Guinness PRO14 season review – March

Andy Baber
20 July 2018

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As the hotly-anticipated 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 campaign grows ever closer, what better to further whet the attitude than to look back at last season’s March madness.

Uzar Cassiem

With the Beast from the East causing postponements, alongside the Six Nations international break through the middle of the month, each match in March took on greater importance.

It was a month where the contenders at the top of Conference A and B pulled away from the chasing pack, as sides solidified spots in the running for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series.

COMING OF AGE

Toyota Cheetahs excelled in their first Guinness PRO14 season and a dramatic 26-25 win over Connacht strengthened their grip on a top three place in Conference A.

In Bloemfontein’s sweltering heat, Uzar Cassiem crossed early on but two tries from Matt Healy and another by Eoin Griffin put the Northern Irishmen within touching distance.

Substitute Sibhale Maxwane helped capitalise on a turnover to give the hosts hope of beating Connacht on their first-ever visit to South Africa.

Up stepped Niel Marais, who landed a clutch penalty after his pack had done the tough work with a rolling maul to seal nail-biting victory.

Southern Kings’ thumping 45-13 success over Dragons meant it was a successful, season-defining weekend for the South African sides.

FINAL WORD

A tense draw between the eventual Guinness PRO14 finalists, Leinster Rugby and Scarlets, on March 9 gave a taste of just how well-matched the two Conference B sides would prove to be.

An incident-packed affair at a sodden Parc Y Scarlets saw both sides thwarted close to the try line; Tom Williams and Nick McCarthy both having efforts ruled out.

Nonetheless, Ed Byrne gave Stuart Lancaster’s side the impetus after a scoreless first-half only for Paul Asquith to power over and make it 7-7.

Then it became a battle of the kickers – Ross Byrne must have thought he’d sealed the spoils, only for Scarlets fly-half Dan Jones to convert from the tee in the last minute.

The sharing of the spoils gave Leinster a four-point buffer with three games remaining, one that Scarlets would overhaul and they ended the regular season on level pegging.

WAR OF ATTRITION

You can’t beat a low-scoring thriller; Edinburgh proving that in abundance on March 16 with a gritty 12-6 triumph over Munster, serving notice of their playoff potential in the process.

An attritional contest at BT Murrayfield was illuminated five minutes from half-time by a sparkling break from Edinburgh full-back Dougie Fife.

Fife raced out of his own 22, brushing tacklers aside in the process, setting up Duhan van der Merwe for an eye-catching score.

JJ Hanrahan gave the Irish side a sniff when he converted a penalty in the 50th minute, but van der Merwe had the final word when he sneaked into the left-hand corner.

Richard Cockerill’s side sealed a fifth successive victory, keeping their season in rude health.

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