Guinness PRO14: Review of the season

Charlie Peat
03 June 2018

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Nine months, 152 matches and 898 tries, the Guinness PRO14 had absolutely everything but there could only be one winner.

Leinster were crowned champions after downing last season’s winners Scarlets 40-32 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

And as the curtain comes down on an enthralling campaign – here’s a look back at all the drama that unfolded.

New faces

This was the first time two sides from South Africa had participated in the championship and we saw an entirely new format for an exciting season with two conferences divided into seven teams.

It would be a difficult start for both Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings who both lost their opening two matches before the Cheetahs secured a first league victory over Zebre in Bloemfontein.

The Kings would have to wait until March 2 to pick up their first and only victory of the campaign – a 45-13 triumph over Welsh region Dragons.

But with standout displays from Clayton Blommetjies and Francois Venter, Cheetahs found themselves in the Final Series after 12 league victories before eventually going down 43-8 to Scarlets.

Lightning starts

Glasgow Warriors finished sixth last season with just 58 points but they were reinvigorated under Dave Rennie and had a season to remember.

The Warriors opened up with ten consecutive Guinness PRO14 victories including a dramatic late triumph in South Africa against Toyota Cheetahs and a 31-21 win over Leinster at Scotstoun.

Their superb run was halted by Scottish rivals Edinburgh Rugby as Chris Dean’s late try sealed a dramatic comeback.

Meanwhile Ulster also enjoyed a strong start with a victory over champions Scarlets the pick of the bunch as the Ulstermen eyed a Champions Cup spot.

Round 12 brought an end to 2017 and welcomed in 2018 in spectacular fashion as Leinster held off a spirited Connacht charge before Ulster came from 17-0 down to defeat Munster 24-17 in one of the fightbacks of the season.

Benetton brilliance

Both Zebre and Benetton will be happy with their improvement in the Guinness PRO14 this season with both sides more than doubling their number of victories from the 2016/17 campaign.

Benetton’s impressive season included a club record as the northern Italian side won five straight matches for the first time in the championship.

Back-to-back victories over fellow Italian outfit Zebre were followed up by triumphs over Toyota Cheetahs and Scarlets.

And two tries from Liam Belcher put Benetton into the history books as they downed Dragons at Rodney Parade.

But Benetton saved their best for Round 20 when they claimed only a second ever victory over Leinster with a Tommaso Allan-inspired triumph at the RDS Arena.

Benetton would ultimately finish on 55 points in Conference B with Zebre collecting 36 points in Conference A.

Final Series: Scarlets show title prowess

And so the business end of the season came roaring into view as Glasgow Warriors and Leinster topped the two conferences with Scarlets, Edinburgh Rugby, Munster and Toyota Cheetahs all making the Final Series.

It was an emotional farewell to Thomond Park for Simon Zebo as he said goodbye to the Munster faithful with a 20-16 victory over Edinburgh to set-up a mouth-watering semi-final against Leinster.

Scarlets were on a mission to retain their title and made a good start with a six-try victory over Toyota Cheetahs before producing a complete performance at Scotstoun against Glasgow Warriors.

A dominant first half saw Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies and Rob Evans all cross the whitewash to blow away their Scottish counterparts and reach a second straight final.

A 154th encounter between Leinster and Munster saw Leo Cullen’s men prevail 16-15 courtesy of a defensive masterclass as the blues set up a clash with Scarlets in the final.

Elsewhere Ulster would clinch the final Champions Cup spot after overcoming Ospreys 35-17 in a play-off a the Kingspan.

Final: Leinster make history in nine-try thriller

All eyes were on the Aviva Stadium and the two finalists didn’t disappointed in Dublin with Leinster eventually prevailing.

Devin Toner pushed over the first try for Leo Cullen’s side before Johnny McNicholl found a way across the whitewash two minutes later.

An important score on the stroke of half-time by James Lowe allowed Leinster to control the contest as Jordan Larmour scored the pick of their three second half tries.

There was just enough time for McNicholl to notch up his hat-trick and bring the curtain down on an enthralling campaign.

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