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Guinness PRO14: Round 13 Takeaways

With two thrilling rounds of Guinness PRO14 only just behind us, you could be forgiven for expecting a post-New Year hangover this weekend.

But instead we were treated to tries galore as Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets piled on the points and Benetton Rugby staged a superb second-half comeback.

Here are the key points you need to take away from the action:

Edinburgh 37-7 Southern Kings

1. Mark Bennett may have endured ten months on the sidelines and is now bedecked in a different jersey but the centre hasn’t missed a beat. Having joined Edinburgh from Glasgow Warriors over the summer, the cruciate ligament injury Bennett suffered in last year’s Six Nations meant the Myreside faithful had to wait until now to see their star signing in action. And he didn’t disappoint – earning man-of-the-match honours by running hard with ball in hand and looking solid defensively.

2. Blair Kinghorn is a game-changer at full-back. The 20-year-old will surely be in Scotland coach Gregor Townsend’s thinking with the Six Nations just around the corner as there are few players in the Guinness PRO14 more explosive in attack. Kinghorn sizzled in the midst of a hailstorm against the Kings – making a mammoth 143 metres with ball in hand, five clean breaks and beating 11 defenders and capped it off with a try.

3. The Kings hadn’t played a Guinness PRO14 match in more than a month but actually started the stronger at Myreside. They dominated territory and possession in the opening quarter but failed to pierce a solid Edinburgh defence when deep in their 22 before Kurt Coleman pulled an eminently kickable penalty wide of the left upright. They were duly punished as Grant Gilchrist and Kinghorn crossed within three minutes of each other to put Edinburgh in control and as the quest for their first win goes on, the Kings once again learned the hard way that you can’t afford to spurn the opportunity for points at this level.

Scarlets 47-13 Dragons

1. Scarlets may be the only team in league history to win an away semi-final – after beating Leinster 27-15 at the RDS Arena en route to the title last season – but it’s their home form that really stands them apart. This seven-try cruise against the Dragons was their 17th consecutive Guinness PRO14 home win, since Munster beat them at Parc y Scarlets in September 2016. That record was never under threat on Friday evening as they shook off a sloppy start to blow their Welsh rivals away and extend their lead atop Conference B.

2. Often deployed at fly-half, Rhys Patchell proved he is just as capable at full-back with a mesmerising 80-minute display. The Welsh international was at the heart of everything good the Scarlets did – creating two tries and keeping the Dragons defence on the back foot with a mixture of pinpoint kicking and darting breaks.

3. The Dragons are beset by injuries, meaning they were forced to field a very youthful line-up, but head coach Bernard Jackman was lamenting errors from his more senior heads after the game. A return of just two victories from 13 Guinness PRO14 games so far this term is disappointing but for any team to cope while missing the likes of Hallam Amos, Tyler Morgan, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Ollie Griffiths, Harrison Keddie, Ashton Hewitt and Nic Cudd is a big ask. Regardless, they were largely outplayed by Scarlets and haven’t won a Guinness PRO14 game since September, a rot they must find a way to stop when they return to league action next month.

Benetton Rugby 27-21 Toyota Cheetahs

1. The Cheetahs may have lost but Fred Zeilinga proved throughout the game that he’s a first-class kicker and will no doubt gain them many more points this season. He kicked 11 points in all including some difficult efforts from out wide.

2. Yellow cards are crucial – Benetton scored two of their tries whilst the Cheetahs were down to 13 men. If only Torsten van Jaarsveld at Shaun Venter had held their nerve whilst defending the line the result could’ve been very different.

3. Oupa Mohoje is the perfect example of an all-court flanker, the openside scoring two tries out wide to keep his side in it and prove that he’s more than just forward grunt power.

Zebre 20-40 Glasgow Warriors

1. Despite being outscored by six tries to three, Zebre never looked truly out of the running at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi. The home side always looked a threat but were sadly too vulnerable to Glasgow’s fast breaks and incisive lines. Having already conceded four tries in the opening 40, Zebre could have folded in the second period but their determination to get something from the game will see them rewarded this season.

2. Glasgow went to Zebre to do a job, and do it they did. Having got their bonus point in the bag before the half-time whistle it allowed them to relax in the second period. Their game plan was evident right from the off, with fly-half Finn Russell declining two makeable kicks at the posts to go for the corner instead. It paid off on both occasions, with Warriors’ power prevailing for catch-and-drive tries that showed Glasgow meant business in Parma.

3. The way in which Glasgow have bounced back from their first defeat of the Guinness PRO14 season – to nearest rivals Edinburgh of all teams – demonstrates a steel in Dave Rennie’s men. After winning ten on the bounce, such a narrow defeat in the 1872 Cup could have sent Warriors into a scrappy patch. But two wins on the bounce, including shutting out Edinburgh last weekend, shows the Warriors are in it for the long haul this season.

Ospreys 29-28 Cardiff Blues

1. The Ospreys have endured a tough start to the season but their Guinness PRO14 form appears to be turning around after this second successive derby victory. They still have a lot to do to get back into the play-off hunt, but now just nine points behind the Toyota Cheetahs, it is not beyond the realms of possibility. Even if they cannot catch the South African side, they are now just three points behind Connacht, who currently sit in the European play-off position.

2. Steve Tandy chose to start both Dan Biggar and Sam Davies, the latter at full-back, and the dual-playmaker plan appeared to pay off. Biggar was in outstanding form, his tactical kicking setting up three tries for his team. The fourth of those, to secure the bonus point, came from some quick thinking by half-back partner Rhys Webb. With a penalty five metres out, Biggar was set to kick to the corner, but after a word from Webb, he saw Justin Tipuric out wide and launched a kick across to him for the simplest of finishes for the flanker.

3. It was a case of what might have been for Cardiff Blues, who started and finished the game strongly, but were outplayed for the middle 40 minutes. In Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson and Nick Williams they appear to have a well-balanced back row, the latter still one of the most destructive carriers in the game while Navidi and Robinson are a menace at the breakdown and defensively. For Navidi, despite the loss, this was another strong performance as he looks to earn a place in Warren Gatland’s Six Nations squad.

Leinster 38-7 Ulster

1. Leo Cullen would have been wary when seeing Ulster produce a stirring comeback against Munster on New Year’s Day. But the Leinster head coach will be delighted to see the way his team continued to put their rivals under pressure, scoring four superb second-half tries to well and truly dismantle their opponents.

2. As for Ulster, they might have comeback against Munster but they will need to arrest a worrying trend of slow starts if they are to climb the table. In their last two matches Kiss’ men have failed to register even a point in the opening 40 minutes, a worrying statement and something they must amend when Southern Kings come rolling into town next month.

3. Jordan Larmour has well and truly burst onto the Guinness PRO14 scene this season and is in the form of his life. The Ireland U20 is certainly showcasing all the attributes that proves he can, one day, make it as an Ireland international. The youngster dotted down twice at the RDS Arena in the demolition of UIster.

Munster 39-13 Connacht

1. Munster have no shortage of first-class back-row operators and that was displayed perfectly once again with Conor Oliver’s man-of-the-match award. The flanker returned from injury to play the full 80 and didn’t take a backwards step all night.

2. Keith Earls may be 30 now but he gave a timely reminder to Joe Schmidt that he’s still one of Ireland’s best, grabbing one try and causing havoc down the left flank all night.

3. Sometimes it doesn’t take brute strength to score in the tight. Scrum-half Conor Murray proved that on two occasions on Saturday night, combining pace and power to burrow over from close range when many of his pack could not achieve the same feat.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie