Guinness PRO14: Round 15 Takeaways

Andrew Lawton
19 February 2018

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Every Guinness PRO14 team was in action this weekend and Round 15 was bookended by wins from Italian sides.

Zebre Rugby enjoyed a 19-11 triumph in Connacht Rugby on Friday evening and in Sunday’s only game, Benetton Rugby recorded their fifth Guinness PRO14 win in succession with an 18-15 win away at the Dragons.

Elsewhere, Leinster pulled clear at the top of Conference B with a win over Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors set a new record for points scored after 15 games with a 37-23 win over the Toyota Cheetahs.

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

Connacht 11-19 Zebre


1. Zebre proved that their defence can be as solid on the road as it is at home, with the victory at the Sportsground only their second away win of the season in the Guinness PRO14. With 143 tackles made and only 9 missed, the Italians worked hard to keep out Connacht. Even after going to 13 men, Zebre showed strength in seeing out the game defiantly.

2. Connacht couldn’t take advantage of Zebre’s ill-discipline and were not clinical enough in the final third. Zebre conceded 20 penalties throughout the match and two players were sent to the sin bin, yet Connacht didn’t convert the opportunities, choosing to kick to touch when penalty points were on offer. The hosts saw the vast majority of possession in the final 20 minutes but failed to make up the ground and Darragh Leader’s score only came as a consolation to the Irish.

3. The Italians have now closed the gap on Connacht in the Conference A table to seven points with the victory and will take confidence after doing the double on the Irish for the first time ever, whilst the win was their first ever at the Sportsground. The difference between Zebre at the bottom and Cardiff in fourth is now only eight points as well, and Michael Bradley’s men will take a massive morale boost after their expansive rugby proved successful.

Dragons 15-18 Benetton Rugby

1. Benetton’s persistence paid off and they overcame conceding two early tries, hitting back instantly to take the lead. Their defence in the second half was relentless to keep out the hosts, with Whetu Douglas, Tizano Pasquali, and skipper Alberto Sgarbi’s tackle count all into double figures. Five consecutive wins in a row now for Kieran Crowley’s men, who have shown a marked improvement over the course of the season and have demonstrated they can take control of games and grind out results.

2. Dragons couldn’t take advantage of their early scores and looked vulnerable even when in the lead. Jared Rosser went over within two minutes, followed by Liam Belcher five minutes later, but instead of pulling ahead in the match they conceded instantly and it seemed to stun them into a dull performance. Belcher’s second gave the Dragons a lead going into the break but Benetton looked far sharper in the second half and were even denied two tries in the last four minutes after TMO decisions.

3. The battle of the kickers proved the difference, with Marty Banks not only levelling the score from the tee in the second half but slotting another penalty to ultimately win the game. Zane Kirchner not only missed all his conversions, but also pushed a crucial penalty wide just moments after Banks nailed his to take the lead, meaning the hosts could have been level with 10 minutes to play.

Leinster 20-13 Scarlets


1. Tadhg Beirne ended up on the losing side, but put in a superb performance. Winning five turnovers throughout the game, he was a menace to Leinster from start to finish and the real stand-out player for the Scarlets. His perseverance earned his side the late penalty that won them a point from the game. It is surely only a matter of time before he earns a call up to the Irish national side.

2. Ciaran Frawley made his senior debut for Leinster and immediately looked composed. Luke McGrath’s try came at the end of a move that started with Frawley’s kick off and Frawley stepped up to send a conversion from the touchline straight through the posts, after Ross Byrne had missed two in the first half. That kind of strength in depth could be crucial for Leinster as we approach the business end of the season.

3. Scarlets have now lost two games on the bounce for the first time in the Guinness PRO14 this season, however, the fight back for the bonus point is encouraging. Scarlets suffered a surprising, but thoroughly deserved, defeat away at Benetton last weekend and the Italians perhaps should have scored more. Against Leinster, despite finishing the last 10 minutes of the game with 14 men due to Tom Prydie’s injury, the Scarlets showed great desire to secure a losing bonus point. It is that kind of performance in defeat that Scarlets will want to see more of.

Glasgow 37-23 Cheetahs


1. The Cheetahs refused to lie down against Glasgow and kept knocking on the door but it was the pace in the Warriors back-line that proved the difference with Nikola Matawalu and George Horne producing predatory finishes and showing speed in abundance to touchdown at crucial moments in the game.

2. For all his pace and trickery Matawalu remains a frustrating figure for Glasgow boss Dave Rennie in defence. It was his moment of madness on the stroke of half-time – a ludicrous crossfield kick under no pressure in his own 22 that allowed the Cheetahs to go in at the break within touching distance as Niel Marais scored an all-important penalty. Fortunately, it didn’t prove costly but Rennie will be looking to stamp out such errors.

3. Glasgow look like the team to beat in this season’s PRO14 presently as they racked up their 13th win of an impressive campaign to-date.  Nine players were unavailable to Glasgow coach Rennie because of Scotland commitments, with another nine on the injury list, but still the Warriors showed their strength in depth. With the Cheetahs continually ticking over the scoreboard, Henry Pyrgos demonstrated his class and the quality of the Glasgow replacement’s bench by scoring a superb solo score.

Ospreys 26-12 Southern Kings

1.Ospreys went back to basics in the second half when they were faced with the prospect of defeat – and it worked wonders. The Welsh side trailed early in the second half with the Kings’ backs running riot but they had other things in mind. Ospreys reverted back to a solid base, powerful scrum and reliable set-piece. And it paid off as they scored two second-half penalty tries in the victory.

2. The Southern Kings remain winless in the Guinness PRO14 this season but they are getting closer every week. Against the Ospreys they were undone by two penalty tries in the second half but up to that point they looked like more than a match for the Welsh giants, with Michael Makase and Michael Willemse both crossing for first-half tries. The Kings are one of the most dangerous teams with ball in hand and showed that in Wales but they ran out of steam in the end. A victory is surely not far away.

3. In a tight and congested Conference A, there is plenty still left to play for and the Ospreys are still hunting a Champions Cup place. The Welsh side are sixth, just five points clear of Italian side Zebre Rugby but have their eyes firmly locked on a Champions Cup spot. With the Toyota Cheetahs unable to reach the Champions Cup, a top-four spot is all Ospreys need. That win leaves them seven points behind Cardiff Blues giving them plenty of hope.

Cardiff 25-18 Munster


1. Munster couldn’t take their chances after dominating possession, with 10 changes to the side form last week resulting in a disjointed performance in the first half. The Irish have won six from the last seven games at Cardiff Arms Park but their discipline prevented them from making a dramatic comeback, as the visitor’s conceded four penalties in the last quarter which allowed the Blues to take back control.

2. Cardiff’s defence in the second half meant that Munster struggled to get a grip of the game, with the forwards winning countless turnover and stealing line-outs to stifle the Irish attack. After the Blues went down to 14 men control they could have easily capitulated as Munster held belief in their ability to snatch a win, but the hosts only missed four tackles from 94 and didn’t let Munster play.

3. Experience was the key for Cardiff Blues in seeing out the game, with a collective 114 years in the starting front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Taufa’ao Filise. Nick Williams, another veteran at age 37, lasted the full 80 minutes and was outstanding in defence throughout, making 11 tackles whilst also gaining the most metres out of all the Blues forwards (23).

Ulster 16-17 Edinburgh


1. It was a dramatic late win which could prove pivotal at end of the season as Edinburgh moved ahead of Ulster in the Conference B standings. The Scots now have ten wins from 15 games and are level on points with their Irish rivals. Richard Cockerill’s men will hope to use the morale-boosting victory to push on towards a top-three finish and a spot in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series.

2. Scrum-half John Cooney was unlucky to finish on the losing side after scoring all 16 points of Ulster’s points with a fine display. He followed the action perfectly for the opening try and was right on the shoulder of Louis Ludik to take the final pass and run under the posts. His kicking was also pinpoint from the tee and he’ll be crucial in the closing rounds.

3. Duncan Weir hasn’t earned a Scotland cap since March 2017 but he used all his 27-caps of international experience to get his Edinburgh side over the line. Four years ago, he slotted a last-minute drop-goal for Scotland over Italy in the Six Nations and he was on target again with the final kick in Belfast to earn Richard Cockerill’s men the points.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Ticket prices start at just €35 for adults and €10 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie

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