The stories behind the stats in URC Round 17
Fortress Scotstoun awaits Scarlets
The Scarlets enter a real fortress on Friday night with Glasgow on a 13-match winning run at their Scotstoun home. Franco Smith’s side will be intent on making it 14, which would guarantee them a top-four finish and home advantage in the play-off quarter-finals.
Much of their success this season has been down to their clinical cutting edge when opportunity arises. They are the most efficient team in the league in the red zone, having been awarded either a try or a penalty from 64 per cent of their visits to the opposition 22. With Scotland stars Huw Jones – who starts at full-back – Kyle Steyn, Ali Price and Matt Fagerson in their ranks, they certainly look a potent attacking unit, while hooker Johnny Matthews scored a remarkable five tries in the recent Challenge Cup demolition of the Dragons.
They are also highly effective on the other side of the ball, having the second-highest tackle success in the league (90%) and this all-round game has seen them lose just one match out of 15 in all competitions since the start of December.
The Scarlets – who themselves have won 11 of their last 13 – are much changed as some front-liners are rested with an eye on next weekend’s Judgement Day clash with the Dragons and then the rematch at home to Glasgow in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.
But the man who scored the crucial late try in the Euro quarter-final victory over Clermont Auvergne last weekend, winger Ryan Conbeer, remains on duty and he is someone the hosts will have to keep a close eye on as he has made the most clean breaks in the league (19) with his dazzling footwork. He is the epitome of someone who could side-step you in a phone-box.
Diamond Dayimani sparkling brightly
Finding a way to contain Stormers No 8 Hacjivah Dayimani will be one of the main challenges for Munster when they take on the title holders in Cape Town on Saturday evening.
His surname means “diamond” in Xhosa and he’s certainly proving a jewel in the champions crown. The 25-year-old made more metres (116) than any other forward in the last URC round, as well as the most offloads (five).
Then in defence, lock Ruben van Heerden and flanker Ben-Jason Dixon are proving the go-to men, having made the most tackles in Round 16 – 22 and 21 respectively – with Van Heerden missing none.
For Munster, wing Calvin Nash is one to watch with ball in hand, having beaten the most defenders (seven) in the previous round, while having captaining flanker Peter O’Mahony and scrum-half Conor Murray on board gives them huge international experience.
They have come with a strong side and will doubtless take the fight to their hosts, having made more carries than any other team in the league this season, along with the most contact metres (1,694) and offloads (171), with No 8 Gavin Coombes a key carrier.
But they will have to do something very rare to come away with the spoils as the Stormers haven’t lost at home for eighteen matches.
The day of the jackal
Connacht coach Andy Friend is well aware of the threat Cardiff will pose at the breakdown in Saturday night’s crucial clash between these two play-off contenders.
In starting flankers Thomas Young (14) and James Botham (12), the visitors have a jackaling pincer movement who have won 26 turnovers between them in the league this season.
Loosehead Rhys Carre is just behind them on 11, having won more turnovers than any other prop, while forwards Josh Turnbull and Lopeti Timani have both pulled off seven, with wing Jason Harries chipping in with six more.
So Friend knows what is coming.
“Cardiff are a very good jackaling side, so we know we are going to have to be on point for that,” said the Aussie coach.
“Out of the top 15 jacklers in the competition, they currently have three. It’s obvious they spend a lot of time on that.”
As for how to counter that, he said: “Firstly, it comes down to the ball carrier. You’ve got to win the collision. If you aren’t winning it, the defence have got dominance and that’s when their threat comes in.
“The second thing then is the speed of the support player in making sure you don’t allow a contest over the ball. If you allow a contest, those stats will tell you Cardiff are going to be very good. So we need to acknowledge that and respect that.
“We have been working hard at that contact zone area, but we will be tested on Saturday night, no doubt about it, with those threats and it should be a great contest to watch.”
While the breakdown has been a real area of strength for Cardiff, they have struggled at the lineout at times this season, so Connacht second row Niall Murray may well fancy his chances. He has made six more lineout steals than any other URC player this season (14).
After their trip to Galway, Cardiff will then face the Ospreys on Judgement Day at the Principality Stadium, with the Welsh Shield and qualification for the Champions Cup on the line, as well as a potential URC play-off spot.
Skipper Josh Turnbull commented: “It’s knockout rugby now. If we lose on the weekend or against the Ospreys, it’s game over. Every game is a knockout match.
“I don’t think Connacht have lost in their last five home games, so they’re in a bit of form. They’ve got a quality squad and they don’t lose too many players to international rugby. What they gain from that is they have everyone training together and they have some consistency. It’s going to be a tough ask. But we’ve been playing well and hopefully we can go over there full of beans.”
He added: “There are a lot of players moving on and the squad will look completely different next year. Ultimately, we want to give those boys the best send-off. If that’s reaching the play-offs and going as far as we can in the league, so be it.”
Back row balance
Edinburgh’s quality back row will pose a variety of different challenges to the Ospreys at the Dam Health Stadium on Saturday night.
In Fijian No 8 Viliame Mata you have a man who tends to take the direct route. Big Bill made the highest number of carries (16) for the second consecutive round in the last group of URC fixtures and is now level with the Scarlets’ Sione Kalamafoni for the season on 194.
In openside Hamish Watson, you have a flanker whose handling skills can split defences. He has made more offloads than any other forward in the league (19), averaging 3.8 offloads per 80 minutes, while his rubber ball ability to bounce off defenders serves as a further attacking string to his bow.
Then in Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie, you have a blindside who is so strong in the tackle and so good over the ball. It’s a really well-balanced breakaway unit.
Interestingly, the Ospreys have gone for size in their back row, with 18st lock Rhys Davies packing down on the blindside, as the always ultra-physical Dan Lydiate moves across to the openside, with the consistently excellent Morgan Morris at No 8.
Further forward, there’s a 100th appearance for tight-head prop Tom Botha, who is joined in the front row by Welsh internationals Gareth Thomas and Dewi Lake, with three more on the bench in Nicky Smith, Tomas Francis and Sam Parry.
This will be a key source of strength for the Ospreys, who have won more penalties in the scrum (42) than any other team in the league.
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