As if the lesson handed to Wales by Ireland in Dublin on Saturday wasn’t bad enough for fans of Welsh rugby, Munster showcased their championship-winning credentials on the same day with a six-try 54-13 win over Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park from a runaway second-half performance which included tries for Simon Zebo, David Kilcoyne and Andrew Conway with JJ Hanrahan kicking 24 points. In Parma, Leinster also secured a bonus-point 31-8 to prevent Zebre winning consecutive matches for the first time with tries from John Cooney and Noel Reid either side of the interval, while Ulster came from behind to defeat the Ospreys 10-7 as 12,000 spectators packed in to Ravenhill on the eve of the second round of the Six Nations which was enough for them to jump the Welsh region into third place. In equally tricky conditions on Sunday afternoon, Glasgow Warriors came from behind at the break with a solitary penalty for an 8-6 win to hand an 11th defeat of the season to Connacht at Scotstoun Stadium despite a good defensive performance from Pat Lam’s side. Ireland’s big three currently occupy three of the top four places in the league table after 13 matches and without many of their international superstars.
Easily the match of the weekend as Benetton Treviso and Scarlets got together to put on a nine-try thriller as a young Scarlets side ended a four-match losing streak to run out 41-33 winners at the Stadio Monigo. It took 25 minutes for the first try to come through Kirby Myhill after goal-kicking exchanges between Aled Thomas and Mat Berquist before Frazier Climo added a second three minutes before the break and the fun really started in the second half. Climo scored his second two minutes after the restart and Gareth Davies went over four minutes later, but Berquist’s kicking continued to keep the hosts in sight of Simon Easterby’s side. The final five tries came in the last quarter as Treviso upped their attacking game and with five minutes to go tries from Robert Barbieri, Meyer Swanepole and Ludovico Nitoglia had brought the score to 33-34, but with two minutes left Jordan Williams put the result beyond doubt when the TMO confirmed his try and Thomas added the extras to round off a pulsating clash which gives the Scarlets an outside chance of catching up on the league’s top four.
Few would bet against at least two Irish sides making the semi-finals of the Pro12 in May, with Munster, Leinster and Ulster also set to compete in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup in April. February and March are often the levellers for some teams with key personnel on international duty and squad depth tested to the limits. The Warriors—still with two games in hand over Edinburgh and Treviso to slot in—go deeper than most with league and international experience and, with as many defeats as table-topping Munster, wins in those games would elevate them from their current fifth into the top three based on the current standings. Having lost in the play-offs in the last two seasons, Gregor Townsend is determined to go further this season and the west of Scotland side look the best equipped of the chasing pack. Welsh giants Ospreys are also in the hunt, currently occupying the final play-off spot, but despite being the league four times in its 12-year history, their reliance on their Welsh internationals could count against them with Munster and Leinster still to head to Ospreylia.
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