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Guinness PRO14: Round 14 Takeaways

Andrew Lawton

12 Feb 2018

Monty Ioane

It was another busy week of Guinness PRO14 action with six home victories and a thrilling draw between Dragons and Glasgow Warriors.

There was also wins for Benetton over reigning champions Scarlets and Edinburgh who triumphed over Leinster with Ulster, Cardiff Blues and Munster also securing wins.

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

Connacht 26-15 Ospreys 

1.  Craig Ronaldson looked sharp on his return from injury as he kicked 16 points in Connacht’s victory over Ospreys. Ronaldson has been missing with a hip injury but showed no signs of any discomfort as he kicked four penalties and converted both of Connacht’s two tries.

2. New interim head coach Allen Clarke was handed a clear reminder of the challenge he faces at Ospreys. Ospreys dominated territory and possession for long periods of the match but failed to turn that into points. Clarke will be able to point to the fact that he was missing 28 players through either injury of Six Nations call ups.

3. Connacht coach Kieran Keane said after the game that he was “thrilled with the result, but a pretty scratchy performance.” And with less territory and possession in the game it is easy to see why. But with opposite number missing 28 players, Keane was able to call on the majority of his squad.

Dragons 15-15 Glasgow Warriors

1. Hallam Amos looked spritely in his first appearance since injuring his ankle on Boxing Day and his return is a most welcome one for Dragons fans. His incisive run and clever chip allowed Jared Rosser to dot down beneath the posts for the Dragons second try. It proved to the final try of the match as Dragons earned a share of the spoils.

2. This was just the third draw in their 29th meeting in the Guinness PRO14 with Glasgow Warriors and Dragons sharing 13 victories apiece in that time. But the Warriors have been in fine form so far this term and they had won all four matches against Welsh regions prior to Friday night. Despite Munster’s win over Zebre, the Warriors remain 12 points clear at the top of Conference B.

3. The Warriors have nine try bonus points in 14 games so the Dragons’ ability to keep them scoreless for the entire second-half shows real character. Glasgow were without plenty of Scotland internationals but still had chances to get the win. Decision-making and precision let them down and they were left to rue those missed opportunities.

Edinburgh 29-24 Leinster 

1. Leinster arrived in the Scottish capital as favourites but left rueing missed chances. The Irish side struggled against Edinburgh’s impressive backline and went home on the wrong end of a nine try thriller. Leinster were dominating possession but Edinburgh stood firm and held on for the narrow win.

2. Mark Bennett scored the crucial try in Edinburgh’s victory – but even before that his performance caught the eye on his return from a long injury lay off. Bennett stopped Leinster’s Dave Kearney and played the ball out for scrum half Nathan Fowles who went over to score. And then in the 78th minute came the key moment in the match when he was played in by Glenn Bryce and charge over for Edinburgh’s fifth try of the game.

3. Edinburgh flanker John Hardie got his first 23 minutes under his belt following his ban. Hardie came on in the 57th minute along with fellow Scotland internationalists Rory Sutherland and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. And the trio made an instant impact, helping Edinburgh get on the front foot before big winger Duhan van der Merwe powered through two defenders to score the bonus-point try.

Ulster 59-10 Southern Kings

1. Ulster’s attack has been hit and miss for much of the season but they unloaded against the Southern Kings with pace and power. Scrum-half John Cooney pulled the strings while winger Craig Gilroy caused problems every time he stepped in off the right flank and scored a hat-trick. Rob Lyttle also added two tries from the opposite wing, while Stuart McCloskey also powered through. It may be just the start of the Jono Gibbes era but this was a fine way to get going.

2. Injuries are part and parcel of the game but with many established players on Six Nations duty now is perhaps the worst time for them to mount up. So, as good as Ulster played against the Southern Kings, Gibbes will be concerned to see three of his players walk off injured. Charles Piutau hobbled off with a muscle strain while flanker Sean Reidy followed a few minutes later. And in the second half the impressive Lyttle pulled a hamstring while sprinting through for his try.

3. New ground was broken in Belfast with Joy Neville becoming the first ever female referee in a Guinness PRO14 game. The former Ireland international was named World Rugby Referee of the Year in November and was assured throughout the match as Ulster stormed to victory. Neville took charge of the 2017 World Cup final between England and New Zealand and expressed her “excitement” at taking charge in Belfast.

Cardiff Blues 25-20 Toyota Cheetahs

1. Cardiff Blues will be delighted to get themselves up and running in the Guinness PRO14 in 2018 having last won in the league on Boxing Day. Danny Wilson was thrilled to see how his team recovered from an early setback to dot down three tries and survive a late Cheetahs onslaught to secure a victory.

2. He might be 34-years-old but Nick Williams rolled back the years with a vintage performance in the Welsh capital. The No. 8 dominated the Cheetahs and didn’t put a foot wrong, thundering over for the crucial third try in the second half as the Blues moved into fourth place in Conference A.

3. The Cheetahs will be happy with their maiden season in the Guinness PRO14, currently sitting in third place in Conference A. But their form on the road will be an obvious concern for director of rugby Franco Smith and having taken an early lead, the South Africans succumbed to their fifth defeat away from the Free State Stadium.

Munster 33-5 Zebre 

1. The Conference A table is getting exciting at the top, with Munster’s win closing the gap on leaders Glasgow Warriors to 12 points and a match between the two scheduled for later in the month. The race for the top spot in Conference A continues to hot up and could go all the way to the final few games.

2. Munster have some fantastic attacking players and when the likes of Keith Earls and Andrew Conway aren’t available, someone like Sam Arnold, fresh from signing a two-year contract extension, is on hand to fill the void. The Munster youngsters stood up superbly this weekend and looked a real threat with ball in hand scoring five tries against Zebre.

3. That squad depth is evident in the back row also, with CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony away Conor Oliver and Robin Copeland were excellent against Zebre, with Copeland bagging the man-of-the-match award. Continue in this form and there could be some serious selection dilemmas over the coming months.

Benetton Rugby 22-12 Scarlets

1. Monty Ioane has only been at Benetton since the end of 2017 but will be a firm fans’ favourite after his incredible display against reigning champions Scarlets. Twice he got onto the end of Marty Banks’ kicks whilst also showing his power for the final score. He provides the Italians with serious threat out wide especially as overhead and underfoot conditions improve towards May.

2. This was the Scarlets first loss against Benetton since May 2013 but the Italians fully deserved their win for playing the game in the right areas and being aggressive in defence. Scarlets’ usual free-flowing game wasn’t allowed to get going and they were forced into mistakes in dangerous areas of the field.

3. Scarlets’ third defeat of the season means they are level on 53 points with Leinster at the top of Conference B and this looks like a race that will go all the way. They face Ulster and Leinster in their next two Guinness PRO14 games which could prove crucial in their bid to finish as Conference winners.