Glasgow Warriors stretched their winning run to eight games with a thrilling victory over Leinster Rugby on Friday night but there was plenty of action throughout the Guinness PRO14 in Round 7. Munster kept up the chase in Conference A with a win over the Dragons.
At the top of Conference B, Scarlets and Ulster both won with Edinburgh capitalising on Leinster’s defeat with a win over Ospreys.
Connacht’s record made for grim reading heading into their clash against Munster last week but after breaking their four match losing streak, Kieran Keane will be delighted to see his side make it two wins on the bounce against a dangerous Toyota Cheetahs. The head coach will now be confident Connacht have finally hit their stride as they look to march up the Conference A table.
How Connacht have missed explosive winger Niyi Adeolokun this season. Their top try scorer last time out was making his first appearance of the campaign against the Cheetahs and he was keen to make up for lost time. His stunning first half try was the moment of the match as he used his blistering pace to breeze through the South African backline. His return to the squad should give Connacht added impetus going into the rest of the season.
The Cheetahs have made a promising start to their new life in the Guinness PRO14 but their form outside the Southern Hemisphere will be a concern to the Bloemfontein-based side. The Cheetahs have lost all three of their matches away to Irish sides, going down to Ulster, Munster and now Connacht. They will now be in more comfortable surroundings as they host Edinburgh and the Scarlets in a bid to get back to winning ways.
After a slow start to their Guinness PRO14 season Cardiff Blues are really clicking into gear. The five-try win over Zebre means the Blues are off the bottom of the Conference A table and leapfrog the Italian side into fifth – it’s also four wins in five matches in all competitions which hints at good things to come.
A big factor in the Blues’ resurgence has been powerful centre Willis Halaholo, who strode to his tenth try for the club midway through the first half. In a smart set-play, the Blues worked the ball to the New Zealander who crashed through Carlo Canna’s tackle and sped away for a 40 metre score, leaving the Zebre defenders trailing.
In seasons gone by Zebre may have wilted under an onslaught as strong as the Welsh side maintained on Saturday night but the Italians were determined to get something from the game and the spirit was epitomised by Guglielmo Palazzani’s late try and quickly taken conversion.
Ospreys need to take advantage of possession and territory when they have it. The Welsh side dominated the opening 20 minutes in Edinburgh but could only rack up ten points in the process. When the momentum switched they struggled to halt the Edinburgh onslaught.
Blair Kinghorn could be the driving force of an Edinburgh resurgence, with the 20-year-old full-back showing glimpses of brilliance with offloads which helped set up two of his side’s four tries on Saturday night.
When Edinburgh cut loose and played freely, Ospreys struggled to handle their play. The opening stages saw their attacking instincts stifled but when their gameplan changed and they took some more risks, players such as Kinghorn, Jason Tovey and Nathan Fowles regularly broke through the visitors’ defence – Cornell du Preez dominated at the breakdown to back them up.
This clash was a feast for the neutrals, despite neither defence covering themselves in glory. Ulster would have expected to have won by a bigger margin than they did and Les Kiss will want his side to provide stouter resistance in the coming weeks if they are to mount a serious challenge come the end of the season.
Kings were winless and without a point before the game. However, they played with freedom and expression and their lightning start out of the blocks was nearly enough for their elusive first win. They must utilise the electric pace of their backs to frighten teams going forward – wing Michael Makase’s tremendously opportunistic burst for their third score typified the fearlessness the South Africans should display.
Even though the victory was more laboured than it might have been, Ulster came through a stern test without several of their Ireland internationals missing. They were 22-10 down at the break and hauled themselves back into the contest, before eventually coming through for the bonus-point win. Kiss will no doubt be pleased with the mental strength shown by his side when faced with a defeat.
With Scarlets’ first-choice fly-half away on national duty, Dan Jones was not at all intimidated by the prospect of filling Rhys Patchell’s boots, displaying his play-making prowess with a smart show and go to score the first try of the game. The 21-year-old appears to have a bright future if he can repeat this kind of performance regularly for the reigning Guinness PRO14 champions.
Jones was not the only No.10 to impress, with Ian McKinley, newly welcomed into the Italian national side by head coach Conor O’Shea, scoring a fine try of his own as he picked his way through the Scarlets’ defence with ease. The reasons behind his international call-up appear clear.
Scarlets’ forwards proved they had plenty to contribute too, building up intensity as they worked through several phases to bring themselves into Benetton’s 22. The Italian defence held firm, but were let down by indiscipline, giving Jones a second chance to claim three points. In a relatively low-scoring game, this attacking edge proved crucial.
Rassie Erasmus had the perfect send-off as Munster ran in seven tries against the Dragons in a comfortable win. The departing coach will be thrilled to be leaving the province in such a strong shape, second in Conference A and unbeaten in Europe after two games. It is an exciting project for Johann van Graan to take on this week.
JJ Hanrahan put in a sublime performance in his first full 80 minutes at fly-half this season. His only other full 80 minutes came at full-back against Leinster in October but he looked right at home in the number 10 jersey. He kicked a perfect seven from seven off the tee and could be a key figure for the Irish province during the autumn internationals.
Simon Zebo will be departing Munster at the end of the season and he showed exactly what the Irish province will be missing with another try on Friday night. He has now scored 57 times in a Munster jersey and will leave big shoes to fill for Munster who will need to find somebody with his finishing prowess.
Few Guinness PRO14 games will exude the confidence of this game this season, with the attacking flair a joy to behold as Glasgow racked up their bonus point within the half-hour – all after Leinster had twice taken the lead in a lightning fast opening.
But the plaudits were to be reserved for Niko Matawalu, with the scrum-half’s assist for Nick Grigg’s second try a sight to behold – running almost the full length of the pitch before setting up his fellow Warrior in a try of the season contender.
After the frantic nature of 45 first-half points, the second was always going to be a tight affair with just one Leinster try as the Warriors showed why they are eight from eight with their defence holding firm late on. The Warriors all-round game looks in fine shape and it looks like it’ll take a big performance from someone to end their winning steak.
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