Guinness PRO14 takeaways: Round 5

Charlie Bennett
01 October 2018

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Round five of the Guinness PRO14 provided a bucketload of tries and a big dollop of drama as Scarlets and Munster secured big wins, while Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues edged narrow thrillers.

Here are the weekend’s major talking points:

Edinburgh 31-30 Benetton Rugby

  1. Edinburgh’s incisive play with ball in hand got them over the line, just. There was some delightfully fluid rugby by the Scots, with Simon Hickey pulling the strings excellently from 10, setting up Matt Scott for Edinburgh’s first score, then drawing the defence and popping perfectly to Duhan van der Merwe for their second. Chris Dean and Blair Kinghorn were equally effective, carving through the middle of the Italian defence with real attacking intent to set up tries out wide.
  2. Benetton never give up. The Italians came extremely close in the end, having been 24-8 down at one point, and keep on showing their quality in the second periods of their games to really test teams. Scarlets were made to work in order to beat Benetton in round three, while Dragons couldn’t manage it, and even though Edinburgh came away with the points it was the team from Treviso that everyone was talking about thanks to their three second-half scores.
  3. The kicks from the tee proved costly. Benetton scored five tries while Edinburgh scored four, but it was the accuracy of Simon Hickey’s boot that effectively won them the game. With a penalty and all four conversions, Hickey displayed nerve and skill, while Benetton will rue the four missed conversions as essentially just one of those would have nicked the win.

Cardiff Blues 24-21 Toyota Cheetahs

  1. Gareth Anscombe has been in and out of the Wales team over the last 12 months but ahead of the autumn internationals gave Warren Gatland a reminder of his qualities. The creative force behind the Blues, Anscombe was a constant threat to the Cheetahs defence all night, making one clean break, beating three defenders and holding his nerve to nail the crucial conversion of Olly Robinson’s try late on.
  2. So close yet so far for the Cheetahs. After starting the season slowly and drawing 39-39 with Ulster Rugby last week, the Bloemfontein side fell cruelly short of a win once again as the Blues overtook them in the final 15 minutes. Excellent second-half scores for Sibhale Maxwane and Benhard Janse van Rensburg had put them in a position to win, only for it to be snatched away, but they are improving week by week and are a serious force to be reckoned with.
  3. What a captain Ellis Jenkins is. The Blues have been blessed with back-row talent in recent years, with the likes of club legend Sam Warburton and Wales flanker Josh Navidi, and Jenkins is just as influential on this side. The 25-year-old made 12 carries and 10 tackles against the Cheetahs and was indomitable at the breakdown, securing key possession for the Blues at crucial times.

Zebre 8-22 Ospreys

  1. Sevens players are not always suited to the 15s game but Luke Morgan has shown his class in the opening weeks at Ospreys – and he was on top form again against Zebre. The wing scored the key try of the match in the first half, while he proved difficult to take down throughout. George North may have been the eye-catching signing for Ospreys over the summer but Morgan may turn out to be equally important.
  2. Zebre’s four-match winning home run was snapped on Saturday but they still proved they will be hard to stop in front of their own fans this season. They were sharp in defence, powerful in attack and lively with the ball – but Ospreys pair Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate were just too good in defence. Luckily for Zebre, they won’t face players of that quality every week.
  3. While Morgan was key with ball-in-hand for Ospreys, Sam Davies was superb off the tee – kicking four penalties and a drop-goal in the win. With the autumn internationals just around the corner, now is a good time to hit form and Davies is pushing his case hard for a Wales first place.

Connacht 3-20 Leinster

  1. Leinster know how to win. It was tough for the defending champions, but they grit their teeth and forced the victory despite not reaching the top of their game. Their finishing in Connacht’s 22 was lacking and handling errors cost them a few opportunities, but a flash of brilliance from Garry Ringrose to cut through the defence was enough really to see them over the line.
  2. Defence was key. Connacht were hoping for a repeat of last season’s home victory against Leinster, but they were shut out by the stonewall defence of the reigning PRO14 champions. Man of the match Josh van der Flier was immense, making a whopping 23 tackles throughout, along with Scott Fardy who made 19 hits. To leave a potent Connacht attack without a single try is a statement of intent in itself.
  3. Connacht made it difficult for themselves. The hosts conceded 15 penalties throughout the match and missed more tackles, with Sean O’Brien and Robin Copeland’s 13 tackles each the highest count for Connacht. Discipline cost them in the end, compounded by Dominic Robertson-McCoy’s red for stamping in the ruck, effectively ending the game with 10 minutes remaining.

Scarlets 54-14 Southern Kings

  1. He’d been out for 11 months, but it only took Scarlets skipper Jonathan Davies 11 minutes to make an impact against Isuzu Southern Kings. Last season’s Guinness PRO14 runners-up, shorn of their star man for so long, served notice of just how dangerous an attacking unit they are in an eight-try romp. Davies, 30, was nigh-on flawless; powering over in the corner for his first and finishing off a seamless team move later in the first-half, suggesting he’d never been away.
  2. The scoreline ignores the strong stake Isuzu Southern Kings held in the game until the hour mark. In the first-half they felt the full force of Scarlets’ attack but were undeterred, ex-Springbok Bjorn Basson dotting down after his side twice picked their moment with aggressive counter-rucking and opportunistic turnovers. In the end, the second half was a step too far.
  3. Scarlets hardly need further headaches in the number seven position, with James Davies waiting in the wings, but Dan Davis might be about to give them one anyway. On senior debut the 20-year-old looked sharp in the loose, powerful around the contact area and even poached himself a try in the second half to kill the contest. Everyone loves a home-grown talent and the Parc Y Scarlets rose to applaud his impressive bow on Saturday night.

Munster 64-7 Ulster

  1. If Johann van Graan was looking for a response from Munster the answer could not have been more comprehensive at Thomond Park as Munster racked up a record-breaking victory over Ulster. Munster were downed by Cardiff Blues last weekend but that was immediately put behind them as they recorded their highest score in the Guinness PRO14, biggest winning margin and try haul. A job, well done by the Munstermen.
  2. Joey Carbery’s arrival at Thomond Park from defending champions Leinster would’ve excited Munster players and fans alike. The 22-year-old rewarded that support with showstopping display and his first try at home. Carbery was accurate with the boot but it was his try that stole the show. A free-flowing move was capped off by the Irish international, showing fine hands and better feet to evade the Ulster defence and cross the try line.
  3. As for Ulster, the demolition represents the first disappointing result in what has been a positive start to the campaign. The province downed Scarlets, Edinburgh and Isuzu Southern Kings before drawing with Toyota Cheetahs. But a 64-7 defeat will give Dan McFarland plenty to think about and will be desperate to get back to winning ways when they entertain Connacht at the Kingspan on October 5.

Glasgow Warriors 29-13 Dragons

  1. Dave Rennie demanded a reaction from Glasgow Warriors after their surprise defeat to Isuzu Southern Kings and he certainly got one. The hosts got off to the perfect start thanks to Oli Kebble’s early try and they remained on top throughout, with Lee Jones scoring either side of the break to keep Dragons at arm’s length. The Warriors set piece was particularly strong, creating more chances than were ultimately taken.
  2. The wait for an away win goes on for the Welsh region. While they were always trailing against a determined Warriors, the visitors showed impressive resilience in defence despite facing relentless pressure from the first whistle. That has not always been the case for Bernard Jackman’s outfit, who have now conceded 129 points from their opening five matches – with a points difference in the negative.
  3. Adam Hastings has been on fire for Glasgow so far this season and he continued his rich vein of form against Dragons on Saturday night. He dealt admirably with Dragons trying to shut him down, running with the ball more often than not in tricky kicking conditions. This resulted in the fly-half setting up Glasgow’s second try on the brink of half-time, spinning out of a tackle and offloading to Jones who did the rest.

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