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URC Round Nine review: Welsh teenage sensation begins new year with a bang

03 Jan 2024 11 minute read
Morgan Morse awarded the player of the match. Photo ©INPHO/Ashley Crowden

Simon Thomas

Teenage sensation shines in Welsh derby

It was an old school game between the Ospreys and Cardiff to kick off the new year in Welsh rugby – but one lit up by an 18-year-old.

The conditions at Bridgend’s Brewery Field were hugely challenging, with the incessant rain creating a very heavy pitch underfoot.

But teenage Ospreys No 8 Morgan Morse made light of the muddy surface as he scored one of the tries of the season. Gathering the ball some 45 metres out, he left three would-be tacklers in his wake on a weaving, side-stepping run and then managed to slide over the line as the covering defenders converged on him.

That score was the highlight of the hosts’ second half comeback as they turned around an 18-5 interval deficit to claim a 27-21 bonus point victory.

Speaking about the Swansea-born Morse, Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said: “The boy is quick, right? We know that he is a talent. He has got great physical capability. You saw that when he played for Wales U20s. He’s quick, he can beat people.

“He would be the first to say he’s not the finished product because he’s got some rough edges that we are working on.

“But he’s got some good people around him to learn off in Justin Tipuric, Jac Morgan and Morgan Morris.”

Awesome

Reflecting on the team performance at a sold-out Brewery Field, Booth said: “I am absolutely delighted. Credit to the lads, they were awesome. We felt our way into the game a little bit and our set-piece became a massive part. In Wales, you need to be able to play certain types of rugby and be smart.

“With conditions like that, it’s the oldest adage in the book. It’s about keeping the ball in front of your forwards. Territory becomes massively important. The onus is on the half-backs and full-backs to control the game and it was impressive from our game managers. It was almost like an old school game in an old school environment and there was an old school sing-song in the changing room afterwards.

“To get a four try bonus point in those conditions is something we should be really pleased about. Cardiff are a good team.”

Fly-half Dan Edwards was another youngster to catch the eye for the Ospreys, with the 20-year-old coming on at the break and bringing good tactical control as he landed two shots at goal and put in a pinpoint chip to set up the clinching score for two-try wing Keelan Giles.

Asked what the message was at half-time, Edwards replied: “Don’t play any rugby! In those conditions, it was just about using your head really and playing the game in their half. We were a few points down at the break, but I think we were outstanding in the second half. It was good fun out there and a really good result for us.”

It was the second bonus point win of the festive period for the Ospreys, following on from their 25-11 victory away to the Scarlets on Boxing Day, and it has taken them into the top half of the BKT URC table.

Booth concluded: “We have got a bit of momentum. It’s important to our fans. There was a great turn-out for this game and we gave them something to cheer about.”

Big response

In the other Welsh derby on New Year’s Day, the Dragons held on to secure a 13-12 win at home to the Scarlets, with Player of the Match Aaron Wainwright scoring their try and full-back Cai Evans landing three place kicks. It was a big response from Dai Flanagan’s team following the 55-21 thumping they suffered at the hands of Cardiff on Boxing Day.

Head coach Flanagan said: “For all the pain the boys have been through – and rightly so because last week was unacceptable – it shows we are not that bad. It has been difficult, but you can see from the celebrations that it means a lot.

“We are built on passion in Gwent. That is what we are all about. We are a talented region. We are good people and you have seen that out there.”

Skipper Rhodri Williams added: “We were questioned after last week. There were plenty of things thrown at us and what better way to respond than at home in front of our fans at Rodney Parade.

“The boys dug deep. It was a physical battle and I don’t think we took one backward step.”

Stepping stone success for Ulster

Ulster Rugby skipper Iain Henderson insists there is much more to come from his team following their landmark 22-21 victory away to BKT URC league leaders Leinster Rugby.

It was only their third win in 22 visits to Dublin’s RDS and just their second there in the last 11 years, with No 8 Nick Timoney scoring two tries and fly-half Billy Burns delivering a masterful display of tactical kicking. They are now up to fourth in the table.

Ireland second row Henderson said: “We had a good plan and I felt we executed it well.

“We were playing to Billy’s strengths and our team’s strengths. With the conditions, we were looking to put the ball in behind them. It became a bit of a dog-fight at times, but we got the job done and we are happy to come away with the points.

“This result by no way means we are the finished article of what we want to be. This is another stepping stone on the journey we are on and where we want to get to.

“It’s a win we are going to relish and enjoy over the next few days, but we know there is oceans more in this squad and, as I say, hopefully it’s just another stepping stone to making us a better team.”

Player of the Match Burns added: “Off the back of a couple of wins, we came down full of confidence, but knowing how tough a job it is, so it means a huge amount to get the victory. We put a lot of energy and effort into this game. We came up with a plan which we stuck to.

“We are slowly building. We will keep showing improvement week-on-week and we will see where that takes us. We have got some big games coming up in the near future which will tell us a lot about where we are and where we can go.”

The other Irish derby saw Connacht Rugby end a five-match losing run in all competitions by beating Munster Rugby 22-9 in wet and windy Galway, where fly-half JJ Hanrahan slotted six shots at goal. Head coach Pete Wilkins said: “We deserved the result. You are not going to win an interpro in those conditions without bags of character. I thought that was there. The fight, the relentlessness, that was really important for us.”

As for the four games played on Saturday, Edinburgh Rugby gained revenge for their defeat at Scotstoun eight days earlier by beating Glasgow Warriors 19-14 at Murrayfield. But it was Glasgow who retained the 1872 Cup on a 36-29 aggregate off the back of their 22-10 success at home.

Elsewhere in a round of derbies, Benetton Rugby completed the double over Zebre Parma with a six-try 36-14 triumph in Treviso which takes them up to second in the table. Finally, the DHL Stormers followed up their 26-20 win over the Vodacom Bulls with another Cape Town victory as they squeezed past the Hollywoodbets Sharks 16-15.

Game of the round

Edinburgh Rugby 19, Glasgow Warriors 14

It was a real thriller in front of a 37,904 crowd at Murrayfield – a record attendance for a Scottish club fixture. Test winger Duhan van der Merwe claimed the decisive try eight minutes from time and what a try it was.

From a turnover near their line, Edinburgh counter-attacked through Darcy Graham who burst away before releasing fellow wing Van der Merwe on his own 22. It was then over to the big man who put down the hammer as he raced up the left touchline and dived in at the corner amid scenes of wild jubilation from the home fans.

Edinburgh then held on during a tense finale to gain sweet revenge for their 22-10 defeat at Scotstoun just before Christmas. Van der Merwe’s sensational strike capped a Player of the Match display that saw him run for 165 metres, the most by anyone in the round. Giving his take on his try, he said: “I was absolutely knackered! My legs were heavy.

“I saw George Horne coming across and I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but luckily I just got there. Cheers Darcy for making me run 70 metres! It was a very special occasion and we want to thank all the fans that came out to support us. It means a hell of a lot to us.

“The win was important because we needed some points to climb up the log. We will take real confidence from that.”

Player of the Round

Cian Prendergast (Connacht)

Connacht’s 22-9 victory over Munster at a rain-lashed Galway Sportsground was built on work-rate and huge physical commitment – and no-one epitomised that more than flanker Prendergast.

The 23-year-old blindside admitted there had been a lot on the line for the west of Ireland province following five successive defeats. “We weren’t going to shy away from it. It’s been a really tough patch for us,” he said. “We hadn’t done the fans any credit, we hadn’t done ourselves any credit. So we decided we wanted to dictate how the night went. We said we would hopefully get the result through work-rate and physicality and I think we showed it out there.

“The conditions played a part and it was a night where we just had to dig in, work really hard for each other and decide our own destiny. For us now, it’s about building, getting better every week and hopefully we will be up there for the business end of the season.”

Quote of the round

DHL Stormers coach John Dobson after his team’s hard fought 16-15 victory over the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Cape Town. “This team has amazing resilience and amazing fight. The fizz and the bling that we want will come back. We have put these guys through the grinder – to play La Rochelle, Bulls and then this game. I thought physically we got done, but the way we stayed in the fight and closed the game out was very good.

“Every one of those European teams above us in the table has to come to South Africa. I will eat my hat if one of those teams wins two out of two. Most are going to be nought from two. When they start coming here, then we will get our rhythm.”

Bumper attendances

There is one league game this coming Saturday, with the Hollywood Bets Sharks playing hosts to the Emirates Lions in a rearranged Round 8 fixture.

A big crowd is expected in Durban which will take the combined total attendance for Rounds 8 and 9 past the 250,000 mark. Looking at the highest figures over the festive period, there were 39,925 for Stormers v Bulls in Cape Town, a record 37,904 for Edinburgh v Glasgow at Murrayfield and 37,246 for Stormers v Sharks.

In Ireland, 25,600 watched Munster take on Leinster on St Stephen’s Day, while 16,248 saw Ulster beat Leinster at the RDS on New Year’s Day, following on from 15,365 in Belfast for Ulster v Connacht. Then in Wales, there were full houses for Cardiff v Dragons and Ospreys v Cardiff, with 12,000 at the Arms Park on Boxing Day.

Looking ahead, aside from a couple of games in South Africa, the URC now takes a break, with Round 10 coming up in mid-February.


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