A weekend where the playoff picture became a little bit easier for some, a little bit complicated for others while for the likes of Zebre Rugby, Dragons and Isuzu Southern Kings, it is time to evaluate squad depth and make the necessary calls to improve their sides before the off season. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Conference A: Top two continue to win
Munster continue to lead this conference after an emphatic 43-0 shut out win over an Isuzu Southern Kings who after a bright opening quarter lost composure, discipline and line speed. The hosts made the necessary adjustments at half-time to negate the Kings breakdown threat and the result thereafter was never in doubt. A road trip test to Ospreys next weekend will be a true indicator on whether the Irish province have the quality in squad depth to secure a top spot berth in this conference.
Glasgow Warriors had to withstand a late fightback from Cardiff Blues with a bonus point try win over a Cardiff Blues who were made pay for a slow opening half cameo which saw Glasgow Warriors score three tries. The attacking phase play was on point from Dave Rennie’s men but the management surely must be disappointed with how the game went so close late on; poor defensive line decisions. A key fixture against third placed Connacht Rugby awaits next weekend at home.
Twelve months ago, Connacht Rugby would have lost this encounter with the Toyota Cheetahs. They were asked the questions in the third quarter when Venter scored to put the South Africans ahead 15-17. It was a time for cool heads and composure from the team’s leaders and they delivered at the death. Jack Carty composure in full view in that final quarter; orchestrated the game plan superbly and provided shape to Connacht Rugby who were at times guilty of playing a little bit too open and unstructured; two facets of play that Toyota Cheetahs love to see. Ultan Dillane was immense with eighteen tackles, nine passes and four carries.
Ospreys lost further ground to their playoff rivals with a shutout loss to Ulster Rugby at home. It was a frustrating game for Ospreys whose work rate was high but lack of quality in the final pass was seen more than once. A key fixture against Munster Rugby next weekend is now a must win fixture for the Welsh region. Yet another loss could prove fatal in their hopes of securing a top three playoff berth come the end of the regular season.
Zebre Rugby video analysis will be the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The good was how the side bounced back from a horror start conceding three tries to Leinster Rugby early to then respond with their own efforts. 19-21 at the break and Zebre Rugby will rue the fact that they refused points opportunities in the third quarter. Renton was superb for Zebre Rugby but a key knock on with ten minutes left saw the cue for the Leinster Rugby juggernaut to create sufficient momentum to close out the contest. Forty points conceded was harsh on Zebre Rugby given their efforts in the contest.
Conference B: Hail Hail Benetton Rugby!
Leinster Rugby are away and out the gap in terms of Conference B. They will be the top seeds in this conference come the playoffs. Yet another bonus point try win on the road. Yes, there were issues in defensive line speed and missed first time tackles but the squad will improve from the outing.
Edinburgh Rugby secured a bonus point try on Friday night against a Dragons side who showed some attacking promise only to be let down with poor defensive line speed and first time tackling. A good performance from the likes of Darcy Graham in the opening period setup this victory for the Scottish side and then Duhan van der Merwe made sure of the win with two tries in the final quarter. A win to create momentum ahead of their clash with Munster Rugby next month in European Cup action.
Benetton Rugby took a huge step in securing playoff rugby with a 25-19 win over a Scarlets side who showed the usual attacking flair but were put the sword by a high energy pack performance from the Italians. Ian McKinley continued his good form with a standout display at ten; his diagonal kick for the decisive game leading try in the second half a highlight moment. Scarlets showed massive upside with ball in hand.
Hardy, McNicholl (2) scoring from excellent line breaks but the Welsh region were made to pay for inaccuracies. The final phase indicative of the issues experienced by Scarlets; a line out misfire gave Benetton Rugby the opportunity to steal the ball and close the game out. Scarlets five points behind the playoff spots; not a time to panic but another couple of losses in the coming weeks could be fatal in their pursuit of playoff and Heineken Cup ambitions.
Ulster Rugby secured a vital win against the Ospreys. It was a dour affair but a decisive opening try from Stuart McCloskey paved the foundation for victory. Ospreys’ attacking threat was snuffed out by a disciplined Ulster Rugby defensive display and John Cooney made sure that Ospreys left the contest with nothing with a last minute penalty. A pivotal win for Ulster Rugby in the conference playoff race; keeps them in touch with Benetton and Edinburgh. A key series of league fixtures beckon now to launch the decisive playoff move.