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United Rugby Championship Round Five review

19 Nov 2023 9 minute read
Dragons’ Head Coach Dai Flanagan. Photo ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Simon Thomas

Dragons delight as home hoodoo is broken

The shackles came off as Dragons RFC ended their long wait for a win at Rodney Parade with a 20-5 Welsh derby victory over the Ospreys.

It was a first win at their Newport home since October 2022 and a first success in the URC this season after four defeats.

Head coach Dai Flanagan said: “I am really proud of the group. We spoke pre-match about just taking our shackles off.

“We had felt the heat of results and we looked like we were playing within ourselves.

“You talk about pressure and the players read everything that is said. It’s naïve to think they don’t.

“I just told them to ignore results and let everyone else talk about that.

“I was really pleased with how we performed out there. We threw the ball around and dominated with our speed and tempo. We want to play that way. That needs to become our DNA.

“I thought our defence was superb as well. We stuck in collisions, filled the field and took the space. This can spring us forward now.”

Skipper Rhodri Williams echoed his coach, saying: “We spoke before the game about playing our way, being ourselves and throwing it about. It was an overall great team performance.”

The Dragons fell behind early on, with Mat Protheroe touching down for the Ospreys, but the winger then went from hero to villain as he was red carded for head-on-head contact with fly-half Will Reed on 28 minutes.

Capitalising on their extra man, the hosts established a 13-5 half-time lead with hooker Bradley Roberts storming over from 30 metres out.

Then, when the Ospreys were reduced to 13 men following a yellow card for their other wing Luke Morgan, the Dragons exploited the space out wide by sending Rio Dyer scorching down the touchline for a try.

The Player of the Match award went to their full-back Cai Evans, who landed four successful kicks at goal and was a constant threat when entering the line, as demonstrated by his scoring pass for Wales wing Dyer.

For Evans, it was a victory that had all the more resonance as he spent six years with the Ospreys before making the move east at the end of last season.


“It was something new to me, a bit of a bizarre feeling, but the Dragons have made me very welcome and it meant a huge amount to get that win,” said the 24-year-old.

“We wanted to come out, play, express ourselves and show genuine intent. The effort, particularly in defence, put us in a really good position to win. We need to take this momentum now going forward and kick on.”

Giving his thoughts, Ospreys boss Toby Booth commented: “We know how important Welsh derbies are and we probably didn’t show our best, let’s be honest about it, and that’s disappointing.

“There is plenty to improve on for sure. As a performance, that was pretty inaccurate. There was a lot of effort, but we made life very, very difficult for ourselves.”

The Ospreys will now look to bounce back in next Sunday’s clash with local rivals the Scarlets in Swansea.
“It’s another Welsh derby, so we’ve got to be emotional about it, which we will be, but we need to channel that with the right accuracy,” said Booth.

Benetton beaten at last

There are now no unbeaten teams in the URC, with Benetton Rugby having suffered their first defeat of the season, going down 26-12 to Glasgow Warriors at a rain-soaked Scotstoun.

Reflecting on his team’s bonus point win, Glasgow boss Franco Smith said: “We are really pleased with the victory. To score four tries in those conditions was really something important and we worked really hard for each other in defence.

“I thought Benetton played really well. There is a reason why they were not beaten before this weekend.”

Next up for Glasgow will be a home fixture against fellow pacesetters Ulster Rugby, with both teams having racked up four wins from the opening five URC rounds.

“We will have everybody back on Monday for the first time this season and we are looking forward to that,” said Smith.

As for Ulster, they came from 14-7 down at the break to beat the Emirates Lions 24-17 in Belfast, while Leinster Rugby ran in eight tries as they thumped the Scarlets 54-5.

Then in the rematch of last season’s Grand Final, title holders Munster came out on top against the DHL Stormers once again, with second row Edwin Edogbo scoring the only try of the game amid a hard-fought 10-3 win at a windy Thomond Park.

Head coach Graham Rowntree said: “We scrapped it out in conditions that were actually worse than people would have seen on TV. We’ve got young men still learning, getting better. I’m proud of them, they’ll be better for it.”

On try scorer Edogbo, he added: “We’ve got high hopes for him. He’s a big man and he will get better with more minutes on the field. He’s a good kid, diligent and we’ll keep pushing him on.”

Last, but certainly not least, Connacht claimed a first ever win in South Africa as they beat the Hollywoodbets Sharks 13-12 in Durban, with Player of the Match JJ Hanrahan landing three shots at goal to add to an early try from No 8 Sean O’Brien.

The Sharks are now the only team without a win after the first five rounds of URC matches, while all four South African sides lost on the weekend.

Match of the weekend

Edinburgh Rugby 31, Vodacom Bulls 23

Sean Everitt took great delight in getting the better of old pal Jake White in this hugely eventful encounter at the Hive Stadium.

Everitt worked as a consultant under fellow South African White at the Bulls earlier this year after losing his job at the Sharks.

Now he is making a real impression as Edinburgh’s new head coach, having guided them to four victories from their opening five URC matches.

Their latest success came in a game that had it all – six tries, three yellow cards, a red card and a crucial final kick.

The hosts were trailing 13-11 at the break, but then capitalised on the Bulls being reduced to 13 men early in the second half following the sending off of flanker Marcell Coetzee and the sin binning of fellow back row Cameron Hanekom.

They claimed four tries in all – two of them from hooker Ewan Ashman – to secure maximum points, while Ben Healy’s last play penalty denied the visitors from Pretoria a losing bonus.

Everitt said: “We are getting used to these tight situations. Every game we have played in the URC so far has been tight. It just shows the strength of the competition.

“I am just happy for the boys. They have put in a lot of hard work. They went through a torrid time last year with narrow losses and now we are getting the narrow wins. Sometimes that’s sport.”

On his winning reunion with White, he said: “I worked with Jake for six months pretty recently, so I am sure he was nervous about me knowing their playbook!

“But he’s a wily old coach and they went away from their usual game and kicked contestables.

“Jake and I are good mates. He’s a good man and we’ve got a good relationship.”

Player of the weekend

Lopeti Timani (Cardiff Rugby)

The Tongan international could have done no more. He put in a remarkable 27 carries during Cardiff’s clash with Zebre Parma out in Italy and capped his tireless display with a smartly taken try, pocketing a pass one-handed and stretching out for the line as he dipped back inside.

In the end, Timani was denied the win his performance deserved as Zebre claimed a converted try in the 86th minute to snatch a 22-22 draw.

But he is really finding his feet now in his second season with Cardiff and is clearly relishing playing in his preferred position of No 8, where his dynamism, power, athleticism and skill-set are best showcased.

Quote of the weekend

Connacht try-scorer Sean O’Brien after their landmark 13-12 victory over the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban:

“We said coming down here that South Africa is the land of physicality and they are going to bring a huge physical edge. We definitely felt that all game.

“You just have to get yourself in a space mentally and ready to deliver that physical performance. We are all really happy with how we fronted up with that.

“We are delighted to come out the right side of it. That was a really tough battle. It was really hot out there and humid. We are all really happy how we stuck together and got it done. It wasn’t pretty, but we managed to get the win in the end.”

What’s coming up next weekend?

There are a couple of real stand-out games in Round 6.

New league leaders Leinster take on reigning champions Munster in a titanic Irish derby at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, while second meets third as Glasgow entertain Ulster.

There’s also a mouthwatering encounter in Pretoria where fourth-placed Connacht will be looking for another scalp on South African soil as they enter the Bulls’ back yard.

Elsewhere, there’s more Welsh derby action, with the Ospreys hosting the Scarlets, while Edinburgh welcome Benetton, Cardiff face the Stormers at the Arms Park and the Lions are home to Zebre.

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