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JACKSON COLUMN: Murray, Ronaldo, Stenson … Biggar?

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor

22 Sep 2016


There are those who appear on stage and perform as though they own the place – Andy Murray at Wimbledon, Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu, Henrik Stenson over the links at Royal Troon.

In a Guinness PRO12 context, Dan Biggar at the RDS fits the bill to a tee, better than any other player at any other venue.

Leinster will hardly need any reminder of how much suffering the most predatory of Ospreys has inflicted on them in recent years. The damage extends to two losing finals in three seasons.

Having sat out the first two rounds and eased his way back last week from the bench, Biggar is in line to make a delayed first start to the Guinness PRO12 campaign with the Welsh region soaring as no team in the tournament has soared before.

They come to Dublin with 15 points out of 15, the first to achieve that distinction during the 15 years since the birth of the forerunner of the Guinness PRO12, the Celtic League.

Assuming he gets the nod over the prolific Sam Davies at fly-half, Biggar will have timed his belated entry to perfection. Given his track record at the RDS, Leinster will see it as a belated opportunity to get a little of their own back.

Their fans will remember how Biggar pulled enough strings not just to win the PRO12’s first final, at the RDS in May 2010, but another at the same venue two years later. As horses for courses go, Dan the Man at the RDS is like a two-legged version of Red Rum at Aintree.

He is the only back left from the first final six years ago. The rest – Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, James Hook, Shane Williams, Mike Phillips – have either gone home (Bowe), moved on (Hook, Phillips) or retired (Bishop, Williams).


During a period when Leinster found capturing the Guinness PRO12 more difficult than what has since become Europe’s Champions Cup, Biggar’s navigation of Ospreys to a 17-12 win was nothing compared to the sequel.

Leinster, nine points clear and a first Guinness PRO12 trophy almost theirs, wound up losing a thrilling encounter of the closest kind. Biggar raised Welsh hopes with a penalty and there were two minutes left when Shane Williams ghosted in at the right hand corner.

The odds still favoured Leinster. Biggar could have been forgiven had he missed the conversion, difficult enough from the touchline on the ‘wrong’ side of the pitch for a right-footed kicker but infinitely more so given its win-or-bust dimension.

He launched the ball on a spiraling trajectory and by the time it came down out of a blue sky between the uprights, Leinster knew the game was up. Marginally more than half their starting XV that day who are still there – Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Isa Nacewa, Johnny Sexton, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip – could be forgiven for thinking that retribution is long overdue.

If they manage it, Leinster will have slashed the gap between the teams to two or three points. If they don’t, Ospreys will widen the difference to nine or even ten points, a potential swing which gives some measure of the significance behind the occasion a mere three weeks into the campaign.

After watching his team swamp Zebre and Benetton Treviso with 17 tries in successive home matches, head coach Steve Tandy does not need to be advised that the really serious stuff starts this week. Nor will he be unaware that Leinster have gone 16 consecutive Guinness PRO12 matches in Dublin since their last defeat there, by the Dragons in February 2015.

Biggar, already within striking distance of reaching 2,500 points at the astonishingly early age of 26, is not the only Test matchwinner straining at the leash.  Alun-Wyn Jones, refreshed after a twelve-week break, is also raring to go again for the first time since June in New Zealand where he completed a century of appearances for Wales.

It says much for the blazing start to the Guinness PRO12 season that Leinster-Ospreys is not the only big show on Friday night.    Another worthy of top billing as the match of the round kicks-off simultaneously before another full house at Scotstoun.

Ulster, two points behind Ospreys in second place, put their unbeaten record on the line against the Warriors on Clydeside where they have failed to stay afloat on any of their last six visits in the Guinness PRO12. No Irish team has won at Scotstoun since Munster three years ago which at least puts their northern province in good company.

They have won in Glasgow during that time, Chris Henry’s try and five Paddy Jackson goals taking them home 19-8 in the European Champions Cup four years ago. For Friday’s latest attempt to stop the Guinness PRO12 rot, Ulster plan to have Rory Best back at the helm for the first time since last season’s anti-climactic finish in the play-offs against Leinster.

Warriors, left with nothing but a single bonus point in Cardiff last week despite out-scoring the Blues 3-2 on tries, lost more than their unbeaten record.    Injuries to Josh Strauss and Ryan Wilson further depleted their back row resources, clearing the way for 19-year-old Lewis Wynne from Falkirk to make his third consecutive appearance of the season.


The Dragons have had some famous European wins on the road, most notably at Gloucester last April, but none in the Guinness PRO12 since Benetton Treviso eighteen months ago. They are back there on Friday by which time the Italians will have dusted themselves down from a demoralising experience in Swansea last Saturday night.

Munster, back at Thomond Park against Edinburgh on Saturday for the first time this season, aim to make it three wins out of four while the Blues, away to Zebre, will be expected to go one better and make it four out of four.

The last fixture of the weekend is unquestionably the most surprising. Who in his or her right mind could have imagined a few short weeks ago that Scarlets and Connacht would still be looking for their first point, never mind their first win?

Scarlets, pacemakers for long tracks of last season, have conceded five tries for every one they have scored over the first three rounds. Connacht, in urgent need of a break after starting their title defence with successive home defeats, probably got it when thunder and lightning of almost biblical proportion caused the abandonment in Italy last weekend with Zebre twelve points clear.

Stand by for more of the same this weekend, on the pitch as opposed to out of the sky…

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final