RaboDirect Pro12 wrap: Front-runners Leinster and Munster suffer defeats

RaboDirect Pro12 wrap: Front-runners Leinster and Munster suffer surprise defeats as Ulster return to winning ways

By Gareth Llewellyn

Front-runners Leinster and Munster both lost in round 19 of the RaboDirect Pro12 as the race for the top four took some unexpected twists.

Cardiff Blues produced their performance of the season on the road on Friday night as they came from 10-3 behind to stun top six-chasing Edinburgh with a brilliant try bonus 29-22 win at Meggetland.

After a win over Ulster in their last outing, it was a second surprise win in as many matches for a Blues team playing for pride after their only other win in 2014 came on New Year’s Day against Newport Gwent Dragons.

The free-flowing display from the Welsh region yielded tries for centre Cory Allen, lock Filo Paulo, full-back Dan Fish and replacement centre Dafydd Hewitt.

London Welsh-bound outside-half Gareth Davies pulled the strings for a fired up Blues backline who caused plenty of problems for Edinburgh at their temporary home.

A Jack Cuthbert penalty and Matt Scott try helped Edinburgh into the lead, but they were constantly on the back foot and went in seven points down at the break.

Fish’s try three minutes after the restart pushed the visitors further ahead before Tom Brown’s try five minutes later gave the Scottish side some hope.

But Hewitt went over five minutes from the death which proved too much for Edinburgh who had Cornell du Preez’s last-minute try to thank for a losing bonus point, which could still count for nothing in the race for the top six as Alan Solomons’ side lost ground to Scarlets.

Good news for Edinburgh and Scotland came as winger Tim Visser came off the bench for the final five minutes for his first appearance since breaking a leg in October.

As the Blues were winning in the Scottish capital, their south Wales rivals Ospreys were also producing a shock as they ended Leinster’s eight match unbeaten league run with a 25-19 win at the Liberty Stadium.

Outside-half Dan Biggar kicked 20 points for the Ospreys, including a crucial late drop-goal, with try-scoring chances at a premium.

Biggar was in a creative mood and attempted two early drop-goal attempts, with one drifting into the right post, but the Wales international landed two penalties to give the home side a 6-3 lead before Canadian wing Jeff Hassler went over with seven minutes of the half remaining.

Leinster hit back before the break through marauding prop Cian Healy, who was the beneficiary of a superb catch and drive from a lineout close to the Ospreys line with Jimmy Gopperth adding the extras.

Biggar continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over in the second half as he landed a further three penalties and the drop-goal to Gopperth’s three penalties as both sides were guilty of making a number of infringements.

The win keeps the Ospreys in contention for a top four spot with three matches remaining.

Ulster bounced back from their defeat in Cardiff and their bruising 17-15 Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Saracens as they ran in eight tries in a 58-12 win over provincial rivals Connacht at Ravenhill with Andrew Trimble grabbing a hat-trick.

Such was Ulster’s dominance the try bonus point was wrapped up after 25 minutes as Paul Marshall went over twice with Trimble and his wing partner Tommy Bowe also crossing the whitewash.

But Connacht had briefly hit back from Marshall’s opening try on five minutes as Dave McSharry went over three minutes later, but it was Connacht’s only score of the first half as they went in 30-5 down at the break.

The start of the second half was equally as emphatic for Ulster as Trimble and Luke Marshall both ran in inside eight minutes and Trimble celebrated his hat-trick just after the hour mark.

Miah Nikora converted a Darragh Leader try two minutes later in what was Connacht’s only score of the second half, but there was still plenty of time for Craig Gilroy to get over for the eighth try as Mark Anscombe’s stormed into second place in the Pro12 ahead of Munster.

Scarlets survived a scare against the league’s bottom side Zebre as they edged a 27-20 win at Parc y Scarlets to stretch their advantage over Edinburgh to 10 points in the race for the final Rugby Champions Cup qualification place.

Rhys Priestland kicked two early penalties to give the hosts a 6-0 lead, but the Italians hit back on 15 minutes with a penalty from centre Gonzalo Garcia before two unconverted tries in eight minutes from Samuela Vunisa and Giulio Toniolatti gave Zebre a 13-6 lead.

Priestland landed his third penalty of the encounter three minutes before the break to reduce the deficit.

Lively winger Jordan Williams gave Scarlets the perfect response three minutes into the second half as he raced away from the Zebre defence and Priestland landed the conversion to nudge Simon Easterby’s side into a 16-13 lead.

Hooker Ken Owens finished off a powerful team move to stretch the lead 10 minutes later and Priestland bisected the posts with a penalty on 58 minutes to give the Scarlets a 24-13 lead.

Garcia found space to get the ball down with 15 minutes remaining to give the Italians faint hope of a famous win when Luciano Orquera converted, but Zebre indiscipline and Priestland’s kicking was the difference as the Welsh international landed the final score of the match with a penalty 11 minutes from time.

In Limerick, Munster suffered their first home defeat of the season as Glasgow Warriors produced a stunning first-half performance to stun the Irish province with a 22-5 win at Thomond Park.

Gregor Townsend’s side started well and had a 7-0 lead as Duncan Weir converted a Jonny Gray try and the Scottish outside-half extended that lead to 10-0 four minutes later with a penalty.

But Munster hit back midway through the half as flanker CJ Stander—who scored his second try in seven days—found his way over in what would be their only score of the match against the league’s best defensive side.

Five minutes later, the Warriors had their second try after more indiscipline from Munster at the breakdown with the Scottish side opting for the corner rather than a cheap shot at the posts.

The Warriors moved the ball out wide and Sean Maitland continued his comeback from injury for his second try in as many matches in the corner.

Weir missed the difficult conversion, but made up for it just before the break as he converted the Warriors’ third try after number 8 Josh Strauss stretched out to dot down after some good work at an attacking scrum.

Munster dominated territory and possession for much of the second half, but failed to find a way through a typically determined Scottish defence as neither side added to the 22-5 half-time score, with the Warriors’ fourth successive win in as many weeks reducing the gap to Munster to just three points with a game in hand.

In the final match of the round, Treviso joined the sides to produce a shock as they ran out 45-27 winners against Newport Gwent Dragons at the Stadio Monigo.

The Dragons took the lead on 10 minutes from a Jason Tovey penalty, but it was their own indiscipline which cost them as Treviso outside-half Mat Berquist landed four penalties and converted Ludovico Nitoglia’s try mid-way through the first half as the hosts went in 19-6 at the break.

Unable to live with an Italian onslaught, the Dragons fell further behind four minutes after the restart as Luke McLean went over and young centre Michele Campagnaro followed seven minutes later.

Lock Matthew Screech gave the Gwent side hope just before the half-hour mark as he found his way over the tryline with Tovey’s conversion making the score 31-13, but Manoa Vosawai responded immediately and Berquist landed his third conversion as the home side wrapped up a bonus point.

Ross Wardle got another try back for the Dragons n 64 minutes, but their defence was all at sea from the restart allowing Matteo Muccignat to go over and Berquist to land another conversion.

The final score of the match went the Dragons’ way as Cory Hill went over for a converted try to bring the score to 45-27.

But it was a largely disappointing day for Lyn Jones’s side as they dropped to 10th in the league, just two points ahead of Treviso with three rounds remaining with the Italians still to visit Rodney Parade on the last day of the regular season.

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