Guinness PRO14 Takeaways: Round 17

Rich Dore
04 March 2019

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Round 17 of the Guinness PRO14 is done and dusted and the big news is that we have a new leader at the top of Conference A – Glasgow Warriors.

Dave Rennie’s men were in excellent form to record a bonus-point win away at Zebre while Scarlets squeezed out Munster in west Wales.

Elsewhere the Isuzu Southern Kings pushed Cardiff Blues all the way while Benetton Rugby won again – here’s our round-up of all the key action.

Leinster 19-7 Toyota Cheetahs

  • Leinster have enough ability to put games like these beyond doubt, but the table toppers lacked any sort of ruthlessness as they allowed their opponents to remain in the game until Rory O’Loughlin crossed in the second half. Had Tian Schoeman converted a penalty at 12-7 the game could have been very different but Leinster were then allowed to tighten their vice-like grip.
  • The Toyota Cheetahs have enough speed to trouble any opponent. Rabz Maxwane left three defenders in his wake as he showed his raw pace to cross the line for his side’s solitary try. However, his side were unable to create any sort of opportunity for the speedster again, perhaps understandable given their opposition, but this sort of pace is clearly going to trouble many other teams in the remaining rounds.
  • In conditions like those played in on Friday night, kicking is often ineffective. Time and time again, Cheetahs attempted to launch the ball up the field and gain territory but Leinster anticipated this often and were well positioned to receive. Passing went awry from both sides, but the wet conditions meant the likes of Schoeman found it hard with the ball at their feet.

Cardiff Blues 26-19 Isuzu Southern Kings

  • Jordan Harries’ try could prove crucial as the Blues aim for a top three finish in Conference A. The winger, who scored twice last week off the bench, notched the fourth try to secure a bonus point for the Blues in their quest to hunt down the leading trio. At present, they’re level with third-placed Connacht – both on 47 points as it gets tight at the top.
  • Cardiff Blues may have secured the victory and bonus point, but made hard work of it thanks to an intense defensive effort from the Southern Kings. Several mammoth hits in the first half and great work from the lineouts put the Blues on the back foot for long periods of this game.
  • The Kings also secured an important bonus point as they look to climb the Conference B table. While perhaps out of the race for the top three, the Kings are still progressing in their game and showed it with this battling away performance. Dries van Schalkwyk and Michael Willemse both scored excellent tries around half-time, while Masixole Banda’s was the all important third right at the death.

Scarlets 10-6 Munster Rugby

  • Sitting fifth in Conference B heading into the weekend, it has undoubtedly been an up and down season for Scarlets. But against the in-form Munster, they showed everyone just why they could be contenders for the overall title. This was a performance based on grit, determination and relentless defence as they kept out on top against a physical Munster, a result which lifts them to third. Only the Dragons and Isuzu Southern Kings have conceded more points in the Conference but that trend was bucked spectacularly. The rest of the league will have taken note.
  • Munster might be beaten but they will surely not be derailed by this result. The Limerick men have been in superb form – winning nine of their previous ten encounters – but could not break down Scarlets’ rear-guard. Still, they maintained possession well, moved it wide when they could and showed flashes of creativity and promise from the likes of Ronan O’Mahony and replacement fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal. Next up for them is a home game with Zebre Rugby and it would not be a surprise if they put some things right.
  • With just one Guinness PRO14 defeat at Parc y Scarlets since 2016, home is clearly where the heart is for Scarlets. And with just one of their last four games on the road, including Judgement Day against Dragons at Principality Stadium, they will fancy their chances of reaching the Guinness PRO14 Finals Series. After a trip to rivals Cardiff Blues, they host Edinburgh Rugby and Zebre Rugby before tackling the Dragons. Momentum could be building at just the right time.

Zebre 10-42 Glasgow Warriors

  • Dave Rennie will have been delighted with his side’s first half performance in Parma. Carlo Canna’s early penalty excluded, the Warriors were virtually flawless, running in five tries to take a commanding 35-3 lead into half-time and allowing them to control the second 40 to see out the bonus-point win.
  • While Zebre were left somewhat shell-shocked by Glasgow’s early blitz, they deserve credit for their response after the break. Many sides would have simply crumbled under the circumstances, but Michael Bradley’s men put in a stoic display that saw them draw the second half 7-7.
  • A word for Warriors legend Ruaridh Jackson, who capped a memorable 150th appearance for the side with a gleefully taken try. In his second spell with the club, Jackson latched onto an Adam Hastings kick to score in the first 40 and was only prevented from doubling his tally by superb Zebre defence right at the death. An occasion to treasure for the 31-year-old, no doubt.

Benetton Rugby 18-10 Edinburgh Rugby

  • With just four points separating the two sides in Conference B at the start of the day, there was tension in the air in Treviso as Benetton welcomed Edinburgh to Stadio Monigo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it had an impact on the game as defence reigned supreme in the opening half, with Jaco van der Walt and Ian McKinley trading penalties to leave the sides level at the break before the game really came to life after the restart.
  • In what was a topsy-turvy encounter, the momentum swung one way and then the other multiple times, with Edinburgh leading twice thanks to Jaco van der Walt’s first-half penalty and James Johnstone’s second-half try. When van der Walt’s conversion put Edinburgh 10-8 up, Richard Cockerill’s men looked set to claim a vital victory in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series race, but Benetton persevered and managed to extend their unbeaten run to eight games.
  • Niccolo Cannone’s try was crucial in giving Benetton the lead for the first time at the start of the second half, but it was Antonio Rizzi’s score with ten minutes to play that proved decisive. The replacement ran on to Monty Ioane’s kick through to dot down under pressure from Edinburgh’s Tom Brown, with a TMO review awarding the try. Rizzi converted and added a further penalty to seal a crucial win for the Italian side.

Connacht 46-5 Ospreys

  • Kyle Godwin’s virtuoso performance showed the importance of the kicking game in the Guinness PRO14. A 100 percent record with his feet – including two first half penalties to assert his side’s dominance – wasn’t mirrored by the Ospreys. Connacht will be hoping that a bruising tackle on Godwin won’t keep him out for too long.
  • The victory puts some daylight between the two sides as Connacht secured maximum points with a stylish attacking performance. What may prove more important, however, is the mental element of the Irish side’s triumph going into the title run-in. With both teams looking to overtake Cardiff and put some pressure on the top two sides, Ospreys’ ability to recover from such a devastating loss will be crucial.
  • Ospreys showed glimpses of attacking prowess but just couldn’t get over when they got close to the try line. Needless penalties were given away alongside some erroneous passing which allowed Connacht to relieve the pressure the Welsh side placed on them. If they can tighten up in defence, Ospreys have the ability to break out of their funk and recover from a tricky period.

Dragons 15-28 Ulster Rugby

  • Ulster’s win at Dragons was a Conference B clash that had something for everyone: there was free-flowing rugby, stoic defensive efforts, breath-taking last-gasp tackles and drama at the death. Even the weather served to enrich the contest, beguiling both sides as Storm Freya played havoc with kicks all afternoon.
  • Ulster’s two tries in four minutes turned the tide at Rodney Parade. A gritty opening 40 saw them head into the break a man light but with a four-point lead, and the Dragons certainly looked to capitalise at the start of the second half. But the visitors resolved to hold out until they were restored to a full complement and were rewarded when first Marty Moore and then John Cooney crossed to give them an all-important buffer.
  • But for their lapse early in the second half, the Dragons gave a good account of themselves throughout, and were unlucky not to claim a losing bonus point for their efforts at the death. Despite finishing their last home game of the season empty-handed, the home fans can come away with their heads held high after an impressive display from which their team deserved to yield more.

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