United Rugby Championship Round One review
All four Welsh Welsh teams lost their opening URC games in what was, as predicted, a challenging start to the season
The Dragons and Cardiff Rugby will lock horns at Rodney Parade in the first Welsh derby of the season next Sunday having both let winning positions slip in their opening fixtures.
The Dragons led 14-3 against Edinburgh at half-time before ultimately going down 22-17, as Scotland fly-half Ben Healy kicked the visitors to victory late on.
Head coach Dai Flanagan commented: “Our discipline let us down. It cost us. We gave 20 penalties away, so we have to take a long hard look at ourselves.
“Some stuff we hadn’t seen in the two pre-season matches crept back into our game under pressure and fatigue. We have got to put some heat on each other.
“It’s hard to pick out positives in that performance, if I am totally honest. We have got to be better. We have got to dust ourselves down. We have got a big derby next week.”
As for Cardiff, they were 19-10 up at the break against Benetton and still ahead with just a minute to go at the Arms Park, only for Jacob Umaga to snatch the spoils with a penalty awarded after prop Ciaran Parker was sent off on his league debut for the hosts.
Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt remained philosophical, saying: “We’ve been on the other side of those late kicks on occasions and it’s important not to judge an entire game on one moment.
“We were really good in the first half, our set piece and defence were excellent and we took our chances well. But we need to look at why we couldn’t keep it going in the second half.”
There were no wins for the Welsh regions on the opening weekend, with the Ospreys losing 34-26 to Connacht in Galway and the Scarlets leaking nine tries as they were thumped 63-21 by the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
Smith’s pride over Scotland stars
Glasgow Warriors coach Franco Smith says he is proud of the Scotland World Cup stars who helped secure a 43-25 victory over Leinster on the opening weekend of the BKT URC season.
Huw Jones, Rory Darge, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings and George Horne all featured in the bonus point win at Scotstoun just a fortnight after playing in the final group game against Ireland out in France.
Centre Jones produced a try-scoring Player of the Match display, while scrum-half Horne also touched down on his 100th appearance for Glasgow as they built on a 24-13 half-time lead.
Head coach Smith said: “This is the fourth team I have coached where I have had a lot of internationals coming back off the World Cup or the Six Nations and there’s always a little bit of doubt. But I am really proud of these boys. They stand up for what Glasgow Warriors is about and they proved they care a lot.
“It’s difficult to ignore that kind of experience. There is another bunch of them coming in this week and they will take the baton on.”
Reflecting on the seven-try win over Leinster, Smith said: “It was a classic start of the season game, with good intent from both teams. We made a lot of beginning of the season errors, but if you don’t try, you are not going to get better.
“We are excited to start with a win. I am really grateful for the attitude of the boys and the fact they were so resilient in defence.”
Having gone unbeaten until the final round of the regular season last term, Leinster have now lost in Round One, with head coach Leo Cullen left to reflect on missed opportunities.
“It’s the first game of the season, so we know both teams are going to be a little bit off in lots of different areas and that was probably the case,” said Cullen, who didn’t have any Ireland World Cup players on duty.
“Glasgow were pretty clinical in terms of their scoring opportunities. On the flip side of that, we had lots of chances. We had that period just before half-time where we had multiple penalties and then we got turned over, which was a little deflating.
“We regathered our composure and got it back to 24-20 and we were pounding away at the try line against 14 men at that stage, but we couldn’t quite get over for a score.
“Unfortunately, we gave away a few tries at the end which took the game away from us.
“It’s a bit painful to go through and we are a little bit frustrated, but for the young guys there were lots of good learning in there.”
Leinster will now turn their attention to next Saturday’s meeting with the Hollywoodbets Sharks at Dublin’s RDS. “We’ve got a seven game block at the start of the BKT URC season and you’ve got to accumulate as many points as you can,” said Cullen. “We’ve got nothing yet, so we need to get up and running next week.”
Elsewhere, Munster began the defence of their title with a 34-21 bonus point victory over the Hollywoodbets Sharks, with fly-half Joey Carbery named Man of the Match.
The South African derby saw the DHL Stormers hold off a late rally from the Emirates Lions to win 35-33 in Johannesburg.
Match of the weekend – Zebre Parma 36, Ulster 40
What a way to kick off the season! It was a 12-try thriller out in Parma in the opening game of the weekend. The Italian hosts came tantalisingly close to ending their 26-match losing run in the BKT URC, leading 31-21 early in the second half with wing Simone Gesi and flanker Giovanni Licata both claiming a brace of tries.
They fell behind as Ulster fought back, but then had a golden opportunity to win it right at the death, as they surged for the line with the visitors down to 14 men following a late yellow card to prop James French – but it wasn’t to be.
Player of the weekend – Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (DHL Stormers)
If you get the chance, check out the centre’s first try for the DHL Stormers in their 35-33 victory over the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg, because it really was something special.
Latching on to a spillage 40 metres out, he hacked ahead and then showed superb footballing skills, nudging the ball forward off both knees in quick succession before kicking it up into his hands and stretching out for the line despite being brought down.
As if that wasn’t enough, the 21-year-old from Cape Town added a second touchdown before the break. He is some talent.
Quote of the weekend – Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade
It was yet yet another hat-trick of tries for Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade, who scored two triples last season, in the 34-26 victory over the Ospreys.
“The three of them came from support lines, so it shows the lads are doing their job! Look, individual awards aren’t what I am chasing this year. We are chasing bigger and better things. I’m happy with my performance, but we move on.”
What’s coming up in Round Two?
Next Saturday’s meeting of Connacht and Glasgow Warriors at the Galway Sportsground has the makings of being a real cracker with both teams having kicked off with bonus point wins.
There are two more encounters between triumphant teams on the Sunday with Benetton hosting champions Munster in Treviso and Ulster entertaining the Vodacom Bulls.
Local rivalries will be on the line when the Dragons take on Cardiff in Newport, while Ospreys v Zebre, DHL Stormers v Scarlets, Leinster v Hollywoodbets Sharks and Edinburgh v Emirates Lions are the other fixtures.
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