United Rugby Championship Round Three review
Skipper Davies The Difference
Going into his 234th game for the Scarlets, Gareth Davies had never before captained the side.
But handed emergency duties at the helm, the Wales scrum-half responded with an inspirational Player of the Match display in a much-needed 31-25 bonus point victory over Cardiff Rugby.
He claimed his 60th try for the region as he won the race to a chip ahead and skidded over to put them in front for the first time after it had been 14-14 all at the break.
Then he turned provider as he broke away from the base of a scrum, stepped inside and released No 8 Vaea Fifita to deliver a fine finish in the corner.
It was an impressive way for the 74-cap Davies to mark his regional return following his Rugby World Cup exploits and also his first time as skipper, a role he was given after club captain Josh Macleod suffered a freak ankle injury in training during the week.
“We are obviously happy with the win,” said the 33-year-old, reflecting on the Scarlets having suffered heavy defeats in South Africa in the first two rounds.
“Fair play to Cardiff, they threw everything at us, especially in the first half. We started to play a bit more in the second half and showed that when we do have the ball we can score some tries, so hopefully we can keep playing like that.
“It was a good one. We had two tough weeks out in South Africa, so we were happy to be back in front of our home fans, happy with a bonus point win and we will build from here. We will take a bit of confidence into next week now.”
Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel paid tribute to Davies, saying: “Gareth coming back from international duty was big for us.
“He stepped in as captain at the last minute and he led really well.
“If you have got quality players like that, it rubs off on everyone else in terms of their professionalism and attention to detail.”
Giving his thoughts, Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt said: “Gareth Davies showed his class. He scored a try and then had a moment of brilliance with an assist for Fifita, and that was probably the difference in the end.
“In these tight games, experience can get you over the line and I thought the Scarlets’ more experienced players – Gareth Davies, Fifita, Johnny McNicholl, Steff Evans – they have been in those situations before and that’s what got them over the line probably.”
Ospreys Stoop to Conquer
The Ospreys are celebrating a success both on and off the field following their landmark London meeting with the Hollywoodbets Sharks.
They claimed a 19-5 victory over the team from Durban at the Twickenham Stoop in the first ever BKT URC match to be played in England.
It was a game that drew an official attendance of 7,183, including both fans who travelled from south Wales and a sizable contingent of ex-pat supporters.
Asked whether he felt the ground-breaking initiative had been a success on and off the field, Ospreys coach Toby Booth replied: “I think so, yeah.
“The BKT URC and our owners have had the ambition and foresight to go ‘let’s do something different’.
“When you try something different, it doesn’t always work out for you, but if you don’t roll the dice, you are never going to win.”
All the points came in the first half, with backs Jack Walsh, Max Nagy and Keiran Williams crossing for the Ospreys in response to an early touchdown for Sharks flanker Phepsi Buthelezi.
Booth said: “I am so proud and pleased for the boys that they managed to get the result and the performance they did.
“We are a side that will never go away from an effort point of view and sometimes effort gets you a long way.
“I thought we were into everything, we were a pain and an irritant to everybody and that’s a side that wants to fight. That’s a reflection of the culture and the team spirit.
“Nothing beats winning for morale, enthusiasm, humour, bus trip home. It’s a big tick for us, especially when you look at the players missing.”
Connacht Out On Their Own
Connacht have been hailed as “the real deal” after moving to the top of the URC table with a 22-20 comeback victory over Irish rivals Ulster.
They are the only team to have won their opening three league fixtures, with the DHL Stormers and Edinburgh having joined Ulster in going down to their first defeats of the season on the weekend.
Things didn’t look too promising for Pete Wilkins’ team when they trailed 20-3 early in the second half out in Galway, after half backs Jake Flannery and Dave Shanahan had crossed for the visitors.
But they fought back through touchdowns from centres Cathal Forde and Tom Farrell, with try machine winger Diarmuid Kilgallen going over six minutes from time to secure the win.
Former Scotland captain John Barclay was working on the game as a TV pundit for Viaplay and was mightily impressed with the team from the west of Ireland.
“I think Connacht are the real deal,” he said. “Their skill-set, their organisation, their cohesion is brilliant.
“It’s really hard to come back when you are that many points down, 17 points down, but they just stuck to their game plan and controlled the second half.
“They are physical, they are really organised, their contact skills are brilliant and they have an ability to find space and get the ball there. I thought they were superb and they are going to be really hard to beat this year. They looked brilliant.”
Just behind Connacht in the table are reigning champions Munster who ran in seven tries, including a brace from wing Calvin Nash, as they dispatched Dragons RFC 45-14 in Cork.
As for Leinster, they look to be very much back on track. Despite still being without their Ireland World Cup stars, they recorded a 36-27 bonus point victory over a strong Edinburgh team.
Elsewhere, the Vodacom Bulls became the first South African side to record a victory on European soil in the BKT URC this season, beating Zebre Parma 54-29, with a hat-trick of tries from centre David Kriel.
However, the three other franchises from the Rainbow Nation all went down to defeat on the road.
The DHL Stormers and the Hollywoodbets Sharks lost to Glasgow Warriors (20-9) and the Ospreys (19-5) respectively on Friday night.
Then, in Sunday’s final match of the weekend, the Emirates Lions were beaten 15-10 in Treviso, as Benetton maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
It means the South African sides have recorded just one victory between them from their eight matches in Europe so far and all four of them are away from home once again in Round 4.
Game of the Weekend
Leinster 36, Edinburgh 27
It was an entertaining eight-try encounter at the RDS where a Leinster side featuring plenty of young talent consigned Edinburgh to a first league defeat of the season.
There were touchdowns for two fresh faces in No 8 James Culhane, 21, and hooker Lee Barron, 22, while 24-year-old fly-half Harry Byrne landed four shots at goal.
An Edinburgh side featuring the likes of Duhan van der Merwe, Hamish Watson, Blair Kinghorn and Pierre Schoeman rallied with three second half tries, but ultimately came away empty handed.
Delighted Leinster skipper Scott Penny said: “It was a tough game out there and we had to play for the full 80 minutes. Edinburgh never gave up, in fairness to them, but it was a great performance from our team.
“The young lads have put in a lot of hard work over the summer and, credit to them, they have been amazing.”
Player of the Weekend
Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors)
Making his first appearance since the Rugby World Cup, the Scotland centre showed his international quality with an impressive display in the Scotstoun victory over the DHL Stormers.
“It’s nice to come home and for us to get a win against a pretty good side,” he said.
“That’s the thing I’m most happy about. It didn’t really feel like I’d been away. I didn’t get much rest, but I’m happy to be back in. It’s good to start off my season with a win.
“There was a bit of urgency and passion about us and we have to take that into next week against Ospreys. We just have to keep working on things and week by week we continue to get better.”
Quote of the Weekend
Try-scoring Connacht winger Diarmuid Kilgallen after the 22-20 Irish derby win over Ulster in Galway:
“It was an unbelievable night in the Sportsground, unbelievable support and atmosphere. Thank you so much to everyone that made it a special night and we keep going for the season.”
What’s coming up in Round 4?
New league leaders Connacht play their first away game of the season as they travel to Edinburgh, while second placed Munster head to Belfast for an inter-provincial clash with Ulster on Friday night.
The Ospreys are likely to have a number of their Wales stars back as they return to Swansea for Saturday’s meeting with Glasgow Warriors, while the Scarlets, Cardiff Rugby and Dragons RFC will also be reinforced as they host the Emirates Lions, Vodacom Bulls and Leinster respectively.
Finally, both Italian teams are at home, with unbeaten Benetton welcoming the DHL Stormers to Treviso and Zebre Parma entertaining bottom-of-the-table Hollywoodbets Sharks in a meeting between two sides looking for their first win.
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