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United Rugby Championship week 13 review

30 Jan 2023 7 minute read
Gareth Davies celebrates scoring his sides third try against the Bulls Photo ©INPHO/Ashley Crowden

Simon Thomas

Scarlets turn table upside down

Scarlets boss Dwayne Peel paid tribute to the clinical edge and defensive resolve of his team after their “huge win” over the Vodacom Bulls.

It was 15th against third going into the game, but Peel’s men turned the BKT URC table on its head with a 37-28 bonus point victory.

The Vodacom Bulls rallied after trailing 30-14 early in the second half, but the home side dug deep to stay in front and sealed the spoils when Johnny McNicholl went over for their fourth try five minutes from time.

Having claimed just one victory in their first nine games this season, the Scarlets have now won seven of their last eight in all rugby.

“This has been a big block for us,” said former Wales scrum-half Peel.

“We are seeing a side that wants to scrap and fight for every point and every tackle.”

On the performance against the Vodacom Bulls, he said: “I thought we were particularly good in the first half. Then they came after us physically and had a bit of ascendancy in set-piece areas.

“It was a big effort to keep them out. There were some huge defensive sets. To see us defending as a team and scrapping for each other, that’s what a good side is.

“I am really pleased we came back in the end and managed to get over the line. I thought we were clinical when we had opportunities.

“I am delighted with the win. The Vodacom Bulls are obviously a top end team. They came here fully loaded, so it’s a huge win for us.”

Elsewhere, it was a case of maximum joy for the Irish sides, with all four provinces claiming bonus point victories.

Ulster kicked things off on Friday night with an impressive 35-5 dismantling of the DHL Stormers to move up to third in the table, with league leaders Leinster making it 13 out of 13 the following day by seeing off Cardiff Rugby-14 and Connacht defeating the Emirates Lions 43-24, either side of Munster claiming a 40-30 triumph on the road against Benetton.

The solitary South African winners were the Cell C Sharks, who held on to beat Edinburgh 22-19 in a gripping finish in the Scottish capital, while the Ospreys came from 24-14 down going into the final quarter to beat Zebre Parma 28-24 out in Parma on Sunday.

That bonus point victory takes Toby Booth’s Ospreys level on points with Cardiff in the battle to be the highest-placed Welsh team in the league. Like the Scarlets, they are on a really good run, now having won six of their last seven games.

The secret to Smith’s success

Franco Smith continues to work his magic with Glasgow Warriors who extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to nine matches with a 42-28 bonus point victory over the Dragons at his old Rodney Parade stomping ground.

So what’s the secret to the South African’s success in this his first season at the helm following his move from Italy?

After warming up for next Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham with a 45-minute run-out, Scotland scrum-half Ali Price gave his thoughts.

“Franco is really good motivator. He has got the saying that you don’t have to lose to learn,” said the 58-cap Price.

“He is very good at keeping the feet on the ground and challenging boys to go out there week on week and put it in.

“He backs his players. We got out there, we put it in for each other and we put it in for him, friends and family. At the moment, we are on a good run and it seems to be working.

“We are building nicely and making good progress. We will obviously start to get a target on our backs from the other teams. We have to keep one step ahead to keep these wins coming.”

For former Springbok Smith, it was a happy return to a ground where he spent a season with Newport RFC at the end of the 1990s.

“Having played here myself, I know the pride of the people. I know those changing rooms very well,” said the ex-Italy coach.

“I always knew it was going to be a big challenge and that’s the way we approached the game. We knew these guys could steal our joy, so we approached it like a final. It’s good to get five points out of it. I felt we scored some nice tries. We step on to the next challenge now.

“We have put 80 per cent of what we want across. It took six months. I think the next 20 per cent will take a year. A lot of detail has still to be done. There is a progressive plan and we still need to improve.”

Match of the weekend

Benetton 30, Munster 40.

A ten-try Treviso thriller.

Benetton were on course to extend their winning run in all competitions to seven matches when they led 15-14 at the interval.

But Munster steamed away after the break, which is all the more notable given they were down to 14 men for 20 minutes in the second half following a brace of yellow cards.

They finished with six tries in all, one of those from fly-half Joey Carbery who delivered the perfect response to being left of Ireland’s Six Nations squad by posting a 15-point match haul.

The hosts contributed much to a highly entertaining contest and gained some consolation as Argentine wing Ignacio Mendy completed his hat-trick in the final play to earn a four-try bonus point.

Player of the weekend

Caolin Blade (Connacht)

While Jack Carty made history in the victory over the Lions by overtaking the watching Eric Elwood as Connacht’s all-time record points scorer, it was his half-back partner Caolin Blade who picked up the Player of the Match award and deservedly so.

He was a livewire presence throughout with his sniping from the base, while his work-rate and predatory nature saw him cross for a hat-trick of tries.

His first was a product of a smart one-two with hooker Shane Delahunt, his second a reward for following up Tiernan O’Halloran’s charge-down and his third a razor-sharp dart over the line from close-range.

Quote of the weekend

Ulster’s Kiwi prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen talking about his gallop to the line for a try during the victory over the DHL Stormers in Belfast: “My son always shows me how to score in the back-yard footie, so I was just trying to show him that anything is possible!

“Never lose sight of the fact that it’s all about having fun and just chucking the ball around. We are in a very privileged position to get paid to play a game. I am just forever thankful and honoured to get to do what I do for a living.

“The people are awesome here, the town is amazing. I just love the culture here. What’s the craic Belfast? Let’s go!”

Play-off race

The Cell C Sharks claimed arguably the key result of the weekend in terms of the play-off battle with their hard-fought victory up in Edinburgh taking them into the top eight. They are now looking well-placed, with games in hand over all the teams around them.

Looking ahead to Round 14 in three weeks time, Cardiff really must beat Benetton at the Arms Park if they are to put themselves back in the mix, having dropped from sixth to eleventh following three successive league defeats.

Red-hot Glasgow Warriors will host third-placed Ulster in what should be a cracking contest, while the South African sides are in derby action, with three of their contingent currently in the top eight play-off spots.

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