Guinness PRO14 takeaways: Round 21

Charlie Bennett
30 April 2018

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The Guinness PRO14 league season came to a close on Saturday and, as ever, it was a thrilling climax to a fascinating campaign.

Edinburgh Rugby clinched the last spot in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series, while there were tries galore across the seven matches.

Here you can catch up with all the major takeaways:

Edinburgh 24-19 Glasgow Warriors

  1. If there was any danger of this encounter proving a dead rubber, with both teams’ spots in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series confirmed before a ball was kicked, then those fears were emphatically proved to be wide of the mark. A pulsating contest kept supporters at BT Murrayfield on their toes right until the final whistle, with Edinburgh Rugby eventually coming out on top and claiming the 1872 Cup in the process.
  2. There was some thrilling attacking rugby on show but perhaps no moment raised the heart-rate faster than Callum Gibbins’ first-half score for Glasgow Warriors. A simply stunning team move saw Nick Grigg and George Horne help bamboozle Edinburgh and eventually, Finn Russell offloaded to allow Gibbins to dart over the line.
  3. Both teams will be confident of causing a stir in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series. Having finished top of Conference A, Glasgow will look forward to rolling out the red carpet for either the Scarlets or the Toyota Cheetahs in the semi-finals while Munster look forward to travelling to Thomond Park in Limerick to lock horns with Munster Rugby in a semi-final qualifier.

Munster 24-14 Ulster

  1. Munster may have made 14 changes to their side from last week’s Champions Cup outing but the freshness involved will certainly have been a pleasing factor – particularly with the Guinness PRO14 Final Series to come. Already assured of a home play-off, a chance to test the depth came to fruition – one that will certainly please them for the end-of-season finale.
  2. At 35 years of age Rory Best’s best try-scoring days may be behind him – but try telling the Ulster captain that. Returning for this game, it was unfortunate that it proved to be the last of the season, unable to lead his team to the bonus-point victory they needed. Edinburgh’s win over Glasgow made the chance of the Final Series moot anyway but Best was in clinical form in the Ulster forward pack – with the two tries showing there is still plenty of life in the old dog yet.
  3. Munster may not have ended their regular season with a win but they did go into the Final Series with an abundance of character. Come the cut and thrust of knockout rugby, that could be vital. The 14 changes showed they have a squad to match anyone’s and, having come from ten points down at half-time to share the spoils at 24-24, this is not a team that will roll over for anyone.

Connacht 47-10 Leinster

  1. Connacht’s defence was outstanding. The hosts stifled Leinster whenever they tried to break and Kieran Keane’s men won the battle at the breakdown all day. Just when Leinster looked to have built some momentum Connacht broke the play up and held strong in defence to secure sixth place in the Guinness PRO14 Conference A with the victory.
  2. Emotion fuelled Connacht. On John Muldoon’s 327th and last appearance for the Galway side it seemed the players all stood up and performed to give him a proper send off. The No. 8 even featured on the scoreboard when he converted the last try of the match in the 77th minute for the perfect end to an unforgettable day.
  3. Leinster missed Jonny Sexton. After a brilliant display in the Champions Cup semi-final against Scarlets, Sexton was rested against Connacht in preparation for a challenging few weeks ahead. But the visitors lacked a leader and without their legendary fly-half there was no one to control the game, meaning Connacht took advantage with ball in hand.

Dragons 8-33 Scarlets

  1. Scrum issues dogged the Dragons performance right from the off as the referee repeatedly penalised them for collapsing. Dan Suter was given a warning and subsequently hauled off early in the second half, only for Christian Coleman to be sin-binned four scrums into his debut. The set-piece is perhaps on the list of ‘summer work-ons’ for the Dragons coaching staff.
  2. Tadhg Beirne’s Scarlets career continues into the post-season thanks in large part to his try double on Judgement Day. With his future lying back over the Irish Sea with Munster, Beirne guaranteed himself one more appearance at Parc Y Scarlets and showed exactly what a miss he will be when he departs at the end of the season.
  3. A scrappy and stop-start second 20 minutes could have seen Scarlets miss out on the bonus point they needed to secure the home quarter-final as Dragons’ scrum issues and a succession of Scarlets penalties saw the game lose all rhythm. The penalty count stood at 19 after just 48 minutes but fortunately Scarlets rallied and ran in the tries they needed.

Southern Kings 20-29 Toyota Cheetahs

  1. The Toyota Cheetahs have not quite shown the blistering form they did in the early weeks of the season recently but they remain a potent attacking threat and showed it here. Against a Kings side which was ferocious in defence they had to bide their time, and did not always choose the right option. But their support play was very good, and when the likes of Clayton Blommetjies made breaks, there was always someone on the shoulder. That was most notably the case when skipper Francois Venter collected his lovely inside ball and scored the all-important fourth try.
  2. Ox Nche has been called into South Africa’s extended squad ahead of the international season and it was clear to see why on the basis of this display. Nche simply does things that props should not be capable of. He would be considered dynamic for a loose forward, let alone a loosehead, and he was a constant menace with ball in hand. His work in the set-piece was also strong, and his time in the Guinness PRO14 will only help in that regard. At 22, Nche is a huge talent and he will be one to watch in the Cheetahs’ quarter-final against the Scarlets.
  3. The Southern Kings’ maiden season in the Guinness PRO14 has come to an end with just the one victory, and while they had chances at a number of others, there will be some disappointment that they could not add to that tally. Still, this was a much-improved display compared to the two defeats to the Cheetahs in January. As ever, Bobby de Wee was hugely influential up front, while Masixole Banda was a threat with ball in hand at fly-half. With a full pre-season and a proper summer to prepare for next season, expect them to be more of a force next term.

Cardiff Blues 23-26 Ospreys

  1. What a player Gareth Anscombe is. The playmaker delivered a try-scoring performance in the European Challenge Cup against Pau last week but was back at fly-half for the final regular-season fixture of the Guinness PRO14. In the first half Anscombe nailed a long-range penalty to get the scoreboard ticking and added a further 15 points, including a wonderful try that saw him jink his way to the line from 45 metres out.
  2. At times during the match it seemed like a battle between two excellent fly-halves who also compete for the shirt at national level. Anscombe’s try was brilliant and his late penalty looked to have given the Blues the edge, but Dan Biggar’s try was just as good and he was at his combative best all around the park. Biggar levelled the score up at 23-23 with six minutes remaining and then held his nerve to knock over a very quickly-taken late drop-goal to seal the points, past an onrushing Blues defence.
  3. The Blues obviously have a huge fixture upcoming with their European Challenge Cup final against Gloucester Rugby in Bilbao on 11 May, and with that in mind made 13 changes for the Judgement Day clash against Ospreys. Anscombe and Josh Turnbull kept their places but plenty of other players stood out. Full-back Matthew Morgan claimed 105 metres which included a dazzling second-half break, whilst back-rowers Macauley Cooke and Olly Robinson each made 24 tackles.

Benetton Rugby 17-22 Zebre Rugby

  1. Zebre’s success on Saturday is the 18th by an Italian side in the Guinness PRO14 this season, and the future is likely to be even brighter. Both teams have finished the season in style, Zebre with three wins in a row and Benetton Rugby with three wins in four, showing how they have improved as the season has progressed. Next year, expect that number of 18 to be even greater.
  2. It was vital for Zebre to get one over on their rivals and there is no doubt Benetton have had the edge in recent meetings. Benetton had won their last four contests but Zebre were outstanding, with Carlo Canna’s try in the corner proving decisive. It will send them off into the summer on a high and give them plenty of momentum heading into next season.
  3. As ever, the set-piece was vital in the Italian derby with the winner always likely to be the side who dominated up front. Both used their forward power well, with Tommaso Allan crossing for Benetton off the back of an early scrum. But Zebre’s forwards soon got on top, with David Sisi powering over off the back of a driving maul.

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