Zebre Rugby 7 – 32 Munster Rugby

Munster secure the bonus point win

When the season review DVD if released by Munster Rugby next year, this game is probably going to be quickly mentioned in order to move onto other more exciting season defining fixtures. Munster Rugby secured a bonus point road trip win over Zebre Rugby in extremely energy sapping pitch conditions in Parma. Hawkeye Sidekick reports on the action. 

Difficult pitch conditions 

Let us be brutally blunt; this fixture and the manner of the exchanges were wholly determined by extremely difficult pitch conditions. Both sides adopted conservative game plan approaches in the opening period with the hosts starting the game with vigor as Munster Rugby did not commit to the breakdown battle, instead look to rip ball when the opportunity presented itself. The chief tormentor for Zebre Rugby in this facet of play was Arno Botha whose physicality in the tackle was causing unforced errors for the hosts. 

Zebre Rugby good start snuffed out

A good start from the hosts suddenly evaporated as Munster Rugby started to go through their phase play. Neil Cronin and the late call up Bill Johnston playing game smart rugby with good kicks to the corners, forcing Zebre Rugby to go through the phases deep in their own half. It was not long before Munster Rugby would strike the front as Fineen Wycherley crossed over impressive to touchdown after several keynote pack ball carries. Bill Johnston added the extras. 7-0 after seventeen minutes. 

Munster dominate the second quarter

The Wycherley try took its toll on the Zebre Rugby personnel. Michael Bradley and management forced to make a number of substitutions due to injury. Munster Rugby were controlling the gain line battle and with the half-backs and Tyler Bleyendaal making the right calls to secure territorial advantage and forcing more Zebre Rugby unforced errors in their own half. 

Munster Rugby thought that they had a second try as impressive phase work saw Coombes jinx past his defensive player to offload to Alex Wootton who with the try line at his mercy lost control at the vital time. It was a temporary lapses as the visitors scored a second try down the right channel. Kevin O’Byrne who impressed today with ball in hand, gaining good yardage crossed over with a solid running line from close range. More Zebre Rugby injury woe as the tackler of Kevin O’Byrne had to go off with a knee injury. 

Zebre Rugby were under the gun and a penalty award just inside their half was emphatically punished by Bill Johnston with an unerring penalty kick. 0-17 at the break. Munster Rugby in the ascendancy and the expectation of more points in the second half. 

Listless third quarter

The expected points avalanche in the third quarter never materialized as the game became severely disjointed and unstructured. Both sides guilty of unforced errors and Munster Rugby perhaps guilty of not pushing the fixture more for a more cautious approach. The highlight of the third quarter was a handbags incident on the Munster try line as Zebre Rugby started to gain momentum in the maul and were held up just short. Conor Murray diving on the ball to prevent the try sparked players on both sides having a push and shove; more to keep warm given the bleak conditions in Parma. 

Zebre Rugby score but Munster finish strong

The hosts were enjoying their best spell of the game in the third quarter; the pack were starting to enjoy advantages in their own line out and maul, yielding a couple of Munster Rugby penalties. Their pressure and persistence being rewarded as Giammarioli spectacularly dived over for a try despite the best efforts of Conor Oliver. Brummer slotted over the conversion. 7-17 with fifteen minutes left to setup an intriguing end to a dreary contest. 

Munster Rugby though regained their territorial dominance and with Zebre Rugby starting to tire, a penalty was conceded. Rory Scannell slotted over the three points and this setup the crescendo for the visitors with two tries in the final ten minutes. Ronan O’Mahony alert as ever for an opportunistic try as Zebre Rugby floundered in dealing with a kick in behind from Tyler Bleyendaal. A game finishing score; Zebre Rugby deflated. 

The final quarter saw Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal take control of affairs; both used their experience to play the percentages and send their pack deep into Zebre Rugby territory. More indiscipline from Zebre Rugby with five minutes to go providing the platform for Munster Rugby to launch one last attack to secure a bonus point try. Good work from the Munster Rugby pack setting up Murray to identify Rory Scannell on the sideline, skip pass taking out two Zebre Rugby defensive players for the center to score. 

Reflections

Munster Rugby were patient and conservative throughout; they played the conditions well and forced Zebre Rugby unforced errors at a regular period. The return of the likes of Conor Murray, Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute and Conor Oliver a pleasing sight for the Irish province with the busy festive period looming large. The young players in the squad continue to impress. Wycherley and Coombes were standouts in the pack with their work load. O’Byrne continues to impress along with Bill Johnston.

The role of Tyler Bleyendaal at the three quarters was key to providing key territorial gains today as the New Zealander continues to get the game minutes to improve his performances. A good hit out for Munster Rugby on a mud bath pitch. Five points secured and second place in the Conference A further consolidated. Move on and focus on the home fixture to Edinburgh Rugby. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 9 (Friday Night Fixtures)

November squad depth chart key

The end of the November test match series sees all sides this weekend having to go long and hard into their squad depth charts. The first three fixtures with full strength sides at their disposal would be marquee fixtures but there is something a little underwhelming about this round with so many marquee players away on international duty. The organizers need to rethink their strategy on this part of the season; devaluing the tournament and for the South African sides, they have had to bide their time for more game time action. 

Glasgow Warriors look primed for another home win

Cardiff Blues come into this fixture minus several the services of their Welsh international contingent. Yes, Jarrod Evans and Seb Davies are back after being released by the Welsh international side but this is not the fixture to throw youngsters into the mix which is what the Blues have done here. Glasgow will look for open field and with a devastating back line on paper named, it looks and feels like a bonus point try win for the Warriors to secure further distance from the rest of the Conference A chasing pack. Glasgow’s side looks solid despite the international break. 

Leinster Rugby look to youth against Ospreys

Youth is the keyword coming from this Leinster Rugby team sheet. Penny makes his debut in the back row containing Doris and the much vaunted Josh Murphy. Scott Fardy captains the side and will look to Noel Reid and James Lowe in the back line to provide leadership and experience to a young back line featuring O’Brien and Keenan. This is a fixture where Ospreys must stand up and be counted. Their performance against Munstera Rugby was a low point and a repeat display will see a Leinster Rugby rout. Giles on the wing will be interesting to watch. I am expecting Ospreys to produce a performance this time around but whether they are good enough to beat the home side loaded with potential and talent off the bench is a tough question to ask. Leinster Rugby by three points. 

Scarlets get the nod against Ulster Rugby

A keynote game in Conference B. Both sides depleted by international test matches. Ulster Rugby’s team side is loaded with youth and talent out wide so it is imperative that Cave and Ludik are included to keep the young charges composed on this road trip. The pack for Ulster Rugby looks solid and will test the Scarlets pack missing several keynote players such as Davies, Thomson and Macleod. The back line though is where this result may be decided. McNicholl from full back oozes pace and power coming into the line and think Scarlets will just nick this result; conscious of the fact that a victory will see Scarlets open a gap on Ulster Rugby. Ulster to come away with a loser point but their road trip woes are set to continue. 

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 Pro14: Munster Rugby 25 – 24 Glasgow Warriors

Thriller at Thomond Park

Munster Rugby secured a vital Guinness Pro14 campaign victory over Glasgow Warriors at a cold Thomond Park, but there was nothing cold about the exchanges throughout as these two sides’ rivalry came to the surface in a feisty affair. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Crunching Physicality 

From the first whistle, this fixture exploded into life. There was not even a minute on the clock when there were handbags in the middle of the pitch. Peter O’Mahony as you would suspect was close to the action and this close combative exchange style was the key theme. 

Both packs did not give an inch in this encounter, each unit celebrating a penalty win like it was a cup final win. The tackling and clear out work was incredibly physical and for the pundits who reckon that rugby has gone soft, a video reel footage viewing of this action should be watched in pronto time. An excellent pack tussle which showcased the league in a positive manner. 

Munster Rugby score first

The hosts scored first via James Cronin. The try was preceded by a superb running line game play from JJ Hanrahan who identified Keith Earls’ run to perfection. The Moyross native stripping Glasgow Warrior’s first line of defense with devastating pace. The forwards then took on the mantle and Cronin crashed over with the assistance of John Ryan. 

Munster Rugby then threatened to score another try soon after. Horne tackled in his goal area; the five meter scrum that ensued lacked composure and Glasgow Warriors alleviated the pressure. More Munster Rugby pressure then saw Glasgow Warriors dramatically score their first try of the evening. 

Glasgow Warriors hit back 

There appeared little danger from a Munster Rugby perspective when Alby Mathewson decided to kick the ball down the tramp lines deep into Glasgow territory but the one thing you do not do against Glasgow Warriors is drop your defense guard and it proved fatal as Rory Hughes launched the attack with a sweeping pass out wide realizing that the Munster Rugby back three cover was exposed. George Horne with superb supporting running to score a quality score. 

The Scottish side were not finished and more incisive attacking play saw the impressive Nick Grigg stride clear with ball in hand; another massive line break and with Munster Rugby’s inside defense stretched to breaking point due to the decision of Sam Arnold to come out of the line with disastrous results. George Horne again was on hand to receive the offload from the impressive Grigg who tallied 109 meters in just nine carries. 

Munster Rugby suddenly were like a boxer who had suffered a crunching body blow, they were on the ropes and looking shaky in their defense shape. Glasgow’s quick clear out work providing the perfect platform for the Horne brothers to terrorize the Munster Rugby defense. The Scottish side secured their third try when Fagerson crashed over after sustained pressure on the Munster Rugby. The try scored immediately after Chris Cloete was sin binned for taking out a Glasgow Warriors supporting player after Ruaidhri Jackson was adjudged not to have grounded the ball. 

The bonus point try was secured for Glasgow Warriors in superb fashion. As Munster Rugby tolled, the penalty count suddenly came an issue. After more concerted pressure on the Munster Rugby line, a deft kick from George Horne found his brother Peter Horne to collect and touchdown. The celebrations from the Glasgow Warriors spoke volumes; BP secured at Thomond Park and surely a long overdue road trip win over Munster Rugby. 

Munster Rugby Respond

Prior to the Glasgow Warriors fourth try, there were some signs of life within the Munster Rugby camp. The second and third periods saw Munster Rugby not create significant line breaks in phase play. It was down to JJ Hanrahan to create a line break himself, spotting the gap and striding thirty meters to the try line. No Munster Rugby supporting line runners so JJ was held up short. Penalty was the end result from the play. 

Munster Rugby threw the bench on in the last quarter hoping to change the direction of the game. Arno Botha provided a key boost for the side and home support with a lung bursting forty meter gain line break. This got the home crowd back into the contest and not all after Alex Wootton was crossing over after resilient play from the Munster Rugby pack building phase after phase, one out runners used to try to breakdown a resolute Glasgow defense. Numbers game saw Wootton get over. Keatley who had replaced JJ Hanrahan missed a difficult conversion but Munster Rugby were back in the contest. 

Dramatic final minutes

15-24 with ten minutes to go but Munster Rugby had the bit between their teeth and more pack power saw the hosts deep in Glasgow Warriors’ territory. The decision was to keep it tight, keep working the tackle count of the Warriors, keep probing for defensive gaps.

The pack set the platform and after several impressive carries from the front five, Alby Mathewson spotted a gap and touched down. Keatley converted the extras and a fixture which looked forlorn for Munster Rugby suddenly was back in the melting point. 22-24. Seven minutes left. 

Credit to Glasgow Warriors for the next five minutes. They worked the phase count and took advantage of indiscipline in the Munster Rugby ranks. Niall Scannell high hit looked a decisive moment as Glasgow’s pack looked to run the clock down but when a Glasgow player was exposed on the ground, Peter O’Mahony like an eagle swooped in to win his side a penalty just inside Glasgow’s half. What would Munster Rugby do? Call out for the kicking tee. Rory Scannell would have a pop. Final play of the game. 

The center has had a mixed week; surplus to requirements from the national team squad roster. The versatility of the player is incredible; his kicking game is on a par with any twelve in the country. The breeze was blowing across the field, a difficult long range effort but the Cork native kicked the ball with conviction and it cut through the posts. 25-24. Eighty minutes. Munster Rugby somehow had won this contest. 

Reflections

A win created by sheer determination and fight to not surrender the result, play until the final whistle. Munster Rugby can never be accused of those traits and the win is a decisive one in the context of the league. Glasgow may have secured two points tonight but Munster’s late kick gives them breathing space from Connacht Rugby and Cardiff Blues. 

The Munster Rugby performance was a mixed bag like last weekend. The kicking game was average at best; some aimless kicking which gave superb field position and attacking opportunity to Glasgow Warriors to impress. The defensive shape at times was ragged; the second quarter performance lacked organization defensively and video analysis for Sam Arnold on the second Glasgow Warriors try will be tough viewing. 

Attacking game plan is a work in progress; one out ball carrying was the order of the day with little support running options for the ball carrier. The static running lines of last weekend were improved this weekend but there are definite areas of improvement for van Graan and management to address. 

Glasgow Warriors showed why they are top of the conference. Despite missing several first team players, the squad’s ability and skill set is so high. Their ability to offload, creating gain line breaks with astute passing and running lines was in pale comparison to Munster’s blunt pack orientated ball carrying approach. Dave Rennie will be pleased with the bonus try performance but disappointed that they could not hold out for the win. 

The Glasgow Warriors pack performance tonight was feisty, physical and abrasive. This is the blueprint for the rest of the season from this unit for the rest of the season if Glasgow look to harbor ambitions of winning any silverware. This particular rivalry has gone up a further notch after tonight; no Christmas cards will be exchanged by these sides but it is a rivalry which the league must now embrace and showcase to the full.

Guinness Pro 14: Round Six Statistics (Ireland Interprovinicals)

Connacht and Leinster supremacy

Better late than never! A compelling set of statistics to mull over ahead of European Cup action. Connacht Rugby and Leinster Rugby feature prominently in this latest stats report out for the starting lineups. 

Tackles Made: 

Tackle Count

The most telling statistic from the past weekend of interpros was the tackle count from the victors. Jarrad Butler led the way with a whooping twenty-five tackles. The Leinster Rugby back row juggernaut as always were prominent with Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock and Sean O’Brien all in the top ten chart. 

Ball Carries:

Ball Carries

The one thing you cannot say about Ulster Rugby last weekend was that they played for the full eighty minutes. These ball carry statistics illustrate this point as McCloskey, Stockdale, Henderson and Nelson fill the top four positions in this statistic. Munster Rugby enjoyed several periods of dominance despite their loss to Leinster Rugby and Niall Scannnell (15), Andrew Conway (15) and CJ Stander (13) lead the Southern province in this regard. James Lowe had a superb game for Leinster Rugby and his eleven ball carries were devastating scoring two tries in the process. 

Meters Gained: 

Meters Gained

The battle between McCloskey and Aki in midfield at Kingspan Stadium was sensational and these meters gained illustrate that both players gave as good as they got from the other. Jacob Stockdale looked sharp throughout and his seventy-three meters gained bodes well for province and international teams. Special note for Paul Boyle who had another outstanding performance with ball in hand. Sixty-nine meters gained and his prominence in ball carries was a key asset to Connacht Rugby in their long awaited win away to Ulster Rugby. 

Passes Made: 

Passes Made:

Statistics are a bit skewed given the early departure of Marmion and Gibson Park from their respective fixtures. Cooney’s passing statistics have being high all year, another huge effort in this facet of play. Carbery’s passing frequency showing his intent to launch his outside backs at every opportunity in comparison to Ross Byrne who ran a solid game plan at ten. No need to push the passes given the early lead established over Munster Rugby.

Guinness Pro14: Leinster Rugby vs. Munster Rugby Preview

Old rivals clash at the Aviva Stadium

Leinster rotate as Munster name strong side

O’Brien returns

It is a massive compliment to Leinster Rugby that the side they have named this weekend is so loaded with quality given the personnel changes from last weekend’s decisive win over Connacht Rugby. 

Conscious of the six day turnaround between this fixture and their European Cup fixture against Wasps next Friday night, Cullen and Lancaster have decided to rotate the squad. 

Sexton is omitted from the match day panel with Ross Byrne slotting into the fly-half position. Sean O’Brien starts his full game for Leinster Rugby this season at eight; a nice positional switch to run the rule over the Tullow native and whether he can provide depth chart support in this position. 

The pack is fundamentally altered as the front row is completely replaced. McGrath, Tracy and Bent come in and James Ryan is included in the second row. The back row sees Josh van der Flier (sub), Jack Conan (omitted from the squad) replaced by Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien. Massive squad depth in the back row unit. 

The back line is also changed with Robbie Henshaw and Rory O’Loughlin coming into the three quarters to replace Garry Ringrose and Joe Tomane. The back three sees Rob Kearney win his 200th cap for the province and will have Fergus McFadden and James Lowe on the wings. A potent outfit. 

Near Full Strength Munster need to deliver

Near full strength for Munster Rugby

Munster Rugby have had a wretched season thus far on the road. Two comprehensive losses to Glasgow Warriors (round two) and Cardiff Blues (round four) has the side on alert not to produce another dismal performance away from Thomond Park or Irish Independent Park. 

On the face of it, this is as near full strength a side that Munster could name. Murray continues to be a long term absentee (injury unknown). The pack is loaded with international talent and no doubt Peter O’Mahony will be keen to highlight the post-game comments of Reggie Corrigan last season who asked whether Munster Rugby players had given everything to the cause in this fixture last year. 

This is a fixture that Munster Rugby must turn up and deliver a performance. There are intriguing battles everywhere on the pitch; effectively a national team trial on Saturday evening. The pack battle looks tasty. A mobile and physical Leinster Rugby front five comes against a Munster Rugby pack who have the likes of Kleyn, Beirne in their ranks. 

The half-back battle also looks interesting. Ross Byrne will relish the challenge of Joey Carbery tomorrow. Carbery has provided some memorable cameos in open play but tomorrow will be about game management and decision making has to be on point tomorrow. Byrne is such a solid operator. Joe Schmidt will be keenly observing developments. 

The three quarter battle as well looks potential exciting. We all know about Henshaw and his quality but it is a good opportunity to see the other players in this position. Rory O’Loughlin is highly rated in the Leinster Rugby ranks and another chance of shine tomorrow. Munster Rugby have gone for youth and it is good to see Dan Goggin and Sammy Arnold getting a massive opportunity to impress in such a marquee fixture. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby (narrowly)

Munster Rugby need to deliver a performance and win this fixture tomorrow. Leinster Rugby with their team selection have slightly opened the door for the Southern province to come into the Aviva Stadium and win this contest but it will require Munster Rugby to be clinical in the fundamentals. A loss here and Munster Rugby’s season could be dealt a massive blow ahead of European Cup action. 

Leinster Rugby will execute to a high level; the focus is whether Munster Rugby can do that and more. Munster Rugby look to have more potent weapons to come off the bench but their record against Leinster Rugby has being wretched. I thought Leinster Rugby would win this before team selection but the team news has shifted my mind to Munster Rugby but it will be a narrow, narrow win. Carbery needs to step up to the plate. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round Six (Ulster Rugby vs. Connacht Rugby Preview)

Irish provincial derby at Kingspan Stadium

This is an important fixture for both Ulster Rugby and Connacht Rugby respectively with European games looming large on the horizon; momentum is required for both sides after disappointing results in round five. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the fixture. 

Connacht Rugby have not won on the road in Guinness Pro 14 action since February 2018, a win on the road against Benetton Rugby. The last road trip win before this triumph was in April 2017 which is simply not good enough for a side who harbor ambitions of competing for a conference playoff spot. 

The Western province had good moments against Leinster Rugby last weekend but ultimately had to succumb as Garry Ringrose exposed more defensive line woe and Sean Cronin crashed over after dominant work from the Leinster Rugby front five. Connacht Rugby tried hard but their attacking game plan was stifled and without alternate game plan in the offing, Leinster Rugby absorbed the tackle count and when the opportunity arose, won penalties when Connacht Rugby players advanced without the proper support. A reality check for Andy Friend and management on the level required to compete at the top table. 

Connacht Rugby’s team news sees the return of captain Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle and Sean O’Brien to the back row. Tom McCartney comes in at hooker with Dave Heffernan injured and Matt Healy returns to the back three. A solid outfit for this local derby fixture. 

The loss at Thomond Park last weekend looked a likely result when the team selection was submitted but the scoreline (64-7 loss) is a reality check for Dan McFarland, backroom staff and playing group ahead of this fixture. A record club loss and a response is required.

There were some positive passing phases but the defensive line was exposed at will out wide so video analysis was tough going at the start of this week. The withdrawals of John Cooney and Iain Henderson from the action was a decisive point in proceedings as squad depth limitations surfaced at a rate of knots. 

The team news sees several personnel changes. Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale make their long awaited club debuts this season; a timely boost for the province. Stuart McCloskey replaces injured Darren Cave in the three quarters and there are more pack changes as Tom O’Toole (prop) and Marcell Coetzee (back row) come into the starting lineup. 

Verdict: Ulster Rugby

Connacht Rugby’s away form is horrendous and the loss to Edinburgh Rugby saw similar traits; high penalty count, losing the territorial battle and having to work long and hard in the tackle count. For Connacht Rugby to win this contest, Marmion and Carty need their front five to create the platform in the set piece to launch their exciting back line. A mixed bag last weekend from the pack unit and I think more of the same this weekend.  

Ulster Rugby team have to respond after that embarrassing defeat to Munster Rugby. The home fans at Kingspan Stadium will demand a good performance ahead of the start of the European campaign and with the personnel changes to the team, this looks like a home win banker. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 5 Reflections (Munster Rugby vs. Ulster Rugby)

Munster Rugby rout

If you listened to the Clan Terrace View podcast before this contest, I was concerned for Ulster Rugby. The lengthy injury list, the players not making the trip to Thomond Park and then you add Iain Henderson and John Cooney to that injury list after the first quarter of this contest, it was a case of how many Munster Rugby would win by. 

A game which does little for either side ahead of upcoming pressing fixtures. Munster Rugby still have yet to face an opponent at home with the strength in depth to seriously test them for the full eighty minutes. Ulster Rugby after a great start to the season lose and by a record defeat to boot. Morale took a serious knock last weekend; management and players need to regroup fast. 

What can Munster Rugby take from the game? The side played with extremely high tempo and their opening quarter salvo was too much for their visitors; O’Donnell and Goggin scored a brace of tries in that opening half with some fragile Ulster cover defense on show but both players were lively throughout. 

The scrum half position for Munster Rugby has being a problematic equation to solve in recent weeks. Cronin looked good in the opening home fixture win but then got injured. Hart out as well and suddenly without Murray, the position looked weak in the depth chart. Cue Alby Mathewson to arrive to the squad at the most opportune time. Mathewson’s cameo was refreshing; his vision and quick delivery from the ruck to Carbery gave Munster Rugby’s attack an added dimension not seen so far this year. 

Carbery at ten was given an arm chair ride throughout but his passing and kicking range was to the fore. His try showed his pace and ball handling skills superbly. The only negative was the Darren Cave try; missed the tackle on Cave for the try; his defensive cover will be fully tested with a swift return to Leinster Rugby next weekend. 

The second half performance saw Ulster Rugby had some genuinely good passing phases; they passed more (230 vs. 202), they had more turnover (18 vs. 13) and made less tackles (147 vs. 189) but Munster Rugby were clinical when given opportunities in the red zone. The missed tackle count from both sides would not be good enough to win most games (25 from Ulster, 20 from Munster). 

A win is a win for Munster Rugby but yet another daunting road trip awaits in Leinster Rugby at the Aviva Stadium. Munster Rugby need to turn up and produce a cohesive performance. If it gets the win, great but the pack and back line cohesion on both sides of the ball is what I am looking for next weekend ahead of a trek to Exeter Chiefs in Europe. 

Ulster Rugby. A side who will regroup. A key tussle against Connacht Rugby next weekend should see several first team players return but the defensive organization and question marks on the front row set piece could be exposed in the weeks to come. Ulster Rugby need to respond, otherwise the positive start to the season could quickly descend into a downward spiral. 

Munster Rugby vs. Ulster Rugby Highlights

Guinness Pro 14: Round 5 Reflections (Connacht Rugby vs. Leinster Rugby)

Leinster show class and determination in derby win

The post game comments of Connacht Rugby head coach Andy Friend summed up the performance from the hosts; they huffed and puffed but they never looked like blowing the Leinster Rugby down. 


“We tried a lot mate. We tried to go through them, we tried to go around them, we tried to sneak around rucks and go short side, but they seemed to have an answer for everything. Our kicking game last weekend was very good. Sometimes you have to understand when you’re getting beaten on defense when to turn them. That’s something we’ll talk with our game leaders about. We never stopped trying, but we’ve got to be smarter.”

Andy Friend

A game that Leinster Rugby fielded their strongest team possible given the need to manage players ahead of the derby clash to Munster Rugby and European Cup action (six day turnaround) was a resounding success for Cullen and Lancaster. The side absorbed all that Connacht Rugby could throw in the opening period before then working the scoreboard with an emphatic second half display. 

It was an arm wrestle in the opening period which spelled bad news for the hosts. Leinster Rugby were patient with ball in hand and forced Connacht Rugby to concede penalties; fifteen penalties during the eighty minutes is more evidence for Andy Friend and management that discipline is an issue in the side (without referring to the red card in the final quarter). 

Sexton and Leinster Rugby’s ability to change tact was seen in the second quarter; took points instead of persisting with looking to score a try from the maul (that came after). The side have exceptional composure to survey the game conditions and make the right call. Sexton tacked on two penalties to cancel out Jack Carty’s opening period penalty to provide Leinster Rugby with the platform to build on in the second half. 

Leinster Rugby snuffed out Connacht Rugby out as an attacking unit in the second half. Connacht Rugby looked to change the point of attack but were met with a Leinster Rugby welcoming committee starting with Josh van der Flier who was inspired again. Twenty-three tackles again for the back row and the Irish international is back in the groove quickly from his knee layoff. 

Josh van der Flier was ably assisted in the tackle count by Scott Fardy (19). Jack Conan (17) and Devin Toner (14). The pack battle after a 50/50 opening period suddenly went Leinster Rugby’s favor as the maul worked a treat for Sean Cronin to crash over to secure the game win after Garry Ringrose swift foot work left Connacht Rugby defensive unit stone cold to score the opening try within a minute of the restart.

The second half saw Leinster Rugby play with authority and dominance. The ball carries of Lowe (102), Kearney (95) Larmour (78) meters gained was in comparison to O’Halloran (18). Adelokyun (15) and Farrell (54). Leinster Rugby negated the threat of Aki reducing the Irish center to only 20 meters gained on fifteen carries. Leinster’s fast defensive line was too much for Connacht Rugby on the day. 

The red card for Connacht Rugby was a sour note to proceedings. The Robertson McCoy incident will be punished to the maximum by the league disciplinary committee and I think Connacht Rugby need to look at their  prop squad depth options other than the substitute. The game was over as a contest but the actions exposed massive temperament issues from the player. Can Friend trust the player going forward? It is on shaky ground. 

Connacht Rugby have had a massive home game stand. 1/3 games won was unfortunate but the home stand has yielded positives and negatives. The positives have being the competitiveness of the side in all three games and good passing play. The lack of restart assurance and high penalty count will need to be worked on but Leinster Rugby are at a different level to anyone else.

No disgrace to lose to Leinster Rugby. Friend and Connacht have seen what makes Leinster Rugby tick and the Western province now know the work that lies ahead to get to this level.

For Leinster Rugby, it has being a satisfying round five performance. Despite the media buildup, Leinster Rugby wanted to prove a point at the Sportsground. A strong lineup and strong second half performance with Sean O’Brien getting invaluable game minutes is what is required heading into Europe.

Team selection next weekend against Munster Rugby will be interesting but the squad are playing well and with a vulnerable Munster Rugby seen so far on the road, it is hard to argue that Leinster Rugby will not come out victorious in the Aviva Stadium next weekend. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 5 (Friday Night Preview)

Two home wins look the solid bet

Two interesting contests on the books for Friday night. Cardiff Blues fresh from their emphatic victory over Munster Rugby last week entertain the Toyota Cheetahs who will hope to continue their performance from last week when they drew 39-39 each to Ulster Rugby. Edinburgh Rugby are again faced with a must win game at home, this time they face a Benetton Rugby side who have won plenty of plaudits for their performances this season. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Cardiff Blues turned the corner? 

Last week was a keynote victory for Cardiff Blues. It was a must win game for the Welsh side and they produced a superb cohesive performance to dismantle Munster Rugby. All units functioned so well and the threat with ball in hand was incredible throughout which resulted in a thoroughly deserved bonus point try victory. 

The keyword this week is consistency. Can Cardiff Blues continue to deliver a performance like last week? Can Cardiff Blues continue to play on the front foot? Can Cardiff Blues’ back row unit continue to impress in the breakdown area like last week? The answers to these questions will be key to determining whether Toyota Cheetahs have any realistic chance of securing anything from the contest. 

Cardiff Blues team news sees three personnel changes in the pack. Scott Andrews (prop), Rory Thornton (lock) and Olly Robinson (back row) all come into the side. Turnbull slots into the eight channel to replace Nick Williams who enjoyed his outing against Munster Rugby no end last week. 

Toyota Cheetahs come into the game on the back of an exciting 39-39 draw against Ulster Rugby. They could have won this contest only for a last gasp Henry Speight try, converted by Billy Burns to salvage a draw for the Irish province. There were plenty of positives for Toyota Cheetahs last week; several excellent phases of play and the pack unit look more cohesive than previous weeks. Defensively, there are still questions. 

Verdict: Cardiff Blues (BP Win)

Cardiff Blues need to keep momentum and the exciting back line named means that Toyota Cheetahs are going to be challenged on the outside channels. Toyota Cheetahs will look to run their expansive game as well but I think Cardiff Blues with Turnbull, Anscombe, Halaholo and Lane should have too much for their visitors particularly in the third / fourth quarters. Cardiff with another home BP win. 

Another must win for Edinburgh

The perils of a slow start to the season sees Edinburgh Rugby in a second successive must win home game. Scratch the result last weekend; the Leinster Rugby juggernaut in the RDS is a mission impossible for most sides this season so Richard Cockerill and management wisely rested keynote first team starters for this fixture. 

Edinburgh Rugby last weekend did compete well against Leinster Rugby; competed well in the breakdown and their ability to retain possession worked the Leinster Rugby tackle count high but they were ultimately undone by a red card and the reigning European Club kingpins took advantage. 

Edinburgh Rugby have freshened up their side and familiar names feature. Blair Kinghorn, Matt Scott and Henry Pyrgos are all back. Simon Hickey returns at fly-half at stand-off. The pack sees recalls for Stuart McInally (hooker), WP Nel (prop), Grant Gilchrist (lock), Hamish Watson (back row) and Bill Mata (eight) in the back row unit. Pretty much the first team out here and a win is the objective. 

Personnel aplenty for Benetton Rugby too. The back three has changed with Jayden Hayward (full back) and wings Ratuva Tavuyara / Luca Sperandio all starting. The three quarters sees Tommaso Iannone and Luca Morisi feature with Dewaldt Duvenage (scrum-half) and Tommaso Allan (fly-half) as half backs. 

Marco Riccioni (prop) comes into the front row as Dean Budd and Marco Fuser come into the second row.  Robert Barbieri (eight) comes into the starting lineup. Plenty of switches and Benetton Rugby are looking for a result this weekend. 

Verdict: Edinburgh Rugby

Dry conditions should see both sides look to become expansive. The pack battle edge goes to Edinburgh with the likes of McInally, Toolis and Gilchrist in the mix. Edinburgh Rugby need to be incredibly accurate tomorrow night, otherwise Benetton Rugby have shown this season they have the back field ability to cut open sides apart in open play. 

Considering both sides rested marquee names last week, expecting a close contest here and Edinburgh Rugby should edge this but if they leave points on the pitch like they did against Connacht Rugby in round three, Benetton Rugby could be in prime position for another marquee win. However, Richard Cockerill’s side get the nod for me, it is a must win; otherwise the Guinness Pro 14 season will have taken a massive nosedive.