Leinster turn on the afterburners to destroy Montpelier
Make no mistake about this, Leinster were well on top before Francois Steyn decided to do his Triple H WWE close line on Sexton in the opening period. The red card was well merited; dangerous and reckless. Steyn eyeballed the referee with his action to see if he could get away with it and find a way for his side to establish a platform in the contest. The referee did not shirk his responsibility (unlike other officials this weekend) and the result was nailed on from there on out. It was great to see Jack Conan in such impressive form; it has being a tough second year in the first team but the back rower was superb on the night, scoring three tries and his general all round play was on point. The other aspect of the performance which must have pleased Cullen and Lancaster was how the young players in the team stepped up to the plate. Byrne on the wing is an exciting prospect; his try scoring ratio is highly impressive. Tracy continues to improve with each outing; his lineout throwing was on point with Toner dominant but his all round ball carries and defensive work was what really caught the eye. A player who could feature for Ireland in the RBS 6 Nations and with Sean Cronin out of action for ten weeks, his international senior cap debut could be sooner rather than later. Ringrose and Henshaw is such an exciting three quarter combination as well. Both players oozed class when the French side tired in the second half. Ringrose’s ability to create line breaks from marginal defensive line lapses is sublime. Nacewa is providing the leadership and experience for the back line to flourish. Leinster fans are in for an exciting end of season; this team will take serious beating from any of the other seven teams left in the competition.
Connacht demolish shambolic Zebre
The scoreline is irrelevant. This for me is a defining moment for the ERC and how they tackle the issue of Italian teams in the tournament. Amid the fanfare of the ERC draws in late summer, whenever the Italian representative is selected, the other three teams in the pool privately have already marked down ten points in the pool before a ball is kicked. People will say what about the other one sided results in the tournament this season but consistently in this competition, the Italian side(s) have struggled to reach the performance level required. Zebre may have led 14-7 at one point in this contest but their limitations were wholly exposed by Connacht in Galway. The lack of defensive cover on the wings, the lack of discipline with a couple of sin bins, the general lack of structure on both sides of the ball, the despondent nature of some of the Zebre players during the contest. It was not a good image for the tournament. They may have scored three tries but this was yet another shambles of a performance from the Italians. ERC organizers need to sit down and look to how they can improve the Italians in this tournament. Italian RFU will be adamant that a representative is still in the competition but at what cost to the integrity of the tournament? Treviso have struggled in the Challenge Cup this season. Their Pro 12 league record is just ahead of Zebre (not saying much). It is worrying times for Conor O’Shea and the national team. Lack of talent, lack of structure and player pool resources. Connacht could have done with a sterner test. Toulouse away is a formidable venue and the manner the tries were conceded will be most worrying for Pat Lam and management. The ten tries scored were training ground stuff but the front five needs to lead by example next weekend. How fit are the pack leaders leading into the contest? The Connacht fans were superb on the day, presume a large contingent will be in attendance in Toulouse to hopefully witness history.
Munster strike late to beat Glasgow
I have already added my two cents on this match. The HIA protocols will come into the spotlight after Conor Murray coming back on the pitch after looking worse for wear. Glasgow focused more on their opponent than themselves. They looked to disrupt their opponent than create themselves. They used brawn over brain. Their low tackles on Conor Murray’s standing foot when kicking was extremely dangerous. The officiating has being lauded by Sky Sports but the referee bottled the big decisions. Hogg’s head shot on Andrew Conway could have being a major talking point for Munster if the result had gone the other way. Hogg was nowhere getting a tackle on Conway, flaying arm to the head, how was it not red? Munster to their credit exposed the fourteen Glasgow with a superb try. The maul, the passes out wide, the awarness of space and player movement and the execution of Saili was sublime. Glasgow will rue this loss; their typical brand of open offloading rugby was non-existent, they went to a game plan which is alien to their team. The drop goal botch summed the game up for the host; game management was not there. Glasgow could still get a quarter final berth but given the loss to Munster, they will need to regroup quickly to beat a wounded Leicester Tigers who will be keen to exit the tournament with a win. Munster secure a quarter final but home field advantage is the key. Racing Metro selection aside, Munster should have the momentum and motivation to secure the win and potentially five points.
Where now Ulster?
The away defeat to Exeter captured the season to a tee for Ulster. Early promise descended to mediocrity and lethargic defensive lapses. Exeter at Sandy Park are a formidable opponent but Ulster were their own worse enemy; missed first time tackle count was too high and the lack of support from colleagues when they happened led to serious game line yards. There is massive talent in this Ulster group but there is something seriously a miss with the province. Les Kiss as head coach must carry some responsibility but his coaching staff as well must accept blame; game plans look indecisive. The dependence on Pienaar was obvious yesterday with his absence, zero creativity behind the scrum which resulted in Jackson being the single point of failure. The pack were mauled to submission. Exeter Chiefs at scrum time were dominant, the lack of prop options for Ulster is a serious weak point, giving up penalties and territory. An area which is being exposed by every opponent this season. Ulster are potentially in a Munster head space from last season; early exit from Europe, underwhelming Pro 12 form. Time will tell what Ulster do but it has to improve; the resources are in place but whether the current management ticket is the answer remains skeptical. I would expect some coaching staff changes before the end of the season.