Guinness Pro14: Round 8 Reflections (Irish Provinces)

Glasgow and Leinster had good weekends

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

Irish provincial success in South Africa 

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

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

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

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

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

Bernard Jackman is a man under pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ulster secured road trip win to Benetton Rugby

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

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

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

Guinness Pro 14: Round 7 Fixtures (Friday)

Squad depth the key this weekend

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

Isuzu Southern Kings vs. Scarlets 

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

Ulster Rugby vs. Dragons 

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

Zebre Rugby vs. Edinburgh Rugby 

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

Ospreys vs. Connacht Rugby 

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

European Cup: Irish Provinces Round Two Preview

Tough road trips the order of the day

After a superb opening weekend for the Irish provinces last week (three wins and one draw), things went tougher in round two where all teams except for Munster Rugby are on their opening European Cup road trip. A weekend which should indicate plenty on how the season in Europe should pan out. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Leinster Rugby good form to continue?

Sexton on fire

No disrespect to Wasps but Leinster Rugby’s first real test in Europe will be this weekend. A trip to Toulouse is always a challenge but given how Leinster Rugby are playing currently, it is a trip which the Irish province will look with confidence. 

Leinster Rugby team news is minimal to say the least. Rob Kearney misses out due to injury so Joe Tomane slots onto the wing while Jordan Larmour if provided sufficient time and space could destroy Toulouse from full back. It is as you were for the rest of the side which comprehensively routed Wasps 52-3 last weekend. 

Toulouse won at Bath Rugby last weekend on the road. Yes, they were let off the hook by Freddy Burns’ late horror show and Toulouse will be the first to admit that they got out of jail. The weather in the South-West of France in recent weeks has being horrendous; rain aplenty which should slow the pitch down significantly.

The pack platform is going to be vital and Toulouse’s disciplinary issues after last weekend could come back to haunt them. Kaino is such a big loss, imposing back row whose tackle count and ball carrying are sensational. If Leinster Rugby are patient here, they will see joy in the third quarter particularly as Toulouse start to tire and give away penalties. 

Leinster Rugby will be asked questions out wide with the likes of Medard in the ranks but Leinster Rugby have the ability to beat you in the loose, set piece or out wide. Leinster Rugby to go away here by ten points after an opening period arm wrestle. 

Verdict: Leinster Rugby

Munster Rugby look to kick on 

Grobler on the bench for Gloucester Rugby

Saturday lunchtime kickoff at Thomond Park. An opening European Cup rugby home fixture in Limerick and the venue will be buzzing. After a good draw on the road to Exeter Chiefs last weekend in stormy Sandy Park, Munster Rugby need to kick on and get their campaign fully up and running with a full eighty minute performance against Gloucester Rugby. 

The team news is interesting. Munster Rugby have made four personnel changes for the clash. A brand new front row is a shrewd move and reward for the likes of James Cronin and John Ryan on their cameos last week. Tommy O’Donnell as well gets the nod in the back row, his ball carrying was on point last week and setup Stander’s try. 

Gloucester Rugby make two changes to the side that beat Castres at home last weekend. Grobler must make do with a place on the bench and is replaced by Ed Slater. Matt Banahan replaces Charlie Sharples. The side showed good attacking cameos last weekend with Tom Marshall prominent. 

The key point here is the pack and who creates the platform. Munster Rugby have to start at a high tempo to allow Carbery to orchestrate his three quarters. A big game is required from Dan Goggin who needs to unleash his wide men at regular intervals. Gloucester Rugby were vulnerable on the flanks defensively against Castres last weekend at times. 

A fixture which Munster Rugby know that a win is required; a bonus point is attainable provided that the home side’s basic skill set is up to standard. Gloucester Rugby will look to bed in and try to stay in the contest until the third quarter; hoping that Danny Ciprani produces moments of brilliance. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby (BP Win)

Ulster Rugby face daunting challenge 

Daunting road trip

A trip to Racing 92 and the Arena beckons for Ulster Rugby this weekend. It was a good morale boosting win over Leicester Tigers last weekend but the level of competition this weekend is a significant upgrade. 

Racing 92 will look to impose their will on Ulster Rugby in the pack battle; the set piece battle has prompted Marty Moore’s introduction to the side. Kieran Treadwell comes into the lineup at the expense of Alan O’Connor. 

The worry is the absence of John Cooney at nine. The scrum-half has being outstanding again this season. No disrespect to David Shanahan but he will put under the cosh from the first whistle, struggling to see where Ulster Rugby create in the half-back channels and Racing 92 will look to create gain line breaks at will too. 

Racing 92 back line arsenal is vast. Finn Russell should see game time and then you have the likes of Simon Zebo lurking with intent. Ulster Rugby have to be completely switched on here from minute one; tempo will be sky high and the game will be uptempo given the closed roof and pitch. 

The Parisian side for me are one of the sides which could seriously put it up to Leinster Rugby this season in Europe. A statement of intent unfortunately may be issued at home and Ulster Rugby could feel the full force despite a positive opening period. Squad depth issues will be exposed for the Irish province.  

Verdict: Racing 92 (potential BP win)

Youth and Experience from Connacht Rugby

Interesting team lineup from Andy Friend

An interesting team lineup from Connacht Rugby. The term ‘youth and experience’ abound from this team sheet. A momentous day for Fitzgerald (ten) and De Buitlear (wing) who make their starting debuts for the province. Buckley, O’Halloran and Farrell return to the side to provide experience as well. 

This is such a key fixture in the context of Sale and Connacht’s aspirations for European Challenge Cup glory. With the French sides in this pool not genuinely interested in the competition, it is a two horse race to secure top spot in the pool. 

Sale Sharks have shown their intention loud and clear with a very strong team selection. McGuigan, O’Connor, Ashton and De Klerk will provide massive attacking threat. Rob Webber and Josh Beaumont will lead by example in the pack. 

Hopefully, the rookies in the Connacht Rugby side have good afternoons but this is a tough assignment given the selection of Sale Sharks. If Connacht Rugby can get a loser bonus point, then would be a good outcome. 

Verdict: Sale Sharks 

Heineken Champions Cup Preview: Pool 4

Pool of Death

Pool 4 is loaded with talent and formidable home fortresses. Welford Road, Kingspan Stadium, Parc y Scarlets and Paris La Defense Arena. A pool which has different dynamics since the start of this season. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects. 

Scarlets must strike early

The opening home fixture for Scarlets conceivably could determine how the Welsh region will fare in this competition. Racing 92 are the visitors and this has the potential to be an epic encounter. Scarlets still are a formidable side but when you consider the likes of John Barclay, Scott Williams and Tadhg Beirne are no longer at the club and the loss to injury of Cubby Davies, it is an arduous task this weekend. 

Racing 92 come into this fixture loaded with squad talent. No doubt, Donnacha Ryan will be thrust into competition to disrupt Scarlets set piece. Finn Russell, Simon Zebo will look to continue their good starts with the Parisian club. This pool battle looks likely to go down to the final game of the pool in January. 

Leicester Tigers. A club in crisis after sacking Matt O’Connor after one game this season (yes, it was mauling against Exeter Chiefs) but surely insufficient time to pull the trigger. Geordan Murphy has taken on the interim role with mixed results. A couple of keynote wins in recent weeks has also seen reversals to Worcester (H) and Wasps (A). The style of rugby is every much a work in progress with Tuilagi and May the main threats out wide provided an over worked pack provide a platform. 

Ulster Rugby come into this competition with a lengthy injury list and a sudden reversal of form. Interpro losses to Munster Rugby (A) and Connacht Rugby (H) has checked early season optimism where front row issues have surfaced and the squad depth looking stretched to breaking point. Rory Best and Iain Henderson in the pack will need to lead by example and hope that Cooney and Burns get sufficient ball to launch McCloskey in open exchanges. Cooney’s performances will also be key. 

Verdict: 

This is a pool which looks like a two horse race unless Leicester Tigers or Ulster Rugby can upset the other two teams early doors. Round two fixtures will be noteworthy. Ulster travel to Scarlets while Racing 92 entertain Leicester Tigers (familiarity breeding contempt) and a true pattern could emerge after this round. Racing 92 squad depth means that they should top this pool with Scarlets securing a runners up berth. 

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: Irish Provinces Round 4 Starting XV Statistics

Leinster Rugby and Connacht Rugby impressive

Round Four saw a mixed bag for the Irish provinces. Munster Rugby had another road trip from hell losing heavily to Cardiff Blues. Ulster Rugby had to score a last gasp try to secure a share of the spoils against Toyota Cheetahs. Connacht Rugby and Leinster Rugby had excellent wins and the statistics produced for the round are dominated by these two teams ahead of a mouthwatering fixture between the two Irish provinces next weekend. 

Meters Gained

Tiernan O’Halloran had a superb game against the Scarlets and this statistic shows the work rate and creativity to establish line breaks during the fixture. James Lowe and Garry Ringrose were superb for Leinster Rugby against Edinburgh. Joey Carbery’s strong numbers here came from the opening period of their loss to Cardiff Blues; his influence in the second half waned as Munster Rugby performance deteriorated rapidly. 

Meters Gained

Meters Per Carry

Darren Cave leads this statistics for the round after several keynote carries against the Toyota Cheetahs. Darren Sweetnam on limited possession against Cardiff Blues again shone with ball in hand, interesting to see how Munster Rugby address this issue in the coming weeks. 

Meters Per Carry

Passes

Luke McGrath topped the number of passes statistic for the Irish provinces in round five; his eighty-six passes beating that of Kieran Marmion who also had a strong performance. Note on Denis Buckley, the Connacht prop was prominent in several passing moves and his fifteen passes is an excellent return. 

Total Passes Attempted

Tackles Made

Leinster Rugby video analysis will not dwelling on the tackles made statistics; immense statistics from round five with the tackle machine Josh van der Flier leading the way with a whooping twenty-three tackles. Cloete, Kleyn and Sherry feature for Munster which is an indication of the struggles that the side had against a lively Cardiff Blues outfit. 

Tackles Made

Ball Carries

Tiernan O’Halloran was prominent in all good attacking things that Connacht Rugby did in their win over Scarlets. O’Halloran consistently collected Scarlets aerial exit ball and ran intelligently either into space or present the ball to team mates efficiently. James Lowe and Bundee Aki had superb cameos; their ball carry count is indicative of this. 

Ball Carries

Guinness Pro 14: Round Four (Friday Night Fixtures)

Road trips beckon for Ulster Rugby and Munster Rugby

Round four of the Guinness Pro 14 has two Friday night fixtures on the books. Ulster Rugby conclude their South African tour with a fixture against the Toyota Cheetahs while Munster Rugby must negotiate a tricky banana skin road trip fixture at Cardiff Blues. Hawkeye Sidekick casts his eye on both games. 

Ulster Rugby look to continue their winning ways

Ulster Rugby primed for another win

Ulster Rugby will look to build on the good second half performance against Isuzu Southern Kings and secure another win in the competition. They face a Toyota Cheetahs side devastated by key personnel departures in the off-season as well as key injuries to the current squad.  Mohoje long term knee injury is a massive loss and the hosts here look incredibly vulnerable. 

Yet another crushing defeat for the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend as Glasgow Warriors skill set and attacking lines were too much for the hosts who have now leaked a worrying 136 points from three games. One could argue that Munster Rugby, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors are going to be at the business end of the season but defensive gaps and lapses have being alarming so far particularly in the third and fourth quarter of games so far; no quick fix.  

Ulster Rugby have made a couple of personnel changes for this fixture. Shanahan gets a chance to impress at scrum-half due to the absence of John Cooney. Will Addison returns to the full back slot. Herbst, O’Sullivan, Rea and Kernohan all get valuable game time. 

The key battle in this contest will be the front five battle. Can Toyota Cheetahs bully Ulster Rugby in the set piece? If they can, the hosts could have a chance but Ulster Rugby should win provided that they remain patient in their execution and phases with an exciting back line on hand to expose a fragile Cheetahs defensive confidence. 

Verdict: Ulster Rugby

After a competitive opening half, expect Ulster Rugby to stride out to another win. The altitude factor will mean that Ulster Rugby win but without the bonus point try but if they can win at Bloemfontein, a minimum eight points return from their South African tour will be a fantastic return and start to the season. Addison to have a proverbial day.

Cardiff Blues in must win territory

Cardiff Blues under pressure to win

It has being one strange start to the season for Cardiff Blues; three opening games where Cardiff Blues had the game in their grasp only to surrender the result in the closing exchanges as Leinster Rugby, Benetton Rugby and Zebre Rugby have all prospered from Cardiff Blues discipline and defensive lapses. 

This is a side which are better than the 0/3 start to the season; several standout players in the ranks. The back line is stacked with physicality, pace and try scoring prowess. Anscombe slots into the full back spot, will look to use his kicking game to setup a platform. 

Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo are an explosive three quarter combination. Scully and Harries provide the after burners and Harries try count has being a standout positive for the side this season so far.

The pack is stacked with talent with the likes of Arhip, Dacey, Turnbull, Navidi, Williams all featuring; a side well capable of turning a miserable start of the season around.

Munster Rugby come into this contest after an emphatic win over a massively under-strength Ospreys last week. A game which saw the talent of Carbery and Beirne to the maximum but both players will realize that a road trip assignment to Cardiff Blues is a different proposition entirely. 

The Munster Rugby side has an exciting feel; an opening look at CJ Stander who slots into the eight channel. He links up with Cleote and O’Mahony in the back row which should see some keynote exchanges with Navidi, Jenkins and the marauding Nick Williams.

The half back partnership will be interesting to see. Evans at ten is a standout; great ball player whose ability to create with ball in hand and solid kick game makes him a standout threat for the Irish province. Duncan Williams needs to speed up his distribution from set piece and ruck ball to allow Joey Carbery to shine with ball in hand.

Pleasing to see Jaco Taute back in the three quarters; an intense welcome from Lee-Lo beckons and JJ Hanrahan comes into the full back position looking to prove a point after a miserable Glasgow Warriors outing in round two. The wing play of Sweetnam and Conway should be prominent provided Munster Rugby pack enjoy good periods of dominance. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby

Like the look of this Munster Rugby side and this will be a serious test against a Cardiff Blues side who will provide seriously tricky moments. Cardiff Blues performance lapse deep into games could be exposed yet again in this round and I think Munster Rugby have the sufficient talent to get over the line by three points. Cardiff Blues left to rue more good moments in a game with minimal return. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 3 Reflections (Irish Provinces)

Connacht lose on the road as other Irish provinces win

A weekend fixture round which will be quickly forgotten about. Round 3 saw several keynote one sided victories for Glasgow Warriors, Munster Rugby, Leinster Rugby and Ulster Rugby. This posting is going to be focused on the Irish provinces; three wins and one loss from the weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Promise shown in one sided rout

The official opening of Irish Independent Park (still refer to it as Musgrave Park for the record). An occasion which before team news looked destined to be a fitting occasion to christen the 3G pitch. Ospreys’ team selection put pay to that as Munster Rugby strolled to an emphatic 49-13 win. 

There is precious little to conclude from the Munster Rugby performance only that the key marquee signings if they remain fit will play an integral role to the team’s success this season. Carbery showed sublime skill set but also inconsistent game management decisions. His debut try was classic Carbery; playing what was in front of him and the finish was superb. 

Tadhg Beirne bullied Ospreys’ front five throughout. His steal from Ospreys line out ball in the opening period summed up the contest. Munster Rugby’s pack completely bossed their opponent missing several keynote starters. His mobility and physicality was shown to all in attendance and a second row slot looks nailed on even at this early stage. 

Arno Botha is a cult hero already with the Munster Rugby faithful and it is throwing an intriguing selection scenario for van Graan and Munster Rugby management. Botha’s numbers again on Friday night were sensational; eleven carries for thirty-nine meters gained and then nine tackles to boot. Botha is providing stiff competition in the back row unit. CJ Stander will relish the competition and it can only improve the side. 

The only negative was a couple of late injuries. John Ryan limped off; had the protective boot on post game so it will be interesting to see how long he is sidelined for. Archer as well went down late and another prop injury is not what van Graan requires with Cardiff Blues next. 

Darren Sweetnam was again at sensational. The opposition and personnel on show is one thing but his meters gained oozed class, another one hundred meters gained game and another try to seal the performance. Much tougher games will be presented to Munster Rugby this season but this fixture was about restoring confidence and giving key personnel game minutes; mission accomplished. 

Pack endured tough night in Edinburgh

First road trip of the season. A free hit for Connacht Rugby against a side with massive pressure to get their first win. The performance produced was defiant but the pack unit were dominated for long stretches by Edinburgh Rugby who got their first win of the Guinness Pro 14 season. 

Jaco  van der Walt impressed on his seasonal bow. The South African fly-half who slotted in as a late replacement for Simon Hickey impressed with his fluid passing and game management. His performance was helped in no small measure by the Edinburgh Rugby pack who bullied Connacht Rugby upfront; they set a terrific platform for the side to launch attacks deep in Connacht territory. 80% territory in the opening quarter. The set piece exchanges were won by a more abrasive Edinburgh where Toolis and Gilchrist shone. 

Credit to Connacht Rugby, their defense (much maligned) last season stood to attack after attack in that opening period. The fact that they only leaked a Duhan van der Merwe opening period half was testament to the Connacht Rugby defensive structure progression. It could also be said that Edinburgh Rugby left scores behind them and Duhan van der Merwe somehow botched a try from close range; video analysis room 101 moment tomorrow. 

In the podcast last Friday prior to the contest: https://www.mixcloud.com/clanterraceview/2018-19-pro14-round-2-review/ – my sense was that if Connacht Rugby could ride out the storm, they could come on strong in the last quarter and so it proved.

The pack started to finally make gain line yards and Carty started to orchestrate good attacking moves. His looping pass finding Niki Adeolokun to score a try. Carty then slotted a penalty to close the margin to seven points and try as they might, Edinburgh Rugby defense held out for a win which prompted Richard Cockerill to have a dig at the Guinness Pro 14 officiating standard calling out the number of pens between the two sides on show and only one yellow card for the visitors.

Nothing new there Richard but the officiating crews have the tendency to strike karma against their detractors in subtle fashion at key stages. Connacht Rugby with a loser point, pack improvements required ahead of a crucial home game stand against Scarlets and Leinster Rugby.

Training ground exercise for Leinster Rugby

A perfect strike out for a first home game of the season. Yes, there were cohesion issues in attack in the opening period but the 52-10 demolition of a woefully outclassed Dragons has issued a serious statement of intent to all challengers to Leinster Rugby’s crown this year. 

A bit like Munster Rugby, the opposition was not up to much. Bernard Jackman has a serious challenge to increase his side’s performance levels to compete this season on the back of this showing. You would fear for his role with the Dragons come the end of the season. 

The good news for Leinster Rugby is that the players starting their first games of the season were on point. Sean Cronin was his marauding best with ball in hand. Robbie Henshaw likewise and his ability to break Dragons first up tackles setup consistent good attacking platform. Sexton was proficient in his game management; composure seen with a couple of late hits. 

The squad depth for Leinster Rugby was scarily seen when Andrew Porter who had a decent game was replaced by no other than Tadhg Furlong, felt for the Dragons front row when that switch took place. Jamison Gibson-Park this season has looked really sharp and his two tries were just reward for a dynamic display at half-back. His kick in behind for Larmour’s try was a video reel highlight. Luke McGrath has serious competition for the nine jersey! 

Kudos to Dragons full back Jordan Williams with an early contender for try of the season. An incredible run from deep in his own half, superb change of running lines and instinct to score a sensational try. Dragons have some genuinely excellent young talent but it is a school of hard knocks at present, the pack got beat up in the individual exchanges and the set piece started to falter after an encouraging opening period. A promising back line unit but the cohesion levels are not at the level required at present; a tough season beckons for the Welsh region on the back of the last two league fixtures. 

Key final quarter secures victory

Three league wins from three. A 28-7 win over a resilient if limited Isuzu Southern Kings starts the South African road trip for Ulster Rugby in good fashion. The positives was the composure shown by the side when the Kings secured their try just after half-time. 

Kings were growing into the contest and Ulster Rugby defensively needed to be strong to quell and kill off the home side enthusiasm. Mission accomplished and the final quarter saw Ulster Rugby break out with three well worked tries. 

The Ulster Rugby pack on the scrum was dominant throughout and the set piece platform was pivotal in Marcel Coetzee going over. Further late tries from Kernohan and Curtis cemented the win; no bonus point try but the manner in which Ulster Rugby finished the game emphasized the conditioning of the team. 

The negatives were the head injury sustained to John Cooney, the scrum-half has being sensational for the team this season with his kicking, game management and try scoring exploits. Shanahan ably deputized today but tougher tests lie ahead and the nine channel depth chart looks vulnerable if Cooney is absent for any significant time. 

The discipline issue perhaps needs to be reviewed. Alan O’Connor clear out in the first half saw yellow and then Rob Herring saw another yellow card on forty minutes. The yellow card of Herring in particular gave the Southern Kings a way into the contest. Last season saw several disciplinary lapses so it is time for Ulster Rugby management to address now. 

Ulster Rugby: Starting XV Statistics So Far…

Ulster Rugby Statistics Superb

Ulster Rugby are 2/2 from their opening two league fixtures. Both games were proverbial cliffhangers where the side had to show resiliency and skill to win late against Scarlets and Edinburgh Rugby. John Cooney was the hero with his game winning penalties in recent weekends but the statistics show the good start made by the side with the new arrivals particularly shining. 

Meters Gained

The one thing that leaps out on the meters gained statistics is how potent the Ulster Rugby back line has being early doors this season. There was fear given the retirements (Bowe, Trimble, Payne) and departures (Piatau) that there would be a massive void in the attacking side of the team. Think again, as the likes of Craig Gilroy have made serious statements of intent early doors. Gilroy’s ability to create with ball in hand seen in his statistics; averaging 9.06 meters per carry last weekend alone. Speight and Addison look astute signings early doors and their numbers are incredibly strong. John Cooney’s ability to support the ball carrier seen with his excellent numbers; the form nine in Ireland at this time. 

Meters Gained (Rounds 1 / 2) 

Tackle Count

The tackle count statistics will be music to the ears of national team coach Joe Schmidt as Ireland internationals Iain Henderson and Rob Herring were sensational in this aspect of play last weekend. Eighteen tackles is exceptional from Henderson along with Herring’s performance last weekend with sixteen tackles (considering it was his seasonal debut).

Kudos also to Nick Timoney as well; the back row even at this early stage of the season has elevated his game to another level this term with some key contributions. His tackle count here is excellent along with Cave and McCloskey.

Tackle Count (Rounds 1 / 2) 

Passing

The game plan from Ulster Rugby is clear to see from this statistic; expansive style, look to pass / offload at every given opportunity. Cooney’s numbers are sensational and his quick passing has provided Burns with the time to launch his three quarters who have also looked to keep the ball alive with offloads.

Will Addison’s passing stats are particularly noteworthy, looking to bring players into the play with swift offloads. The half back numbers are well and shoulders above the other Irish provinces and if Ulster Rugby can continue to develop their defense structures and squad depth throughout the year, they could be a dark horse to make a serious push for the playoffs.

Passes (Rounds 1 / 2) 

Try Count

Three tries scored and conceded in the first two rounds of the league, all scored against Edinburgh Rugby in the second half from the starting lineup. Scarlets game was a tight affair with defenses on top. John Cooney’s form in open play and kicking has being sensational and if / when he is called up by Ireland in November, it will be interesting to see who from the squad will fill the void. Squad depth is the concern right now for Ulster Rugby because the starting lineup at the moment are playing with determination, hunger and skill.