Guinness PRO14 season review: May

Charlie Talbot-Smith
23 July 2018

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With the new Guinness PRO14 season just around the corner, we take a look back at what was a thrilling 2017/18 campaign.

Our month-by-month review continues as we get to May and the business end of the season.

The Finals Series came to town, culminating in an instant-classic of a final in Dublin and a familiar face on the trophy.

QUALIFIERS

But before we get to the fireworks at the Aviva Stadium, the semi-final qualifiers had to take place first at the beginning of the month.

Simon Zebo’s final game at Thomond Park was one to remember as the full-back inspired Johan van Graan’s Munster side to victory over Edinburgh.

Richard Cockerill’s Scottish outfit displayed all the improvements that made them such a big player this season in pushing them all the way.

But the Irish province had just enough in the tank to hold on, Zebo’s chip and chase to release Keith Earls for their pivotal second try the real highlight of a 20-16 success.

It wasn’t quite so nip and tuck in the other semi-final qualifier however as defending champions the Scarlets ran riot in a 43-8 win over the Toyota Cheetahs in their first season in the competition.

SEMI-FINAL DRAMA

The Scarlets’ reward for downing the South Africans was a trip to the runaway leaders all season long, the Glasgow Warriors.

And Wayne Pivac’s side produced a stunning display at Scotstoun to claim a 28-13 victory.

The first half was everything that the Scarlets have excelled at under Pivac, scoring tries from all over the pitch as Rob Evans, Gareth Davies and Johnny McNicholl ran riot.

The second semi-final was a much tighter affair between two old rivals, Munster and Leinster.

Leinster, the newly crowned European champions, had to hold on after James Lowe’s brilliance had created an early lead – the Kiwi winger laying a try on a plate for Jack Conan.

But Gerbrandt Grobler’s last-gasp score set up a dramatic finish as Munster pushed forwards in search of victory but Leinster – the team of destiny in 2017/18 – were not to be denied, running out 16-15 winners.

That weekend also saw Ulster overcome Ospreys, 35-17, in their Champions Cup play-off – thanks to Craig Gilroy’s double – and secure top flight European rugby remains on the menu at the Kingspan Stadium.

FINAL FIREWORKS

And so, the stage was set for the final and a mouth-watering match-up between the kings of Europe and the defending Guinness PRO14 champions.

Leinster had beaten Scarlets in the European semi-finals in convincing fashion – but in the final in Dublin the Welsh region refused to roll over.

There were so many magic moments in a final that finished 40-32 to the Irish giants – completing a first-ever PRO14 and European double.

Scarlets wing McNicholl scored a stunning hat-trick but Jordan Larmour’s ridiculous solo effort was one of five tries on the day for Leinster who also had 13 points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton.

And while McNicholl’s late efforts gave Irish hearts a scare, Leo Cullen’s Leinster were not to be denied their spot in the history books as club legend Isa Nacewa bid the club farewell with one last trophy lift.

 

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