Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GP12 ROUND 19!
If you haven’t already subscribed to The Rugby Channel, I suggest taking care of that right now because this is when the Guinness Pro12 really starts getting good. Every match, every bonus point, and every try scored has the potential to determine playoff position.
Over the last four rounds of the regular season The Rugby Channel will bring you LIVE coverage of two vital matches each weekend, then both semifinals and the final. And the only thing you have to do to be able to watch all the action is spend less than a single dollar per week for an annual subscription.
Here’s what we’ll have for you in Rounds 19, 20, and 21.
Next week it’s Munster v Ulster and Connacht v Leinster.
Then at the end of April, it’s Leinster v Glasgow and Ospreys v Ulster.
Every one of these matches will play a direct role in deciding which teams make it into the postseason and where they will play if they do. After watching this entire competition unfold in 2016/17, I expect phenomenal clashes down the stretch, at least one shocking upset, and fierce, do-or-die battles in Round 22.
One of the many great features of The Rugby Channel is the Video On Demand capability that lets you go back and watch fixtures that you may have missed when they were played LIVE or that you want to re-watch now in preparation for an upcoming match.
For example, the Round 4 encounter between Leinster and Ospreys at the RDS in Dublin is perfect viewing right now to get ready for Saturday’s tussle at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea between the number one and number three teams on the table. Fifteen rounds later, it’s very interesting to go back and see how these teams were playing at the start of the year in comparison to their current form.
That’s why Leinster v Ospreys is the Archive Pick of the Week in the latest edition of the TRC Report, which is available now and well worth a look. TRC Report #45 also contains highlights packages from both of the CanAm Women’s Tests and an outstanding Try of the Week that was finished off by Eagle prop Catie Benson.
If you focus solely on the scoreline of Tuesday’s test in Chula Vista then what you’ll see is a lopsided loss against a traditional rival. Fortunately for the Eagles, though, there was much more to this match.
Keep in mind that Canada was fielding a squad where most of their starters had been involved in the 2014 WRWC Final against England and the United States put out a group of mainly youngsters with limited international experience.
Canada is realistically preparing to win the World Cup in August, the United States is building for the future but also looking to be a surprise package in Ireland.
The first twenty minutes were played at a breakneck pace and the USA gave as good as they got. The Eagles created numerous chances but always seemed to have the last pass not go to hand or commit an unnecessary infraction. Overall, their defense was solid as they kept the Canadians at bay and matched them at the breakdown.
Canada scored first off a chargedown but the Eagles responded with some strong running by Jordan Gray and Alev Kelter that resulted in a try. Canada notched another to regain the lead after pounding away at the line.
Trailing by just five points at the half, the home side had to be feeling pretty good about their performance up to that point. Unfortunately, their second half did not go as smoothly.
Canada was on the offensive right from the get-go and used their advantage in strength and power to cross the line five more times while holding the Eagles scoreless. The Canadians exploited inexperience, ran through gaps with ease, dominated the set pieces, and basically looked like the third ranked team in the world.
Thus, the stage was set for a rematch on Saturday.
The Eagles struggled right out of the gate and trailed 17 – 0 after forty minutes. Scrums and lineouts were problematic at best, to be somewhat expected when playing a flanker at hooker because of injury and coming up against one of the toughest packs in women’s rugby.
Once again the Eagles suffered from blown opportunities like missed penalty kicks to touch and exhibited less than stout defense against the Canadian onslaught but there were positives as well, like more strong ball running and good first up tackling.
The opening of the second half saw the United States display some of their best play of the series. They finally looked dangerous on attack and were rewarded with a Naya Tapper try.
Their second five pointer came from a great bit of reaction from Kelter who toed through a loose ball, gathered it in, dished off in the tackle and was followed by great support from Tess Feury, Naya Tapper, and front rower Catie Benson.
The attempted comeback ran out of steam at 20 – 10 as Canada reasserted their dominance is almost all phases of play to win 37 – 10, taking the 2017 CanAm Series and knotting up the overall record at 18 matches apiece.
There is some real talent on this youthful Eagles team. Kelter is a world-class star in the making, Tapper has a huge upside, Gray has the potential to develop into a force, and young scrumhalf Annakaren Pedraza already has good ball sense and a quality pass.
I’m excited about their collective future and will be watching their progress. No more tests for the Eagles 15s before the World Cup but the next stop on the Women’s Sevens Series is in Japan on April 22 and 23, which The Rugby Channel will have for you LIVE!
Matches don’t get much bigger than this one. Leinster are the competition leaders with 70 points and Ospreys are in third with 64. A win by the visitors would advance their chances of hosting a semi and a home side triumph would keep the location of the playoffs fully in doubt.
Last time out Leinster was able to survive a strong Cardiff challenge. The Men in Blue haven’t tasted Guinness defeat since they were beaten by Munster back in December.
Ospreys are coming off a different experience, having fallen to Benetton Treviso in what can only be described as a massive upset. Before that loss they had won eight of their last nine, losing only to Munster at Thomond Park.
Leinster handled them rather easily back in September, jumping out to a 24 – 0 lead before eventually winning 31 – 19.
This match is going to be about who plays the better defense. Leinster are the highest scoring team in the Pro12 and Ospreys have the stingiest defense. I can’t wait to watch it unfold on Saturday morning!
Munster are also in search of a home postseason fixture and they control their own destiny by virtue of being in second place with 68 points. Glasgow, in sixth with 51 points, are just trying to earn a playoff berth any way they can.
Munster have lost exactly once in their previous twelve contests, coming up short against a red-hot Scarlets side in Limerick in late February. In Round 18 they hammered Zebre 50 – 14, scoring seven tries.
Glasgow have been more inconsistent, winning their last two over Connacht and Newport, but they dropped three straight before that to Ospreys, Ulster, and Scarlets.
Their first meeting in Round 10 back in December was a barnburner. Munster led early at Scotstoun Stadium but Glasgow fought back to take a late lead, then were upended by a drop goal in the 76th minute.
Irish Independent Park is an extremely difficult place for visitors to go into and come out with a victory so Glasgow will need something special on Saturday if they want to climb up the ladder.
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