Hawkeye Sidekick

Guinness Pro 14 Round 19: Irish Provinces Review

Round 19 in the books. Several standout results to digest and review. A weekend where Ulster Rugby produced a road trip performance that showed the ability and potential of this side when their precision and work rate is on point. It was all too much for Connacht Rugby at the Liberty Stadium as Ospreys continued their recent upturn in form in emphatic fashion. Leinster Rugby were too strong in the second half for a gallant Zebre Rugby while Munster Rugby recovered from a slow start to win at George, an emotional return for CJ Stander. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

It has being a turbulent couple of weeks for everyone connected with Ulster Rugby. The much documented court case, the decision of Jono Gibbes to leave at the end of the season, the performances on the pitch not at the level required have left plenty of doom and gloom around the Kingspan Stadium but this 20-32 win at Murrayfield (even though it is probably too little too late in terms of the playoffs) provided evidence if needed this side’s ability and potential.

This was a cohesive, efficient performance from Ulster Rugby. Yes, there were lapses in concentration but the quality of their work with ball in hand was too much for Edinburgh Rugby who must be getting worried as they drop to a second consecutive loss in as many weeks.

The Irish international contingent with Ulster came to the party with gusto. Best was his dynamic best in the loose, his set piece on point. Henderson was sublime in work rate and his late try in the second half secured this much deserved road win. Stockdale’s try scoring assist with the side’s first try; a superb effort which involved quick offloading from Piutau to Stockdale who then passed to Cave to score.

The first thirty minutes of this contest was on point from Ulster Rugby. Their pack was dynamic, particularly impressed with O’Toole in the front row, a player who looks to have a good future in the game. The back line were exciting and sharp with ball in hand. Cooney game managed superbly in this period.

Edinburgh Rugby did respond well. Their pack improved in the second half and forced Ulster Rugby to concede a penalty try just before the end of the third quarter. With recent league form, many would have presumed that the hosts would have gone on and won the contest but Ulster Rugby were not to be denied. Excellent tackling and opportunistic attacking the keys to secure victory.

This is a morale boosting win for Ulster Rugby, hopefully this is a result that is the springboard for better performances down the home stretch. They are still a long shot to get into the playoff picture but if Edinburgh Rugby continue to show vulnerability in their defense, it could be evenly poised for an exciting playoff race in Conference B for that final playoff spot.

Where do you start with this performance? If you had seen my blog and podcast last week, the loss to Gloucester Rugby signaled the end realistically of the Connacht Rugby season. There was a faint hope of making the Guinness Pro 14 playoffs but that was completely extinguished by an Ospreys side who yet again produced an excellent performance at home to win 35-10.

Connacht Rugby probably knew it was not going to be their day when playing with a man advantage, they are primed to score an opening try to get back into the contest. However, Hassler picked off Eoin Griffin’s pass outside to run eighty meters and score. 6-0 now turned 13-0. Long way back.

The Ospreys back line statistics makes for sorry reading for Connacht Rugby. Evans: one try and 85 meters gained. Hassler:  one try and 181 meters gained. Beck: one try and 46 meters gained. Dirksen: one try and 33 meters gained. It was at times all too easy for the hosts as Biggar was able to pick out his back line runners with unerring accuracy as Connacht’s defensive line speed deteriorated at a rate of knots.

Ospreys’ form in recent weeks has being on point. Watkins at thirteen was excellent when introduced and the front five controlled exchanges throughout. This is a good end to the season and wonder if Clarke has done enough to secure a permanent head coaching role next season.

For Connacht Rugby, the season is over; time to review the season, give fringe players game time and look to identify better defensive organization before season’s end. Daunting task when you consider Leinster Rugby are coming to Galway before the end of the season. Kieran Keane and management have work to do! The less we say about that Connacht penalty kick attempt the better

A sluggish opening period but Leinster Rugby overpowered a gallant Zebre Rugby outfit 41-6. The weather conditions were monsoon like for good portions of the opening period but the Italians fronted up well and created a couple of key try scoring opportunities. The opportunity right on the Leinster Rugby posts was unlucky but other chances went a begging due to inaccuracy and they were made to pay.

James Lowe continues to impress; sublime ball carrier and try scoring on point again with a clinical brace (one in either half). The big players in this Leinster Rugby for me were Max Deegan at eight and Barry Daly deployed at full-back. Deegan’s two try haul was an excellent return for a display full of creativity and work rate. One of the tries was akin to Conor Murray’s Munster try against Toulon Rugby. Good game management from the back rower.

Barry Daly at times showed sublime moments when hitting the line. His speed and ability to break the gain line a prominent feature for Leinster Rugby. His line break in the opening period securing a Leinster Rugby try. The player could be a surprise option to go on the Ireland tour of Australia in the summer. Good form being shown but will he get an opportunity to impress with Leinster Rugby in European or Pro 14 playoff games? 50/50.

A game where Leinster Rugby will acknowledge was a performance that failed to fire in the opening period but the second half performance was very much on point. No significant injuries of note and a couple of squad players produced good cameos to increase management’s thoughts on the European Cup semi-final squad. Top of Conference B. All looks rosy for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s charges.

Munster Rugby’s first foray to South Africa in a Guinness Pro 14 league fixture yielded a 22-39 road trip win in George, the hometown of CJ Stander. It was a fantastic game with the venue packed for the return of Stander to his hometown. The Munster Rugby supporters were in good voice throughout.

A fixture where the defensive coaches will need to look away at the missed tackle count. The Southern Kings missed a whopping 35 tackles while Munster Rugby missed 16 themselves, quite a few tackles missed in that opening period when the Southern Kings were the dominant side.

15-3 down. Credit to Ian Keatley to game manage and get the Munster Rugby team back into the contest. His passing was on point and his gain line break setup the Stander try. Munster produced some excellent expansive moments in this contest. Scannell’s pass to Goggin was a round nineteen league video moment of the round.

Munster’s pack were now in the ascendancy in the second half and Marshall crashed over in the final quarter along with Dave Kilcoyne who capped off an excellent performance with another try nine minutes from time. The prop was destructive with ball in hand throughout and the Southern Kings struggled to stifle the influence of the UL Bohemians club man.

Five points on the road. A key result for Munster Rugby given the result at Bloemfontein as Cheetahs left it late to beat Cardiff Blues. A six point gap between Munster Rugby and Toyota Cheetahs ahead of their Friday night match-up. It will be an interesting contest in the altitude. Toyota Cheetahs will relish an open contest but sense Munster Rugby will look to produce a far more structured performance; an intriguing clash of styles awaits!