be deep for next season; otherwise he is under pressure to keep his job next season!

This is an intriguing fixture. Cardiff Blues fresh from their Pau win last weekend have an outside chance of securing a top three playoff berth. Ospreys have secured fourth place in the conference and face a playoff match in the coming weeks.

Clarke has being rewarded for a good interim period as Ospreys head coach and takes the reins full time from next season. Ospreys have played with energy, work rate and creativity during his tenure. Dan Evans a standout from full back. The pack have improved their cohesion where Wyn-Jones and Davies have provided stellar second row play.

Cardiff Blues were immense in their breakdown work last weekend. Navidi and colleagues did a proper job on Pau. Evans at ten game managed well. The side were disciplined in their defensive play and they were a threat in the back three. Eighty minutes from European Challenge Cup glory; players fighting for squad berth places. Nice problem for Blues management to have.

A game which has the potential for tries. Edging this encounter to Ospreys as Cardiff Blues may not be as fresh with their efforts from last weekend. Blues have secured their European Rugby Champions Cup berth, a great season for the side after a shaky start. Ospreys will look to build momentum ahead of their playoff tussle to secure European Rugby Champions Cup as well.

The tournament organizers have missed a trick on the scheduling of this encounter. Ulster Rugby still have a chance of securing a top three Conference B finish. The game kicks off at 17:35 PM GMT. Edinburgh Rugby kick off their fixture at 19:45 PM GMT. Edinburgh Rugby will know exactly what need to do before kick off, a shame that the organizers could not put both fixtures on at the same time and see if any drama could be created.

Munster Rugby look vulnerable in this fixture. Another disappointing European Cup semi-final loss, a loss where the game was taken out of reach before the Irish province could hit a decisive blow. It is going to take time to reflect, repair the bodies and the mental scars after this outing so the Munster Rugby side will comprise mostly of squad players; a fixture where Munster have already secured a second place in Conference A.

Ulster Rugby come into the game knowing that they need realistically a bonus point try performance. Their side will be pretty much full strength. Best and Henderson looking to lead from the pack while Cooney, Piutau will look to provide the game management and threat out wide to secure this fixture objective.

Munster Rugby’s side should be exciting, expect the likes of Dan Goggin, Stephen Fitzgerald, Mike Sherry to get game time. Grobler will come into the equation along with Wycherley in the second row. The back row should see personnel changes too with Oliver set to get game time along with Copeland. Ulster Rugby need this win more; they will win this game but top three looks remote given the fixture scheduling.

Benetton Rugby finish off a promising season with a local bragging rights fixture against a Zebre Rugby side whose have shown good promise at various parts of this season. Benetton’s confidence will be sky high after their road trip win against Leinster Rugby. A win which was truly merited. A win where both pack and back line units contributed. Allan’s try to win the game was fitting to win any contest.

Michael Bradley’s side edged past Dragons but had an emphatic win over Ospreys last time out. Their spirit and work rate are not in question and Bradley has identified a couple of promising Italian players who could step up to the international side. Biagi, Bellini look like genuine finds this season and credit to the management for given these players the confidence to express themselves.

Benetton Rugby have had the edge on these derby games. It would be good for Benetton Rugby to consolidate their end of season performance with another solid performance. The side were on point against Leinster Rugby and their composure in dealing with Tebaldi’s yellow card in the final quarter was superb.

50/50 game until the third quarter when the benches are sprung and Benetton Rugby look to have the better weapons to make an impact with the likes of Budd and McKinley in the ranks. Benetton Rugby to win this contest in a season which should be the springboard for both sides to go to higher heights next season.

As mentioned, it was a shame that tournament organizers did not schedule this game at the same time as the Munster / Ulster clash. 19:45 PM GMT kickoffs would have provided a nice contrast, teams scoring tries, league table permutations, maybe next year hey!

Edinburgh Rugby are the progressive team of the league this season. Their performances from late October have being excellent; their win against Glasgow over the festive period was a real marker of their intent to make progress in this competition.

Cockerill and management have done a stellar job and identifying cohesion in the pack and back units. Berghan, Gllchrist, Toolis have being standouts. Hidalgo-Clyne experience at nine. Duhan van der Merwe and Blair Kinghorn have shown massive upside in their back line play. Dougie Fife as well has shown well.

The key question here is Glasgow Warrior’s mindset on this fixture. They are top team of Conference A. Will they rest key players for the playoffs? Their first team charges faced Ulster Rugby last weekend and their performance fell well short of the standards set in this competition this season. Defensive line speed inconsistencies plagued their performance last weekend and Ulster Rugby took full advantage.

Motivation is with the hosts here and I think they will edge this encounter. A loss here without a loser point and Ulster Rugby get a top three berth in most dramatic fashion but I don’t see this happening. Edinburgh Rugby will be focused on what is required; no external pressures, just go out and perform. Glasgow to provide good moments but Edinburgh to secure the win here.

 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 20 Review (Friday Night Games)

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.

 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 20 Preview (Friday Night Games)

A pivotal weekend of action awaits several teams this weekend. In Conference A, Glasgow Warriors have an opportunity to secure playoff home field advantage with a win over a misfiring Connacht Rugby outfit. Munster Rugby travel to the Bloemfontein to face a Toyota Cheetahs who know that a win will close the gap considerably on the Irish province setting up a fascinating last round of games in the regular season.

In Conference B, Leinster Rugby can pretty much stamp their home field playoff berth with a win at home to improving Benetton Rugby while Scarlets travel to Edinburgh looking to get pace. Ulster Rugby still harboring ambitions of playoff rugby realize that nothing short of a bonus point try win will suffice against a progressively improving Ospreys side. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

A key fixture for the hosts at fortress Scotstoun on Friday night. The mission is pretty straightforward; a victory over a Connacht Rugby side who are out of playoff contention means securing a home field semi-final in the playoffs.

Dave Rennie has named a strong side for the fixture. Finn Russell must make do with a place on the bench as Peter Horne will be the out-half for the evening. The pack looks strong and abrasive with Brown, Gray and Fagerson featuring.

Connacht Rugby are buoyed by the news that Tiernan O’Halloran is free to play after his disciplinary case was dropped today. Kieran Keane has named a reasonably strong outfit with Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney included. The pack looks pretty much first choice as John Muldoon is kept in reserve for a third quarter onslaught.

Given the motivation of both sides, the verdict goes to the Glasgow Warriors who have the potential to create massive defensive holes in a Connacht defense which has shipped 30+ points in their last two outings. Line break defensive lapses all too common.

Connacht Rugby will hope that their pack can provide a platform and allow the likes of Aki, McKeon, Robb to create the line breaks to allow the likes of Matt Healy the opportunity to impress. This game is primed to be an open contest (weather permitting) and Glasgow Warriors have enough depth on the bench to provide fresh impetus with a bonus point try win and home field playoff advantage secured.

This is the key fixture of Conference A this weekend. A win for either side will have massive repercussions in the race for the other playoff berths in the conference. A Toyota Cheetahs win will mean that Cardiff Blues will no longer be able to secure the third playoff place and as a result close the gap considerably on Munster Rugby who know victory themselves will secure the second playoff spot and a home quarter final playoff fixture. A Munster Rugby win will give fresh hope to Cardiff Blues to secure that elusive last playoff spot as well.

The team selections are indicative of where both teams are at in this juncture of the season. Johann van Graan has omitted several big star names with Racing 92 and that European Rugby Champions Cup semi-final looming large in the horizon. This has given an opportunity for the likes of Scott, Grobler and JJ Hanrahan to secure game time and perhaps give management food for thought when announcing their squad for next weekend in Bordeaux.

The hosts have surprised many with the announcement of Johan Goosen at fly-half. This is effectively his first game of the season. The player left Racing 92 under a cloud of controversy and it will be interesting to see the player in action tomorrow night. A player with all the attributes; solid game management, good kicking game and ability to pass with efficiency. This is a nice squad addition for the Toyota Cheetahs ahead of the playoff push. Niel Marais moves from ten to twelve and provides a nice balance with Venter in midfield. Marais’ kicking game will complement the hard running style of Venter.

The weather conditions will play a factor in the outcome of this contest (apparently rain in the forecast). Munster Rugby will look to play a structured game and with the inclement weather conditions, the offloading game may be risky to execute from the hosts.

However, the altitude factor will kick in the second half and Toyota Cheetahs for me have the edge. Their ability to win games late in recent rounds at home will continue as they narrowly beat a gallant Munster Rugby effort. No bonus point try given the weather conditions. The kicking game will be interesting to watch! It will go for miles and bounce of the ball could be factor. Excited to watch this one!

This is a golden opportunity for Ulster Rugby to push massive pressure on Edinburgh Rugby who play Scarlets on Saturday afternoon. A game where Ulster Rugby and home faithful will surely unite and produce a stirring performance and atmosphere respectively.

There is a lot to like about side’s performances last weekend. Ulster Rugby went on the road and were given zero chance of beating Edinburgh but they won emphatically securing the bonus try bonus point. Ospreys continued their good run of form at home with a comprehensive beat down of Connacht Rugby in round nineteen. Their attacking play exposing Connacht Rugby at regular intervals where Hassler wrecked havoc.

Can Ulster Rugby produce another solid consistent performance? Their pack was on point last weekend and more of the same is required against an Ospreys pack unit who have progressed well in recent game with their set piece and open play. Best, Henderson and Deysel need to provide the platform early; otherwise Ospreys will feel confident of doing the league double on the Irish province.

This is a huge game for Ulster Rugby. Given the negativity surrounding the club in recent months, it is now time to produce a performance to lift the gloom over the Kingspan Stadium. The back line selected looks fast and dynamic if given quality ball. Interesting to see how McPhilips and Cooney counteract Habberfield and Biggar who have being excellent in recent games.

A huge game for Ospreys too who harbor ambitions of European Rugby Champions Cup action next season. Eight points behind Cardiff Blues with a game in hand. A win here would put pressure on the Blues who play Southern Kings away on Saturday.

50/50 game here. If Ospreys can quell the early Ulster onslaught, think the half-back of Habberfield and Biggar may have the edge on the hosts half back pairing to edge this game for the Ospreys. If the predictions come off, then it will be curtains for Ulster’s chances of securing playoff rugby and a season in European Rugby Challenge Cup beckons.  A disaster considering their attempts to recruit a head coach at this time!

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!