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URC Round 13 review: Big win for Ospreys puts them back in play-off race

31 Mar 2024 10 minute read
The Ospreys Sam Parry who made his 150th appearance in Saturday’s crucial win. Photo INPHO/Ashley Crowden

Simon Thomas

Ospreys out-performing expectations

The Ospreys were the big movers in the URC over the weekend, leaping up from eleventh to seventh with a 36-21 bonus point victory over the Emirates Lions in Swansea.

It puts them firmly back in the play-off mix and they also have a EPCR Challenge Cup last 16 tie at home to Sale to look forward to next weekend.

As head coach Toby Booth points out, they are exceeding expectations.

“We know we are in the hunt, we know we can go toe to toe with it and that’s the exciting bit,” he said.

“To be fair, no one at the start of the season would have said that.

“We are still where we need to be in the URC, in and around it, and we can enjoy our European experience knowing we are coming back into a competitive position in the league, which is great.”

Testing trips

When they do return to URC action they will face testing trips to the Stormers, the Bulls and Leinster, before hosting the Dragons and facing Cardiff on Judgement Day.

“It is extremely difficult,” said Booth.

“We are going away to South Africa, we go away to Leinster, we have got Welsh derbies. We know how hard this is going to be, but no-one gave us a chance when we went to South Africa the last time (they beat the Lions in Jo’burg in the Challenge Cup).

“There is a lot of talent stacked in a lot of different sides, but the effort of this team, its fighting spirit and its cohesiveness is very strong and that can get you a long way.

“We are competitive and the players are enjoying themselves.”

Hooker Sam Parry, who made his 150th appearance for the region on the weekend, added: “We are a real tight group and the boys care about each other. You talk about effort, but that’s just a given now for this team. The effort is always there. We don’t give in and we keep working for each other.”

Parry marked his landmark outing with a touchdown, while Player of the Match Morgan Morris also crossed from No 8 amid a 5-3 try count in a helter skelter game which featured a host of turnovers.

Putting the win in context, Booth said: “You saw what a good side the Lions are from what they did to Connacht last week.

“They are a difficult outfit because they play. They can create you problems. Having the discipline that we showed to understand how to win the contest is one of the most pleasing things and obviously then the effort and application to do that.

“I am delighted for the players, but we can be much better again and that’s the exciting part.”

Dragons coach Dai Flanagan

There was another Welsh win over the weekend, with Dragons RFC beating Zebre Parma 20-13 at Rodney Parade to move off the bottom of the table. Commenting on a first victory since New Year’s Day, skipper Steff Hughes said: “It’s been a tough block for us, but you learn a lot about people around you in these situations.

“It’s good for us to get this result. There’s a lot of hard work gone in and we are just pleased to get the win. “Hopefully it will give us confidence for our run-in. It’s a brilliant opportunity for us to be positive and get some momentum to finish the season.”

‘Desperate to win’

Head coach Dai Flanagan added: “We looked like a team desperate to win.

“We looked edgy at times in attack and gave away some easy penalties, but there’s a massive want to get better and our defence was superb.

“That’s four wins from our last six games at home and we’ve got a couple more to come to keep climbing the league.”

Leaders Leinster make big statement

After two trophy-less seasons, no-one in the Leinster Rugby camp will be getting carried away, but they certainly made an emphatic statement in their top-of-the-table clash with the Vodacom Bulls.

It was a tight old affair during the first-half in front of a 16,892 crowd at the RDS. In fact, the South African visitors led 14-12 at the interval, having had the upper hand in the scrum.

But it was to be one way traffic after the break as Leinster racked up 35 unanswered points to win 47-14 with their stacked bench having a major impact.

Ireland Six Nations title winners Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadgh Furlong, Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan were among the star subs to make a big difference, with front row man Sheehan crossing to contribute to a 7-1 try count.

Giving his thoughts, the hooker said: “It was a top-of-the-table clash and we are really happy with how it went.

“It was a really impressive win against a top quality outfit. I really enjoyed it.

“It was brilliant to have a packed RDS and to be back here in front of our fans.

“You saw in the second half, we needed a bit of a pick up and the crowd were there with us the whole way.”

Another of the numerous Ireland squad members returning to Leinster duty was No 10 Harry Byrne, who said: “It was brilliant to be back in the RDS after eight, nine weeks away for a lot of us.

“Everyone slots in seamlessly, we get on so well and we are so tight as a group. It feels like we haven’t been away at all. It’s unbelievable. We were straight back to business.”

Reflecting on a memorable night in Dublin, Byrne added: “To have 17,000 in support was absolutely amazing. It means so much to us. We talk about it the whole time, about playing at home in front of our supporters. It’s massive for us.

“The Bulls are a very good side. They were second in the table for a reason. They are unbelievably physical with some unbelievable individuals, with the amount of Springboks they have in their team.

“They are very tough to break down. It took a long time for us to do it, but we are very happy with the performance.”

With the Bulls losing, Glasgow Warriors took the opportunity to move up to second in the table as they thumped the Scarlets 45-3 in Llanelli.

Munster Rugby are now just two points behind the Bulls in fourth place thanks to a 20-15 win over Cardiff Rugby in Limerick, but they were pushed all the way by their Welsh guests who now have ten bonus points this season, indicating just how many close contests they have been involved in.

As for the battle for play-off spots, it is becoming so congested, with just five points separating fifth and eleventh in the table.

The DHL Stormers and Benetton Rugby are now fifth and sixth respectively after hard-fought home wins over Ulster Rugby and Connacht Rugby respectively, with Edinburgh Rugby dropping out of the top eight after losing 23-13 to the resurgent Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban.

Match of the weekend

Munster 20, Cardiff 15.

It wasn’t a try-fest, with just the two touchdowns apiece, but what a compelling and gripping affair this was in front of 15,423 fully engaged fans at Thomond Park.

Cardiff produced a huge effort, competing hard at the breakdown and bringing a real defensive linespeed, while they snapped up a couple of scoring chances.

When flanker Thomas Young rounded off a lineout drive on the hour to add to centre Ben Thomas’ long-range interception, the visitors were leading 12-10.

They also had a man advantage with prop John Ryan in the sin bin following a tipping clear-out on Liam Belcher.

As such, they would have been dreaming of a first ever win in Limerick.

But the 14-men of Munster redoubled their efforts and went back in front when Ireland fly-half Jack Crowley danced through to the line.

Back came Cardiff again and it looked as though the lead was going to change hands once more ten minutes from time as they got closer and closer to the whitewash through 25 phases, only for prop Will Davies-King to lose the ball in going for the touchdown.

With Player of the Match Crowley slotting a penalty, it seemed as though the visitors were going to miss out on even a losing bonus point, but Jacob Beetham landed a long range kick just seconds after coming on as a sub to secure a deserved tenth bonus of the season.

It was some contest.

Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt commented: “It’s disappointing because we want to win games and I know there will be a little bit of frustration, but what an effort from a young group.

“The pride they are showing in playing for Cardiff and how they are sticking in games has been magnificent. What you can’t coach is the spirit we are showing.

“We are in a decent place. We are not far away from being a pretty good team.”

Player of the weekend

Kyle Rowe (Glasgow)

The man who made his Six Nations debut as a full-back versus Wales last month was in his more regular wing berth against the Scarlets and responded with a hat-trick of tries in Glasgow’ 45-3 triumph down in Llanelli.

He is certainly in predatory form at the moment, having touched down seven times in his last five matches.

Giving his thoughts on the game, Rowe said: “It was good to get the five points. I had three tries off the back of it, but I got all the easy ones to be fair, the forwards did all the hard work. They put in a hell of a shift. They do a lot for us backs, giving us that front foot ball and that good attacking platform.

“We started well and managed to put a full 80 minute performance together. I feel like we are in a really good spot.”

Quote of the weekend

Ulster coach Richie Murphy after his team’s 13-7 defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town where they led until seven minutes from time.

“It’s a very tough loss. I am incredibly proud of the players,” he said.

“The work rate, the effort and the chasing back shows the character that’s within the team. You are never happy when you lose, but I think we are moving in the right direction.”

What’s coming up next?

There’s a break from league action for a fortnight now as the bulk of the URC teams head into the knock-out stages of the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, with the last 16 and quarter-final ties on successive weekend.

Then it’s back for URC Round 14 in mid-April.

That will see league leaders Leinster begin their two-match tour of South Africa as they take on the Lions in Johannesburg, while second-placed Glasgow host a Sharks team buoyed by back-to-back wins.

Arguably the game of the weekend will be in Pretoria, where third takes on fourth, with the Bulls locking horns with champions Munster at Loftus Versfeld.

You’ve also got fifth against seventh as the Stormers welcome the Ospreys to Cape Town, while Ulster host Cardiff, Benetton face the Dragons, Connacht meet Zebre and Edinburgh entertain the Scarlets.

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