Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GUINNESS PRO12 ROUND 13!
Round 12 of the Guinness Pro12 was a derby weekend and the resulting battles between old rivals didn’t disappoint. Rugby fans were treated to matches where the elements had a significant impact on the outcome, dominant forward play was at a premium, and moments of individual brilliance lit up the pitch.
This competition is providing compelling viewing every single week and it’s only going to get better and more intense as the race for playoff places gets closer to the finish.
In fact, if The Rugby Channel covered only the Guinness Pro12, that alone would be sufficient justification to subscribe for less than a dollar per week and then all of the other outstanding action we bring you throughout the year could be classified as super bonus rugby!
To get a peek at the highlights of what was on offer, give TRC Report #34 a look, hosted by Christian Miles. This week’s report also includes action from the end of Round 11 with a very important clash between Ospreys and Scarlets.
The RDS was a tough place for understrength Ulster on Saturday as Leinster looked efficient and aggressive in a strong overall performance that included a great first half and a decent second.
The home side needed a bounce back after a disappointing loss to Munster the previous week and they got the result they wanted despite coming up just shy of a critical bonus point.
After the Munster loss Leinster needed to get back to basics and that’s exactly what they did in Dublin. They tackled well, held the ball for long periods, were mostly disciplined at the breakdown, and capitalized when opportunities presented themselves.
Their first try came from Ulster defensive confusion, the second from a set lineout move that looked like it was being run unopposed on the training pitch, and the third from a chip through that couldn’t have bounced up any prettier for the winger in a hundred attempts.
Ulster were suffering from the same IRFU player welfare provisions that hampered Leinster in Round 12 but that can’t explain away some of the shoddy tackling and lack of conversion on the chances they were able to create.
Leinster are sitting at 41 points, third in the standings behind Munster and Ospreys, well placed to make a run in the home stretch, and facing off against Zebre at home on Friday.
Ulster is in a more precarious position on 32 points, in sixth position, and travelling to Wales to take on Scarlets. We must take into account, however, the fact that Ulster had their contest with Zebre in Belfast postponed back in November and it will eventually be re-scheduled.
It was a wet and windy night in Galway which produced an entirely different kind of match at the Sportsground. The defending champions could have done themselves a world of good by beating the table leaders but they came up short despite putting in a massive effort with a severely depleted team.
Munster are a hugely improved defensive side under Rassie Erasmus. They are confrontational, tough, and together as they drive into tackles, battle at the breakdown, and maintain their structure no matter what’s thrown at them.
On Saturday the conditions dictated that this was going to be a ball in hand affair but that just played into their natural strengths.
Connacht didn’t really look like a squad with an injury list that’s longer than their game day roster, holding their own at the set pieces and allowing the visitors just a single trip to the tryzone.
Decent outings and losing bonus points aren’t going to get it done for Connacht as they continue to languish in eighth place with 21 points, fifteen out of postseason contention. The incredible comeback winning streak has to start soon if the Galway faithful are going to be rewarded with another amazing playoff run.
Munster are deserved leaders of the competition with 46 points but haven’t won anything yet. They’re only two ahead of Ospreys and Leinster are lurking five back.
They play this weekend but not in the Pro12 as their previously postponed Champions Cup match against Racing 92 will be made up in Paris and their game against Edinburgh will be played in early February.
Scarlets rebounded from a rough loss to Ospreys last Tuesday where their penalty count was their undoing. Their discipline on Saturday was much improved, allowing Cardiff only one made penalty kick.
The home team scored two tries, a penalty, and a conversion and made those points stand up in a match where the wind affected almost all aspects of play.
The Blues were in it until the end but couldn’t seem to gain mastery over Scarlets in any phase of play, which was reflected on the scoreboard.
When the Blues are on song they look crazily good but those periods are shorter in length and farther apart in time than they were earlier in the competition. Why exactly this is so has to be the question that the Blues’ players and coaches are desperately trying to answer.
The Scarlets and Blues look like sides headed in different directions. Despite the closeness of their contest on New Year’s Day, their immediate prospects are very different.
Scarlets started slowly and have since been on fire, losing only once in their last eight Pro12 outings. They’ve slowly worked their way back into contention and are currently fourth with 36 points.
The Blues won their first four, dropped three straight, and have lost three of five since then. They are still in it with 27 points in seventh but are headed to Glasgow this week to square off against the fifth place Warriors.
In their first meeting of the season back in Round 8 Leinster were able to easily handle the home side 33-10 at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi. All signs point to a repeat of that result on Friday at the RDS but only if Leinster avoids the natural complacency that comes when facing the bottom team in the comp.
Zebre’s only win came against Edinburgh in Round 7 but they have played several matches where they threatened to pull off the upset, most recently against Scarlets. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to overcome their own errors and notch another victory.
Leinster will likely run out a less than full strength team against Zebre and that could provide the Italians with an opening.
Ospreys are on a roll. Since getting hammered by Munster 33-0 in early November they have rallied to win four in a row and are now in second spot with 44 points and right on the heels of Munster.
They are leading the Pro12 in total points, tries scored, points differential, bonus points, and are second in fewest tries allowed. On paper, a side with those kinds of statistical credentials should easily steamroll Connacht which has a losing record and is 23 points behind them in the standings.
But since the match will actually be played not on paper but on the pitch at Liberty Stadium in Swansea against a proud team that is fighting for its life, this will be a good one to watch and I can’t wait!
The Rugby Channel will be packed with action in 2017 and if you want to see every bit of it, all you have to do is become a subscriber for less than a dollar per week!
When you do subscribe, here’s what you’ll get to watch in the very near future.
First up, it’s the second round of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Seven Series live from Sydney, Australia. We’ll webcast the entire tournament, including all of pool play and the knockout rounds.
The Anglo Welsh Cup resumes in late January and The Rugby Channel will deliver Bath vs Gloucester on Friday the 27th and Leicester vs Northampton on Saturday the 28th. The following weekend we’ll show you Northampton vs Scarlets and Saracens vs Leicester.
The Six Nations starts on February 4th and we’ll have all three first round matches (Scotland vs Ireland, England vs France, and Italy vs Wales) on 24-hour delay.
The Americas Rugby Championship also begins on February 4th and we’ll bring you the United States vs Uruguay test LIVE and the other two fixtures (Canada vs Argentina XV and Brazil vs Chile) delayed until four hours after the fulltime whistle.
After Round 13 the Guinness Pro12 will break for a month but on Friday, February 10th The Rugby Channel will present Glasgow vs Scarlets and Munster vs Newport.