Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GP12 ROUND 20!
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Last week’s clashes from Round 19 in the Guinness Pro12 were both extremely close encounters that went right down to the wire. In both cases the higher ranked team won out, with Leinster and Munster now very close to securing home semifinals. To see the highlights from both, check out TRC Report #46 or click on the links below to see them in their entirety.
The Ospreys got off to a great start with an early try but some trouble with the boot from flyhalf Dan Biggar presaged a disappointing outcome. Ospreys can be incredibly dangerous with ball in hand but seem to have trouble putting teams away after they get in front.
Ospreys played some good rugby at the Liberty Stadium with strong performances from tryscorers Justin Tipuric and Sam Davies leading the way but Leinster proved to be too composed and confident for them to overcome. After repeatedly regaining the lead from the visitors, Ospreys came up just short at the end when Biggar was unable to slot his game-winning penalty attempt.
It might seem hard to believe but Ospreys have not won a Guinness Pro12 match since they barely beat Edinburgh in Round 17 in early March. Again, they certainly don’t lack talent but have definitely hit a rough patch and need to do something to right the ship before they find themselves missing the playoffs entirely.
I doubt it will come to that, but it’s entirely possible since their three remaining matches are against Cardiff, Ulster, and Scarlets.
Cardiff are out of playoff contention but are playing much better recently and would love to prevent their Welsh regional rivals from advancing into the postseason.
Ulster are only two points behind Ospreys and beat them in a defensive struggle in Round 5, so that one won’t be easy.
Scarlets are also just two points back and who knows what could happen in a final round decider at Parc y Scarlets with a playoff berth on the line.
It is not going to be easy path to the semifinals for Ospreys.
Leinster showed off their overall class and depth in Swansea, getting big contributions from their bench, including a try from Dan Leavy and the go-ahead drop goal from Ross Byrne.
For the second GP12 match in a row, Leinster trailed late but came out on top because they didn’t panic, believed they could win, and found a way to do so. They also got a little bit lucky in this one with Biggar’s miss of a goal at the death that he would more often than not drill through the uprights.
There is an awful lot of experience on this Leinster team and that’s going to hold them in good stead over the next few weeks when they take on Connacht, Scarlets, and Ulster. A home semifinal is all but clinched and it would take a tremendous stumble for them not to be playing at home come the third weekend in May.
Another tight fixture ended up being in doubt until the finish but the end result was that Glasgow are virtually eliminated and Munster are in good position to be hosting one of the two semis.
Glasgow let in an early Munster try but then stiffened their defense and allowed no more points in the first forty and only a single penalty kick in the second. Munster had multiple opportunities but none of them resulted in five pointers.
When Stuart Hogg somehow came up with a try from an amazing kick and re-gather along the touchline with just over ten minutes to play, it appeared that the visiting team would have a chance steal the victory and keep their playoff hopes alive but Munster again upped their defensive intensity and closed out the win.
The reasons why Munster has allowed the fewest points in the competition are that they’re awesome at stopping the opposition from crossing the tryline by maintaining structure and employing ferocious tackling, plus they’re without peer in maintaining their discipline phase after phase to either steal ball at the breakdown or force their opponents into making mistakes.
Even missing the likes of Conor Murray, Keith Earls, and CJ Stander, Munster were able to thwart all Warrior attacks for eighty minutes, except the near miraculous chip and chase by Hogg that was a complete anomaly and which earned him The Rugby Channel’s Try of the Week!
Munster’s game is based on forward power, consistency in effort and execution, and having backs that can tackle and who rarely make mistakes. There was plenty of all of that on display in Cork and I’m sure there will be much more to come next week against Ulster.
It’s time again for my favorite rugby show, Toyota Grassroots Rugby. Every week the program features a variety of club matches that represent the very soul of New Zealand rugby while also showing off some pretty good footy.
Hosts Richard Mason and former All Black Ian Jones are genuine in their enthusiasm for rugby in both the famous and out of the way places that make up the totality of the New Zealand rugby experience.
If you ever wonder why the All Blacks are such a dominant force in world rugby, watch this show and you’ll see it’s the result of an entire country getting involved in the sport from the lowest levels to the highest.
The dedication of the club players, coaches, sponsors, fans, and volunteers like Ma Savage from Whangamata who feeds everyone there are what make New Zealand a country that truly lives and breathes rugby. Give this a look, you’ll be glad you did.
Munster have suffered defeat only once in their last twelve outings, a shock loss to Scarlets at home in Round 16. They now sit in second place on the log with 72 points and need just a bonus point win to lock up a home semi.
Getting that result on Saturday in Limerick will be a tough ask though as they face an Ulster team that also excels at keeping the opposition from scoring very many points.
There won’t be much mystery in gameplan from either side at Thomond Park as these two rivals battle it out in tight.
Ulster are unbeaten in their last seven matches but four of those have come against the bottom three teams in the tourney. Last week’s draw versus Cardiff prevented them from cracking the top four. They have 63 points but finish up with Munster, Ospreys, and Leinster so getting a win this week is crucial to extending their season.
Munster won the earlier matchup back in late October in Belfast 15 -14 on a late drop goal by Rory Scannell after they had trailed 14 – 0. That loss will still sting for Ulster. This is going to be fun to watch.
This fixture pits last year’s champs against the odds-on favorite to take the title this season. Connacht never really threatened to repeat as champs after being hit early by a slew of injuries but they have shown flashes of their championship form, especially at home.
They’ll be wanting to give their fans in Galway a glimpse of that former glory on Saturday when they square off against the table leaders.
Leinster have to guard against complacency and will want to overwhelm their hosts early at the Sportsground and crush any thoughts of pulling off the upset. Easier said than done against a proud unit like Connacht. Definitely worth a look, enjoy!
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