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BKT URC Round 14 Review: Ospreys hit the heights with stunning Cape Town win

21 Apr 2024 11 minute read
Osprey’s Keelan Giles on the attack in Cape Town. Photo ©INPHO/Steve Haag Sports/EJ Langner

Simon Thomas

Ospreys soaring high

For the Ospreys, the big goal this season has been to earn respect and they will certainly have done just that with their stunning 27-21 bonus point victory over the DHL Stormers in Cape Town.

It goes down as one of the finest results in the Welsh region’s 20-year history, given the Stormers have been BKT URC finalists for the past two years and considering how hard they are to beat in their own back yard.

The Ospreys became only the third team – after the Emirates Lions and Munster Rugby – to record a league victory in Cape Town, while it was just the second Welsh win in South Africa in the three seasons of the expanded 16-team competition.

It’s also a result which has given their play-off hopes a huge boost, keeping them in seventh spot with four rounds of matches left to play.

It was a famous and thoroughly deserved triumph built upon mighty scrummaging, heroic defence and taking their chances in attack, with Luke Morgan crossing twice out wide and forwards Sam Parry and Harri Deaves forcing their way over from close range after sustained collective carrying.

Delighted head coach Toby Booth said: “We talked a lot about what we wanted this season to look like and one of the phrases the players came up with is they wanted to earn respect and I think performances like that help everyone involved in the camp earn some respect.

“It was a really great reflection of an unbelievable group.

“I am so proud to be here talking about a team that has so much resilience and so much ability to find a way in difficult moments. They have got big hearts.

“When we talk about finding a way, often it’s built on competitiveness, heart, energy, a never-say-die attitude. We are a good team when our backs are up against the wall, for sure. That comes from a group that cares about each other a lot and are prepared to do things that take no talent, because those are the things that get it done – and it got it done.

“I thought it was quite ironic that the three players I spoke to as they came off were disappointed that the Stormers got a losing bonus point at the death. That probably tells you quite a lot.”

‘Hang in there’

Booth added: “The Stormers are an unbelievable team, especially here. We had to find a way to hang in there and win key moments and we did that enough.

“I can’t speak highly enough for the guys because they are the ones out there. They have to go and do it and they did it brilliantly.

“It was quite an excited changing room after the game, with a lot of emotion kicking around. You have got to enjoy these moments.

“I am very proud to sit here and be the leader of this team, but they should be equally proud of the amount of respect they are earning for themselves.”

Adding his assessment on a game played in front of a 15,829 crowd, Player of the Match Morgan Morris said: “I don’t think many teams win here, so it’s an incredible achievement for us. Everyone put in a shift. Every game, we fight to the end for each other.”

The Ospreys now head up to Pretoria to take on the Vodacom Bulls, with fit-again hooker Dewi Lake set to be available to bolster their ranks along with fellow international forwards Justin Tipuric and Gareth Thomas.

Cardiff downed in controversial circumstances

There was so nearly another notable away victory for a Welsh side over the weekend, with Cardiff Rugby coming tantalisingly close to beating Ulster Rugby at the Kingspan Stadium.

It seemed as though winger Theo Cabango had completed his hat-trick two minutes from time to seal their first win in Belfast for 14 years.

But, after consulting with his TMO, referee Mike Adamson ruled there had been a deliberate knock-on by prop Rhys Carre in the build-up and so awarded a penalty which John Cooney slotted to snatch a 19-17 victory.

Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt

Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt questioned whether it had been a clear and obvious offence, while he also maintained Cooney had knocked on in the build-up to Dave McCann’s try just before the hour.

Sherratt said: “I am pretty gutted. I thought we deserved more from the game. Everyone was fairly emotional at the end.

“I’m disappointed, if I’m honest. It was a pretty cruel way to end a game. It was a tough loss emotionally.

“We have spoken about sticking together and making sure we take it out on Edinburgh in our last home game in a pretty special stadium at the Arms Park next week.

“We have got a good group here who love and care about playing for Cardiff. We’ve got to make sure all our energy goes into beating Edinburgh.”

Ulster head coach Richie Murphy commented: “We were obviously relieved to get the win at the end.

“When we look back at the game as a whole, we were a bit off. We have got quite a lot of work to do, let’s be honest.

“We were probably lucky to win the game in the end. We are definitely not happy with the overall performance, but delighted to get a win.”

Remarkably, it was the ninth losing bonus point Cardiff have picked up during a season where they have been involved in so many close contests.

In their 14 BKT URC matches, they have had one draw and 11 games where there has been just one score in it, with margins of 1, 7, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, 4, 4, 5, 2.

The Scarlets also looked to be in with a chance of a rare success on the road as they led Edinburgh Rugby 15-7 at half-time and then 18-15 going into the final quarter at the Hive Stadium, but the hosts pulled clear to win 43-15.

As for Dragons RFC, they went down to a 36-19 defeat to Benetton Rugby which left coach Dai Flanagan “bitterly disappointed.”

Tight at the top

It’s tight at the top of the table with Glasgow Warriors having cut Leinster Rugby’s lead to just a point.

The Scottish side ratcheted up the pressure by beating the Hollywoodbets Sharks 21-10 at Scotstoun on Friday night.

Then, the following afternoon, Leinster went down to just their third defeat of the season in all competitions as they lost 44-12 to the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg.

Showing 14 changes from the side that beat La Rochelle in the Investec Champions Cup quarter-final the week before, the Irish province shipped six tries, with flanker Emmanuel Tshituka crossing twice for the home side who are now firmly in the mix for the play-offs.

Glasgow could actually be level on points at the top had they built on a commanding first half display against the Sharks.

They led 21-5 at the break with Player of the Match Max Williamson, Kyle Steyn and 11-point George Horne touching down.

However, they were kept scoreless in the second half in the face of determined defence, missing out on a four-try bonus point amid a 21-10 victory.

Head coach Franco Smith said: “There were a lot of opportunities lost in the second half. We had enough chances to score the bonus point try, but then again you mustn’t be greedy! I am very happy with the win.

“We made a lot of errors though, so there are a lot of learnings and work-ons to take into next week.”

Munster Rugby leapfrogged the Vodacom Bulls to replace them in third spot thanks to a 27-22 victory in an eventful contest at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld. More on that below.

Benetton’s bonus point win over the Dragons takes them up to fifth, while Edinburgh are into the top eight courtesy of their final quarter despatching of the Scarlets, with ninth-placed Connacht Rugby on the same number of points after posting the biggest score of the round, a 54-16 romp against Zebre Parma, which featured a two-try Player of the Match display from 22-year-old scrum-half Matthew Devine.

In fact, you’ve got four teams level on 39 points, with Ulster and the Lions on that tally as well after their weekend wins.

Looking at the play-off picture overall, there are just three points separating fifth and eleventh, so it really is going to go down to the wire.

Match of the weekend

Vodacom Bulls 22, Munster Rugby 27

This was a game that had it all in front of a fully engrossed crowd at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld.

It was third against fourth and it proved to be just the kind of titanic tussle people had been anticipating.

Munster led 17-10 at half-time, thanks to tries from wing Shane Daly and Springboks lock RG Snyman, only for the Bulls to surge in front with two touchdowns in the space of five minutes after the break with wing Kurt Lee Arendse and hooker Johan Grobbelaar crossing.

But then, on 50 minutes, came the game’s decisive incident as home No 10 Johan Goosen was red carded for head-on-head contact with replacement scrum-half Craig Casey.

Munster capitalised on their extra man as flanker John Hodnett and No 9 Conor Murray went over to seal a notable bonus point triumph, with Player of the Match Jack Crowley adding three successful shots at goal from fly-half.

The champions are clearly not about to give up their title easily.

Their coach Graham Rowntree commented: “We have so much respect for South African teams and, when you come down here, you have got to be good and I’m immensely proud of the lads for that effort against a very good team.

“We had a good plan going into this game against this team, at altitude, and we stuck to that plan. We were in a good place at half-time and not such a good place in the third quarter, but we kept playing and our composure was special.”

Ominously, he added: “There are still elements we have to improve on. We can be so much better.”

Player of the weekend

Theo Cabango (Cardiff Rugby)

It was some performance from the 22-year-old winger on his first start after five months out with a shoulder injury.

He looked a threat whenever he got the ball against Ulster out in Belfast and delivered two razor sharp finishes.

His first try came courtesy of a training ground move off a lineout as he took an inside pass from scrum-half Ellis Bevan and broke two attempted tackles before rolling over the line.

Then, early in the second half, he received a long pass from centre Ben Thomas on the left touchline and scorched outside Jude Postlethwaite before cutting inside Jacob Stockdale to dab down.

It looked as though Cabango had made it the perfect night when he raced over two minutes from time after being fed by replacement scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou following a counter-attack.

But he was denied a hat-trick with the try being ruled out for a deliberate knock-on by Rhys Carre in the build-up, an offence which enabled John Cooney to land a match-winning penalty.

So, a bitter sweet ending for Cabango, but he is certainly maintaining the family sporting tradition, with his elder brother Ben a centre-half for Swansea City and Wales.

Quote of the weekend

Dragons RFC coach Dai Flanagan after his team’s 36-19 defeat to Benetton.

“I am bitterly disappointed. Our error rate was through the roof. Our competitiveness didn’t exist first half and we need to be better. We have got to look at ourselves a bit. It was definitely an opportunity missed.”

BKT URC Team of the Weekend

15. Wes Goosen (Edinburgh)

14. Luke Morgan (Ospreys)

13. Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls)

12. Alex Nankivell (Munster)

11. Theo Cabango (Cardiff)

10. Jack Crowley (Munster)

9. Morne van den Berg (Emirates Lions)

1. Nicky Smith (Ospreys)

2. Gianmarco Lucchesi (Benetton)

3. Wilco Louw (Vodacom Bulls)

4. Harry Sheridan (Ulster)

5. RG Snyman (Munster)

6. Emmanuel Tshituka (Emirates Lions)

7. Harry Deaves (Ospreys)

8. Toa Halafihi (Benetton)

What’s coming up next?

Round 15 sees league leaders Leinster continue their tour of South Africa by taking on the sixth-placed Stormers in Cape Town, while Glasgow – close on their heels in second – head out to Parma to face bottom-of-the table Zebre.

Elsewhere, there are a series of key contests between play-off contenders, with the Bulls (4th) welcoming the Ospreys (7th) to Loftus Versfeld, Ulster (10th) hosting Benetton (5th) and the Lions (11th) entertaining Munster (3rd) in Johannesburg, looking to claim another big Irish scalp.

Then there are three fixtures in Wales with Scarlets v Sharks on Friday night, Cardiff v Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon and Dragons v Connacht concluding the weekend schedule.

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1 month ago

Great victory, shame the Dragons don’t show the same level of passion. Maybe they don’t care as why would they? Playing for a Norman team in Wales!!! Change the logo back to a native symbol, not that of the occupiers and conquerers!

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