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United Rugby Championship Round 7 review

03 Dec 2023 9 minute read
Ioan Lloyd. Photo ©INPHO

Simon Thomas

Box office Wales hopeful 

Wales fly-half contender Ioan Lloyd produced a “box office” display in the Scarlets’ 29-23 bonus point victory over Cardiff Rugby at a packed Arms Park.

The No 10 spot in the Six Nations is very much up for grabs with Dan Biggar having retired from international rugby and Gareth Anscombe unavailable following his move to Japan, while Sam Costelow is currently out injured.

With fellow Scarlet Costelow sidelined, Lloyd is getting an extended run in the side and is really blossoming, producing a Player of the Match performance in the derby clash with Cardiff.

He sparked the back line with his assured distribution and showed real enterprise with his willingness to run from deep and take on defenders.

Speaking after a game in which the Scarlets turned around an early 14-0 deficit, the 22-year-old said: “It was a massive effort from the boys.

“Our biggest theme was getting out there and working for your brothers and we did that.

“Cardiff are a hell of a team. They came out firing and we went two tries down. Credit to all the boys for getting up from there.

“It’s been a tough start to the season, but hopefully we can build some momentum now going into this next block of games.”

Fast-tracked

Cardiff-product Lloyd hasn’t figured for Wales since being fast-tracked onto the international stage as a teenage full-back in the autumn of 2020.

Having been moved around the Bristol back-line over the last couple of seasons, he returned home this summer with the aim of focusing on fly-half and getting back into the Welsh set-up.

After his fine display at the Arms Park, he was asked if he was now eyeing up the Wales No 10 jersey.

He replied: “Well, that’s the aim, but we’ll see what happens.”

Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel was full of praise for his play-making fly-half.

“He was outstanding. He is electric in attack. He’s box office and he lit up that game,” he said.

“People coming to watch that match – either Scarlets or Cardiff fans – will have thought ‘Bloody hell, he’s good’.

“You have your heart in your mouth sometimes when you see him running from behind your own sticks in a derby, but that’s great.

“As a coach, you are half watching the game with your hands on your head because you don’t know what he’s going to do next, but then the other half you are celebrating what he’s doing.

“He’s growing all the time as a 10 and I thought he was excellent. That was his best performance for us. He is such a threat with ball in hand.”

Red card

The Scarlets led 19-14 at the break with skipper Gareth Davies crossing twice from scrum-half, while Cardiff had flanker Ellis Jenkins red carded for a tip tackle on opposite number Dan Davis on 28 minutes.

Final quarter tries from wing Steff Evans and full-back Johnny McNicholl sealed the win for the visitors with the boot of fly-half Tinus de Beer earning a losing bonus point for Cardiff.

Their coach Matt Sherratt commented: “The red card undoubtedly had a bearing on the game.

“To stick in it for just over 50 minutes and get a point out of it shows the character of the team.”

As for the two other Welsh regions, they both went down to defeats on the road.

The Ospreys, with a lot of youth on board, picked up a losing bonus point as they were beaten 18-13 by Benetton Rugby in Treviso, a late try denying them a draw, while Dragons RFC succumbed 49-24 to the Emirates Lions, who had second row Ruben Schoeman red carded after 25 minutes.

Munster momentum

Munster Rugby coach Graham Rowntree says the URC champions will take huge momentum out of facing the league leaders two weeks in a row.

They pushed previous table toppers Leinster Rugby hard in Round 6 and claimed a 40-29 victory over new pacesetters Glasgow Warriors in Cork on Friday night.

There were two tries in the left hand corner from 6ft 9ins blindside flanker Tom Aherne, who was named Player of the Match, while impressive Kiwi centre Alex Nankivell also surged over.

Now Munster turn their attention to the Investec Champions Cup, with games at home to Bayonne and away to Exeter over the next couple of weeks.

Reflecting on the past two URC games, Rowntree commented: “It gives us huge momentum going into European competition, which is special to our club. We have had great memories.

“We will get our review done and look forward to Bayonne from there.”

Commenting on the six-try victory over Glasgow, he added: “I was pleased with the manner of our attack, the way we scored some of our points, and our speed at the breakdown.”

But the one significant negative for him was that all five of Glasgow’s tries stemmed from lineout maul drives. The former England prop made it clear that’s an area which will be a big focus in training this week.

“Our maul defence has just got to be better. We just can’t concede penalties in the first place to put us on our goal line,” he said.

“We have got to look at our discipline and show better pictures.

“Our maul defence will receive a lot of attention this week, otherwise we are going to be defending mauls all season.

“As a forwards coach, I am disheartened with those maul tries we conceded.”

Elsewhere, Ulster Rugby went down at home to Edinburgh Rugby, losing 27-24, while Leinster claimed a last minute try in Galway to record a dramatic 24-22 victory over Connacht Rugby which takes them back to the top of the table. There’s more on those two matches to follow.

In the South African derby, it was the Vodacom Bulls who triumphed 44-11 against the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Pretoria, with the DHL Stormers ending a four match losing run by defeating Zebra Parma 31-7 in Stellenbosch.

Game of the weekend

Connacht 22, Leinster 24.

A compelling contest that swung back and fore – and back again – right up to the decisive final play.

Having trailed by a point at the break, Leinster were 19-8 up going into the final quarter thanks to a couple of tries scored while Connacht were down to 14 men with prop Peter Dooley in the sin bin.

But scrum-half Caolin Blade crossed to give the hosts hope and it looked as though they were on course for victory when Ireland star Mack Hansen – making his first appearance since the World Cup – created a try for fellow wing Diarmuid Kilgallen.

But with the game in stoppage time, Leinster had one last roll of the dice and made the most of it, as full-back Ciaran Frawley cut inside to secure a bonus point win.

It was heartbreak for Connacht and jubilation for the visitors.

Leinster skipper Scott Penny commented: “We had to fight until the very end there.

“Connacht are an incredible outfit and they made us work for it out there.

“These interpros are always tough and always go down to the last few minutes.

“This will give us a lot of confidence going into next week.”

Player of the weekend

Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh)

The Scotland skipper led from the front as Edinburgh recorded a notable 27-24 victory over Ulster in Belfast.

His work-rate from the openside flank was off the scale, while he was at his tigerish best at the breakdown as part of an impressive visiting pack.

Speaking after his team’s first win at the Kingspan Stadium since 2018, Ritchie said: “I am really pleased.

“We spoke about bouncing back after last week (home defeat to Benetton) which was one we probably should have won.

“I’m really proud of how we fought at the end to get that victory.

“In the last couple of weeks, our own errors have killed us, so it was about trying to play in the right areas of the field and not give easy entries into our 22. We did that really well and it was enough to win it.”

Quote of the weekend

After the Welsh derby clash at the Arms Park, England defence coach Kevin Sinfield visited the home dressing room to speak to the Cardiff players. The former rugby league star had just completed the second of seven ultra marathons in seven days and received a huge ovation when he was introduced to the packed crowd at half-time. He is undertaking the epic venture in support of Motor Neurone Disease charities and his friend and former team-mate Rob Burrow.

New Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt

Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt said: “How he spoke, it puts everything into perspective. It was brilliant. We can get wrapped up with a red card or a high tackle. But there’s a guy there who is giving his life and his body to one of his best mates.

“He spoke really well to the players about how important it is to look after each other on the pitch but then off the pitch as well – how they should rally round and care for each other after their playing careers. You could have heard a pin drop in there. It was fantastic.”

What’s coming up next?

After seven consecutive rounds of matches, the URC now takes a two-week break as the competition’s 16 teams all switch their attention to the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup.

Then it will be back to league action over the Christmas period with a series of derbies.

You will have Glasgow v Edinburgh on December 22 and champions Munster hosting table-topping Leinster on Boxing Day, with local rivalries renewed in Wales and Italy as well. So plenty of festive fun to look forward to!


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