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.
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?
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two contrasting fixtures last night. Glasgow Warriors continued their good start to the season with a comfortable 25-10 over Munster Rugby while John Cooney was again the hero for Ulster Rugby as they defeated Edinburgh with a late gasp penalty for a 30-29 win. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Glasgow punish sloppy Munster
I feared for Munster Rugby ahead of this fixture, not because of the personnel on show but because of distinct lack of competitive hit out in the opening round fixture against a massively poor Cheetahs outfit. The lack of intensity in those exchanges was going to do Munster Rugby little favors ahead of this opening road trip to Scotstoun, a ground where Munster Rugby were battered last season.
Glasgow Warriors were the sharper team from minute one in this contest. They preyed on Munster Rugby indiscipline and accuracy in the opening period to build a 22-0 lead at the interval with the aid of a strong breeze. The half saw one side dominate all facets of play with the hosts dominating the breakdown exchanges (some borderline clear outs) allowing Horne and Hastings at half-back the time and space to launch their back line out wide.
Hastings loop pass for the opening try was a thing of beauty setting up Gibbins for a simple score on the sideline. This was the sign of things to come for Munster Rugby; more tackle reps and more gain line exchanges lost. Two additional tries were leaked before the interval. Hogg scoring after a deft drubber kick and then Ashe reacted to a JJ Hanrahan lapse in concentration to score which signaled the end of the contest.
Munster Rugby were made to pay for a slow start and then were unable to establish any platform. The opening period could not get any worse as Neil Cronin and Billy Holland departed the scene in this period. Carbery, Marshall, Beirne and the rest of the bench were summoned well before the end of the third period, an indication of the woes experienced by the visitors.
Glasgow Warriors defended with depth and physicality in the second half as Munster Rugby to their credit improved significantly but the scoreboard gap was never going to be pulled back. Several line breaks from Munster Rugby courtesy of Carbery playmaking and Beirne’s direct running but skill set issues surfaced in decision making and offloading on the final pass.
The five meter line-out towards the end of the contest summed up Munster’s evening. A miserable set piece execution mopped up by the hosts and the hosts looked for the bonus point try that they deserved, nothing doing and a four point vs. zero point outcome was written in the stars.
Glasgow Warriors look the part at the moment but we have said that before last season; the acid test for this side is in European Cup action. The side’s inability to mix in the pool stages last season was the disappointment of the European Champions Cup last term, time to address and hit out in this competition. An exciting back line and with a flourishing half back partnership in Horne and Hastings, the pack need to make additional improvements to give the side that extra edge to win silverware this season.
Munster Rugby fans went into a frenzy last night but the warning signs were there ahead of this result. The lack of quality opposition last weekend did little to battle harden the side for a tussle like this. As a result, the physicality and sharpness required to set the platform was not at the standard required.
What is of most concern is the skill set progression. Glasgow Warriors creativity, offloading and basic skill set execution were so superior to Munster’s and the Irish province need to take a long hard look at their basic skill set in the weeks to come to be a viable contender in all fronts. Munster fringe squad members did themselves little favors last night and expect the front line brigade to be summoned in the coming weeks.
Ulster home game, yet another John Cooney party piece to win another close contest down the stretch. I plumbed for Edinburgh Rugby on the fixture (Ulster fans should want me to predict against them for the rest of the year).
A couple of pleasing aspects to the Ulster Rugby performance. The resiliency of the side to come back from a difficult opening period where Edinburgh Rugby went 0-13 down. Hickey looked the part for the visitors, orchestrating attacking moves on the back of a dominant pack.
Ulster Rugby regrouped superbly though and with John Cooney and Billy Burns at half-back, there is outstanding potential for creating line breaks. The gap was seventeen points going into the early exchanges of the second half when the comeback started.
Addison went over for his first Ulster try, with Cooney slotting the conversion but another Hickey penalty gave Edinburgh more of a cushion at 26-13.
Addison made a half-break before laying off a perfect pass to Cooney, who went in under the posts and converted his own try to narrow the deficit to six points.
Cue the try of the night. Ulster stole Edinburgh ball deep in their own half and Henry Speight offloaded to Cooney, who released the Gilroy to run in a fabulous try from 60 meters out. Cooney hit the extras to make it 27-26 but Hickey looked to secure the win for Edinburgh with a superb kick just before the eighty minutes.
Ulster Rugby though refused to drop the heads; a great restart steal setting up multiple phases. The penalty award will be hotly contested; 50/50 call but Ulster Rugby got it and Cooney slotted over from 40 meters, amazing scenes at full time. Ulster Rugby are 2/2; set the platform for the rest of the season and defeating a playoff contender to boot in Edinburgh who are under pressure to win next weekend.
Ulster Rugby’s attacking play is a joy to watch at the moment; creativity from Burns launching McCloskey and Cave. Speight, Gilroy and Addison are potent runners; the concern is the squad depth if injuries surface. A solid start for McFarland’s men but improvement is required in the defensive side of the ball. Edinburgh Rugby had opportunities to put this game to bed, other teams will not be as charitable.