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

Friday night drama a plenty. Congratulations to Glasgow Warriors who efficiently cast aside Connacht Rugby 35-22 to secure top spot in Conference A. Munster Rugby finish their SA tour with a morale boosting 17-19 win over a Toyota Cheetahs outfit while Ulster Rugby huffed and puffed and had to wait until the final minute to secure a 8-0 win over a gutsy Ospreys side. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Glasgow Warriors emphatically secured top spot in Conference A with an opening period trouncing of a Connacht Rugby side who have a look of a side who cannot wait for the season to end. Glasgow responded to an early set concession to score three tries in the opening period. A quick try response from Hogg on three minutes opened the floodgates and Connacht Rugby defensive line as Alex Dunbar scored on twenty-six minutes and the industrious Fraser Brown crashed over after sustained pressure on the Connacht Rugby try line. Pyrgos secured the bonus point try immediately after the break. Defensive resistance non-existent. Gain line yards easily made by the hosts.

Mission accomplished. Glasgow Warriors took the foot off the gas and Connacht Rugby responded with a late Blade try but the damage was done. Glasgow Warriors were so accurate with ball in hand, great running lines for the ball carrier. In contrast, Connacht Rugby were reduced to one out ball carrying attacks and when they tried to create out wide, it was ponderous, no-one committing Glasgow defenders to tackle, all very predictable. Connacht Rugby’s twenty-one missed tackles way too high. Glasgow proceed with confidence to the playoffs. Connacht Rugby are devoid of any confidence heading into the final stretch and with a home tie against Leinster Rugby, it is a daunting finish to the season. Kieran Keane and management have issues to address!

An efficient second half display where the pack asserted a platform in the set piece combined with excellent penalty kicking secured a 17-19 win over the Toyota Cheetahs. The hosts started so well and exposed Munster Rugby in the opening period with excellent offloading. Blommetjies scoring an excellent team try on eleven minutes; good lineout possession and quick hands from Venter at thirteen to allow Blommetjies to cross over. The try scorer leaves Toyota Cheetahs for Scarlets next season; a shrewd piece of business from the Welsh region. Tian Meyer crossed over in the second quarter; quick hands creating the player overlap and Meyer had the simplest of tasks.

James Hart was injured in the lead-up to the Meyer try and enter the game changer, Conor Murray. The scrum-half was the class act of the fixture. He made his presence felt immediately with a sharp close range finish. JJ Hanrahan who had an excellent game kicked the conversion to make it 14-7 but then Munster Rugby gave three points straight back with a needless penalty. Goosen at ten slotting over, an impressive opening game for the ex-Racing 92 player. 17-7 at the break. The task for Munster Rugby looked daunting.

However, the visitors pack regrouped at the break and started to assert dominance in the set piece and open exchanges. Penalties were being leaked by Toyota Cheetahs at a rate of knots and JJ Hanrahan slotted over a couple of regulation penalties to make it a 17-16 game. Cue the monster penalty kick from Murray. The ball is still travelling in orbit such was the distance of the kick. World class strike and Munster Rugby defensively and disciplinary wise remained on point to win; a potential let off on the second scrum at the death but a win was secured.

The officiating on display was at times tragic. Munster Rugby were reduced to fourteen players (Zebo sent to the bin) for an innocuous incident. Adamson refusing to ping Cheetahs players not rolling away from the ruck, increased penalty count not yielding any warning; facets of the game which will be punished next weekend in European Cup action. A superb SA tour for Munster Rugby; good PR created for the club over in South Africa.

8-0. Ulster Rugby battered Ospreys tonight but there was a distinct lack of creativity or ambition in the attacking play of the hosts. Fifty-two minutes in and Ospreys were already on 120 tackles made but still Ulster Rugby inability to execute in the opposition twenty-two was starting to rile up the local support. Shanahan at nine looked one dimensional in game management. Cooney did not provide any kicking game when switched to ten. Lateral, players receiving the ball too deep and could not break the gain line. It was a shocking attacking display. Ospreys were defensively sound but it was very predictable attacking lines.

Timoney’s disallowed try summed up the night perfectly for Ulster Rugby. A well executed kick in behind the Ospreys defense but the lack of conviction from the back rower to secure possession allowed Watkin the time to dislodge the ball and prevent the try. 3-0 heading into the 78th minutes. Ulster Rugby fans may have being fearing the worse as Ospreys started to summon a late attacking threat. However, Dan Biggar’s pass out wide was poor and the loose ball was collected by try scoring machine Jacob Stockdale to score from midfield. 8-0. Full time.

Ospreys will rue a couple of officiating decisions that went against them. The disallowed try when Kieron Fonotia charged across the Ulster line after a turnover, but the officials chalked it off for an alleged earlier infringement by Alun Wyn Jones in the opening period was a huge call. The Hassler yellow card was 50/50 for me personally. Ospreys showed amazing resiliency to continue to defend as manfully as they did. It was an incredible effort; 186 tackles made tonight.

Ulster Rugby continue to fight for their playoff lives. The emphatic performance never materialized but the key men of the side led from the front. Best, Henderson, Deysel and Piutau were immense. The distinct lack of attacking threat will be reviewed this week, perhaps it was the enormity of the fixture which stifled creativity. Cooney’s penalty in the opening period created the buffer but this result should not have being in question given the dominance enjoyed by Ulster Rugby tonight. Gibbes struck a frustrated figure. Dwayne Peel will be shaking his head in video review. To be a fly on the wall for that attacking video review.

 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 19 Review (Part II)

The second part of the Guinness Pro 14 Round 19 review. An efficient performance from Scarlets to beat Glasgow Warriors. Toyota Cheetahs leave it extremely late to beat Cardiff Blues and Benetton Rugby break Dragons hearts with a last gasp win also. Action packed.

If you have read my blog regularly, the Toyota Cheetahs are my hidden guilty Guinness Pro 14 pleasure. When they played Munster Rugby at Thomond Park last September, their expansive style of play was so easy on the eye. I felt even then that with a couple of games, this side would be competitive and so it has proved. Toyota Cheetahs at Bloemfontein are an incredibly hard team to beat, ask Connacht Rugby and now Cardiff Blues with late road trip heartbreak in recent weeks.

29-27. A game which Toyota Cheetahs looked to be in control at half-time. The hosts front five prominent in ball carrying setting the platform, allowing Marais to unleash his back line with devastating results. Three tries scored in that opening period, clinical offloading and passing to players in better field position.

Maxwane scoring a further two tries; his try involving the ever dangerous Blommetjies was a movie reel highlight. Venter also got onto the score board with a superb running line to unlock the Cardiff Blues defense who had to absorb massive pressure in this half. 22-6 at the break. Game over?

Credit to Cardiff Blues, they came out in the second half with renewed purpose and controlled the pack exchanges with some excellent ball carries. Three excellent tries ensued. Owen Lane scoring his sixth Guinness Pro 14 try of the season and then two quality efforts from Halaholo and Lee-Lo midway through the half exposing fragile Cheetahs defense on the outside.

Cardiff Blues now were leading the contest but the altitude factor kicked in the final quarter. Toyota Cheetahs starting to probe the defensive fringes and creating field position which then led to a series of scrums ten meters out from the Cardiff Blues’ line. The officiating crew losing patience with the visitors and pointed for a penalty try.

Whether another officiating crew would have being so whistle happy in the NH remains to be seen, suffice to say another officiating crew would have asked the Toyota Cheetahs to play the ball from the scrum and let play develop. Devastating loss for the Cardiff Blues in the context of the game and playoff picture. Nine point is now the gap between the two sides now but all not lost for Cardiff Blues. An exciting Conference A playoff race beckons still!

This was a performance that signaled intent from Scarlets ahead of key fixtures in the next couple of weeks. 22-8 win. Two teams brimming with talent. The hosts were the more cohesive performer on the day, breakdown work on point led by James Davies. Scarlets had to remain patient until the second quarter of this contest when Patchell who was the standout  performer identified a defensive gap in the Warriors line to cross for a try. Key score, created the buffer that Glasgow Warriors could not bridge.

The Glasgow Warriors performance did not lack work rate but precision and accuracy at times let them down. Davies (scrum-half) intercepting a Glasgow Warriors skip pass to score Scarlets’ second try of the evening in the second half. The day did not get much better for the visitors as Finn Russell was forced to withdraw at half-time. Thereafter, attacking play from the Conference A top team was one dimensional. Time to reflect and address for Dave Rennie for the playoffs!

Scarlets will be pleased with the defensive line speed and organization throughout. Glasgow Warriors tried to penetrate holes in the defensive line but Scarlets were solid. Beirne’s work rate from second row a perfect case study. Thirteen tackles made. Three passes.

Patchell finished off a comfortable win with a late try, good hands from the Scarlets back line seeing the half-back with the ball close to the touchline but good movement and speed saw the number ten evade a couple of Glasgow Warriors tackles to score. A statement of intent from the Scarlets who keep the pressure on Leinster Rugby in both Pro 14 but also European Rugby Champions Cup front after this performance.

The proverbial game of two halves. Benetton Rugby will be happy to secure victory at the death given that they had the bonus point try secured in the first half but lack of accuracy defensively, coupled with concentration lapses left Dragons back into the contest and will undoubtedly raise video analysis questions.

Both sides will look at the missed tackle count. 25 vs. 23 is way too high for a side to win a Guinness Pro 14 encounter. Benetton Rugby will not be as lucky to win a game with this statistic for the remainder of the season. The hosts were excellent though with ball in hand. Several well worked tries courtesy of Ruzza (1′), Allan (27′), Ioane (23′) and Tebaldi (40′). Game over surely?

Dragons responded well and scored three tries of their own. Hill (50′), Rosser (61′), Edwards (65′) all crossed over and Dragons looked the better side for long periods of the half but lack of game management to close out the contest came into the equation.

Benetton Rugby got vital field position in those last eight minutes; squandered two good chances before Dragons indiscipline conceded the late penalty where Tebaldi slotted over. Devastating loss for Bernard Jackman and Dragons but Benetton Rugby continue to register wins in the league. A work in progress but the signs are encouraging.

Guinness Pro 14: Round 17 – March 23rd Fixture Preview

All the euphoria of Ireland’s Natwest 6 Nations success last weekend is done and dusted, it is time for the Guinness Pro 14 to take center stage. A critical round for the teams who will be involved in European Champions and Challenge Cup competitions next weekend; a last opportunity for those teams to create momentum ahead of those fixtures. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Connacht in must win territory

A critical fixture for Connacht Rugby. A loss at home at the hands of a resurgent Edinburgh Rugby side will condemn the side to looking at the playoff race unfold from the outside. Kieran Keane has decided to rest his international players apart from Quinn Roux for this fixture. Apart from that, the side is pretty much full strength.

Edinburgh make five changes from the side which accounted for Munster Rugby last weekend in a scrappy encounter. Kinghorn returns to the full back role. Marfo returns to the front row. Berghan and Gilchrist come into a strong looking pack.

50/50 contest here. Connacht Rugby need a strong performance before their Challenge Cup encounter against Gloucester Rugby. However, performance consistency has being a problem in recent rounds. Edinburgh will look to quell the hosts advances in the opening period and win this contest in the second half based on a solid pack platform. Edinburgh’s form and winning habit to get them over the line here in a close contest.

Can the Dragons roar past the Cheetahs?

This looks like an arduous task for Bernard Jackman’s charges. After a deflating beat down on the road to the Southern Kings, morale in the camp must be low. It is a blessing that the international contingent are available for selection to hopefully arrest the team performance slide.

Cory Hill, Elliot Dee and Hallam Amos all come into the start lineup. The three quarters partnership is an unknown quantity as Edwards and Beard are named. Kirchner plays from full back, interesting to see if the South African international can join the attacking line and contribute. Aaron Wainwright and Lewis Evans come into the back row and tight-head prop Lloyd Fairbrother lines up in the front row.

Cheetahs name a couple of changes to their starting lineup. Marais moves to inside centre to compensate for an injury to Nico Lee, meaning Fred Zeilinga comes in at fly-half. William Small-Smith returns to the side from injury on the right wing and Rabz Maxwano starts on the other wing. Oupa Mohoje comes into the back row.

The track conditions are vital in this fixture as the Cheetahs will look to create an expansive game from the first whistle. Can the Dragons pack stifle the Cheetahs at the breakdown? Dragons attacking options in Hewitt and Amos potentially will provide pace and creativity.

Dragons kicking game needs to be on point throughout; there will be occasions where loose kicking and game management will happen and the Cheetahs will flourish. Cheetahs to put pressure on Munster Rugby with a road trip win, no bonus point try.

Glasgow Warriors to dominate Zebre Rugby

It is top versus bottom in Conference A. Zebre Rugby’s focus this weekend is to be competitive. The pack needs to be on point in their ability to disrupt Warriors ball and provide a solid set piece platform for Canna to attempt to create line break opportunities.

It is going to be a tall order. Glasgow Warriors have named a strong squad for this fixture. Dave Rennie will be keen to start this tranche of games in the competition will renewed vigor on both sides of the ball. The pack looks strong with the likes of Fagerson and Harley in the unit. Hastings gets game time at ten. Jackson, Grigg, Van der Merwe feature in an exciting back line.

Zebre Rugby recall their Italian internationals for this contest; their road trip win in Galway was a high point and more of the same organized defensive setup with fluidity in their attacking play is required. The question for Zebre Rugby is how expansive do they become as their hosts will relish an open field battle.

Expect tries galore in this encounter. Glasgow Warriors to pull away in this fixture in the third quarter as Zebre’s pack is put on the back foot. Hoping Michael Bradley’s side produce a defiant performance but this Warriors side at home are an incredibly hard outfit to breakdown and their ability to launch defense into attack will be too much at times. Bonus point try win for Glasgow.