United Rugby Championship round 12 review
Glasgow see off the champions as Leinster survive scare
A second try of the match from Argentine wing Sebastián Cancelliere in the final play secured a bonus point 24-17 victory for Glasgow over the DHL Stormers at a rain-swept Scotstoun as they made it six wins on the trot in all competitions.
This was a battle between two in-form sides, with the visiting title-holders looking for an eighth straight win and it was nip and tuck all the way before Cancelliere ran on to Sione Tuipulotu’s grubber kick to seal the spoils.
The Player of the Match award went to Tuipulotu’s centre partner Huw Jones who produced a classy side-stepping score to cap a fine display against his former team. Scotland international Jones said: “It was a special game against one of my old clubs. I am really happy with that. I am loving it here. The exciting brand we are playing is so exciting and we are really hitting our straps.”
Meanwhile, BKT United Rugby Championship leaders Leinster were given a mighty scare by the Ospreys at the Swansea.com Stadium, but survived one of their toughest tests of the season to make it 12 wins out of 12 in the league. They were trailing 16-10 going into the final quarter, having endured a torrid time at the scrum, but they found another gear when it mattered to go in front through tries from Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien and then held on at the death for a 24-19 victory.
The Player of the Match award went to uncapped Ospreys centre Keiran Williams who produced a mighty display in attack and defence to put his hand up for Wales squad selection.
Giving his thoughts, the 25-year-old Williams said: “Credit to Leinster. What a fantastic side they are. They were relentless and it’s really tough to play against them. It’s great to be that close to them and great for us to see where we are. Hopefully we can move forward from here.”
The Vodacom Bulls gave their unwell director of rugby Jake White a timely boost by claiming a 29-14 bonus point victory away to the Dragons. White wasn’t at Rodney Parade for the game, having remained at the team hotel due to illness. In his absence, the Bulls pulled cleared after turning round with a narrow 17-14 lead, with their awesome scrum power proving decisive.
Munster thumped the Emirates Lions 33-3 in Cork with front row sub Scott Buckley touching down twice, while another replacement hooker, Patrick Harrison, delivered the winning score for Edinburgh two minutes from time as they left it late to beat Zebre 24-17 at the Dam Health Stadium.
Halfpenny delivers in front of Gatland
Triumphant Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel believes returning Wales boss Warren Gatland will have been pleased by what he’s seen during the BKT United Rugby Championship derbies over Christmas and New Year.
Gatland was at the Arms Park on Saturday evening to see Peel’s team beat Cardiff Rugby 28-22 amid an enthralling encounter in front of a crowd of 10,486.
It was one of the Kiwi coach’s regulars from his first time in charge of Wales that proved the difference between the sides in a game that brought three tries apiece.
The 34-year-old Leigh Halfpenny kicked 13 points to add to the 18 he landed in the New Year’s Day victory over the Dragons as he once again proved he’s still a match winner.
His five successful shots added to tries from Dane Blacker, Johnny McNicholl and Jonathan Davies, with Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Carre and Josh Adams crossing for Cardiff in a fluctuating contest that saw a number of Wales Six Nations squad contenders play their part.
Peel commented: “I think Warren would have been pleased with the intensity of the game. All the derbies have had that intensity. That’s good for Welsh rugby.”
The Scarlets’ 21-cap fly-half Rhys Patchell, who has been plagued by injuries in recent years, was among the men to stake a strong claim in front of Gatland. “I think that was Rhys’ best game for a while,” said Peel. “He took the line on which is something we’ve encouraged him to do more. He’s a big man, so he needs to be running at the line and he did that.”
After winning just one of their first nine matches this season, the Scarlets have now won four of their last five in all competitions. Peel said: “I’ve kept banging the drum around the hard work we are doing. Sometimes you don’t see the benefits of it, but now, after a couple of wins, you get a bit of confidence and momentum off the back of it.”
There was a concern for the watching Gatland as Wales and Lions full-back Liam Williams was forced off in the first half with a facial injury, but the hope is he won’t be out for too long. Six Nations squad candidate Thomas Young, who has been so impressive on the openside flank for Cardiff this season, limped away from the Arms Park with a calf problem.
Match of the weekend
Benetton 31, Ulster 29
It was a case of ‘Who dares wins” for Benetton as they claimed the notable scalp of top-four team Ulster amid a dramatic finale at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso.
The pendulum swung back and fore during a compelling contest with the Italians leading 17-10 at the break and then 28-15 in the final quarter, only for Ulster to edge in front with a double strike.
Then came the nerve-jangling conclusion, with Benetton’s South Africa full-back Rhyno Smith slotting a penalty via the left-hand upright two minutes from time and his team holding on to spark scenes of wild celebration. Delivering his verdict, coach Marco Bortolami said: “The tactical key was to be able to control as much territory as possible. When we did, we kept Ulster away from our 22 and when we didn’t they scored.
“In attack, we took advantage of all the opportunities that arose. I believe facing this game with the will to dare, against one of the best sides in our league, was one of the keys to the match and the team did it from the first to the last minute.”
Player of the weekend
Cathal Forde (Connacht)
He’s only 21, with just a handful of appearances to his name and normally a fly-half, but Forde rose to the challenge at inside centre with a two-try Player of the Match display in a 24-12 bonus point victory over the Cell C Sharks at the Galway Sportsground.
His two touchdowns were both reward for his work-rate, the first the product of an intelligent support line and the second coming off his own charge-down.
Delighted Connacht director of rugby Andy Friend said: “We’re really proud of his performance. He thoroughly deserved that man of the match award. “He made his tackles, he chopped low, and when he carried, he carried with real intent. You could see his left boot, he took a couple of kicks for touch, he worked his backside off and he got the fourth try because he worked so hard.
“He did the simple things well, but he’s a very accomplished rugby player. He’ll have known there was a lot of pressure on him, with the selection, which was a compliment and a credit to him, but he stood up to that.”
Quote of the weekend
Wales captain Justin Tipuric on his Ospreys team-mate Keiran Williams who produced a Man of the Match performance in the centre against Leinster: “He is on fire. You look at him, he is not the biggest, but jeepers he packs a punch. He’s massive for us.”
URC playoff race
Glasgow, Benetton and Munster were the big movers in the play-off race, shooting up the table with respective victories over the Stormers, Ulster and the Lions. On the flip side, Cardiff are counting the cost of successive home defeats in Welsh derbies, dropping out of the top six to now lie down in tenth spot.
It’s getting really congested below the top four, with just ten points covering the nine teams from fifth to thirteenth in the table.
Looking ahead to Round 13 in the final weekend of January, the clash between sixth-placed Benetton and seventh-placed Munster in Treviso will be a key contest in the play-off battle, with plenty of joy and jeopardy on the line. Similarly, the meeting between the two sides just below them – Edinburgh and the Sharks – will be one with plenty hanging on it in the Scottish capital.
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