RaboDirect Pro12 wrap: Munster go top as Leinster overcome Cardiff
RaboDirect Pro12 wrap: Munster go top as Leinster overcome a stubborn Cardiff Blues side this weekend
Leinster overcome a stubborn Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park on Thursday night to pick up their sixth try-scoring bonus point in a 34-22 win to go top of the Pro12 for 48 hours. Jack Conan marked his debut for the Irish province with a try after three minutes and man of the match performance as the reigning champions’ strength on the bench proved too much for the injury-hit Welsh side reliant on youngsters. Eoin Reddan, Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent also went over for the visitors with the boot of outside-half Jimmy Gopperth adding 14 points. Despite three tries through Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and stand-out player Dan Fish going over with 20 minutes to play, the Blues were unable to find a way through as they went in search of a losing bonus point. The defeat leaves the Welsh region with just one win in their last eight and almost certain to finish lowest of the Welsh sides this season.
Scarlets full-back Jordan Williams showcased his future international credentials on Saturday afternoon in West Wales with two tries in a man of the match performance as Simon Easterby’s side edged out Edinburgh 25-21 at the Parc y Scarlets. The Scottish side started brightly with Scotland international Nick de Luca going over after just five minutes, but the Scarlets bounced back from 10-0 down with two penalties from Aled Thomas and Williams’ two tries for an 18-13 lead at the break. Edinburgh began the second half in Scarlets territory and were eventually rewarded as Tom Brown went over. Adam Warren responded for the Scarlets to go through an impossible gap with Thomas converting. Jack Cuthbert brought the score to four points with a penalty before Thomas missed a late chance to extend the lead, his miss irrelevant as Edinburgh failed to come back again.
Ulster maintained their push for the play-offs as they sneaked a 14-12 win in Northern Italy against Treviso. Overwhelming favourites for the match, the Irish province were guilty of making their job harder with numerous errors. In a low-scoring first half, Mat Berquist opened the scoring for Treviso on six minutes, despite an earlier miss, with the first of four penalty scores. Ulster hit back with intensity and Ireland centre Darren Cave got Ulster on the board with a try from close range after Paul Marshall was held up; Ruan Pienaar converted to give the visitors a 7-3 lead at the break as Mark Anscombe’s side failed to convert a number of assaults on the Treviso line, wing Michael Allen unable to collect a Cave kick through on 33 minutes, allowing Treviso to kill the ball for a drop-out. The second half was much like the first: Ulster dominated loose ball, but infringed at the breakdown; referee George Clancy was happy to penalise, Berquist obliged with a kick at goal on 49 to reduce Ulster’s lead, but the comeback was immediate as flanker Diack went over for a try as Ulster ramped up the phases; Pienaar again added the extras. Far from rolling over as they had done the week before in Swansea, Treviso showed spirit and Berquist added penalties on 57 and 71 minutes to bring the match down to a score, but Ulster held on.
On Sunday, Glasgow Warriors suffered late heartbreak at Rodney Parade as Newport Gwent Dragons came from 20-10 down to win 24-23 to do the double over the Scottish side ending their record-breaking unbeaten away run with a third defeat of the season. The Welsh region, beaten 60-3 in the corresponding fixture last season, had to call on 39-year-old retired, former Sale Sharks, Pontypridd, Bath and England tight-head prop Duncan Bell to cover injuries despite not playing for two years, and his unexpected comeback ended in victory through a late Ross Wardle try. The Warriors surged into a 10-3 lead as flanker Rob Harley got the first try from a charge down and the kicking of Finn Russell and Mark Bennett extended the lead before Owen Evans try and a Jason Tovey conversion levelled the match on 14 minutes. Flying Fijian ran the length of the Dragons’ half to restore the Warriors’ lead shortly before the break; Russell’s conversion giving the visitors a 17-10 half-time lead. Rhys Jones was guilty of missing kicks at goal early in the second half as the Warriors extended their lead through Russell’s kicking, but Cory Hill’s try kept the Dragons within a score with Wardle capitalising on a charge down 10 minutes from time to score the Dragons’ third try and Jones’ conversion gave Lyn Jones’ side the lead for the first time in the match. Russell was short with a chance to snatch the win leaving Gregor Townsend disappointed at the Warriors’ first defeat since 22 November – also at the hands of the Dragons.
Munster returned to the top of the Pro12 with a 25-11 win over the Ospreys in Swansea. The Irish province maintained their 100 per cent record from their seven matches against the Welsh regions this season as they recorded their first win at the Liberty Stadium since April 2011 against a young Ospreys side who had most of their star names watching on from the stands after Wales’ win over France on Friday night. Rob Penney’s side led 13-8 at the break through Sean Dougall’s early try and the boot of Ian Keatley while the Ospreys had Ashley Beck to thank for keeping them in the match with a great solo try in the final minute of the half. Munster began the second half well and had just six minutes to wait for their second try as Ireland wing Simon Zebo picked up a loose ball and ran it almost 70 metres. Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin thought he had gone over on 60 minutes, but was adjudged to have committed a double movement and was held up short. James Downey put the result beyond doubt nine minutes from the final whistle as Munster’s driving lineout again caused the home side problems.
Connacht moved into tenth in the league with a 27-19 win over Zebre in Italy – the first time this season they managed back-to-back victories in the Pro12 and the fourth time they have beaten the Italian side after earlier success in the Heineken Cup. Pat Lam’s side stormed into a 22-0 half-time lead with Rodney Ah You and Kieran Marmion going over before referee Ian Davies awarded a penalty try just before the break, with a try-scoring bonus point coming 16 minutes into the second half as Eoin Griffin went over before Connacht eased off and allowed Zebre to make a comeback. Giovanbattista Venditti went over two minutes later for the first of the Italians’ three tries before No 8 Samuela Vunisa went over eight minutes later from a well-worked lineout on the Connacht five-metre line and Dries van Schalkwyk got the final score of the match two minutes from time as the league’s bottom club came close to a losing bonus point, but left it too late.