Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GUINNESS BACK UNDERWAY!
After taking most of December off for European competition, the Guinness Pro12 returned with a bang this weekend as The Rugby Channel brought you two outstanding matches featuring the top four sides in the tournament.
If you enjoy watching top quality rugby and haven’t yet subscribed to The Rugby Channel then right now is the time to spend less than a dollar per week because next weekend is going to be even more intense with three crucial Guinness Pro12 clashes, followed by an entire year packed with thrilling rugby from January through December.
To get a look at the Munster v Leinster highlights, check out TRC Report #33 with yours truly at the helm in my first on-camera appearance in six years!
The star of this week’s TRC Report is the Bermuda World Rugby Classic. The Report gives you a small taste of the island paradise and the unique rugby tournament that has taken place there every year since 1988.
Musings from Ireland and Lions legend Willie John McBride, USA Classics highlights from their matches against Argentina and France, and coverage of the Final between the Classic Springboks and the Classic Pumas should whet your appetite for a complete viewing of the whole fifty-minute program, and when it does, you’ll be glad you watched!
The Classic is an event that brings together eight teams comprised of retired internationals and top level players from around the world. The matches are spread out over a week that is also chock-full of social events, community outreach, and outdoor activities that take advantage of Bermuda’s pristine beaches and natural beauty.
Even though the rugby in The Classic is hard-fought and top-notch, the biggest danger the players face is probably in riding scooters all around the island.
In true amateur spirit, as some of the teams advance to the finals they lose players to injury, overindulgence and age, so healthy additions from the eliminated opposition are drafted into service and some of them eventually get to celebrate with their new teammates.
The teams involved in the 2017 tournament were the Classics from the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, France, the Lions, Canada, and Argentina. Give this a look and it’ll be an hour well spent.
When the 2016/17 Guinness Pro12 is looked back upon, this match might well be remembered as a turning point. The teams were 1-2 at the top of the ladder, it drew a big crowd on the day after Christmas, and Leinster had won the last three meetings between the Irish provinces.
If there is one caveat, it’s that Leinster was missing more of their Ireland stars because of player welfare stand down regulations, which is not an excuse, just a fact of life in today’s professional environment.
Leinster’s lack of star power didn’t seem hurt them in the first quarter as they jumped out to an early lead but eventually Munster’s forward power took its toll and the men in red earned a bonus point and essentially sealed the win about halfway through the second forty.
There is obviously a long way to go in this competition but Munster look like a team with momentum, confidence, and an ever-growing desire to quash all comers.
The side has ridden a tremendous emotional roller coaster with the unexpected death of their leader Anthony Foley but appear to be channeling their internal grief into one solid performance after another on the rugby pitch.
Leinster are an outstanding rugby team and a loss in Round 11 is not going to ruin their season or weaken their desire to return to being Guinness Pro 12 champions.
What it will do is strengthen their resolve to tighten up their defensive play, work on eliminating errors from their game, and look at each week as an opportunity to get better for what I’m guessing they hope will be a third meeting between the two sides in a mega final at the Aviva Stadium on May 27th in front of a highly partisan home crowd.
Both these teams were hot coming into this all Welsh tussle. The Scarlets had won seven Guinness matches in a row, had just beaten Toulon at home, and were looking to solidify their place amongst the leaders in the Pro12.
Ospreys were on a five-match winning streak of their own, drew the biggest crowd in nearly a decade to Liberty Stadium, and saw the opportunity to lay down a marker against a side that had beaten them at home at a critical juncture last season.
The first half turned into a kicking duel, both in play and for goal with Scarlets taking a 9 – 6 advantage into the break. The second half saw the penalty count mount against the visitors resulting in a penalty try for Ospreys and a couple of yellow cards for Scarlets which helped in keeping them scoreless after the interval to fall 19 – 9.
Ospreys came away from this encounter with a hard-earned win enabled by their ability to apply pressure at the breakdown, keep the opposition out of the tryzone with solid defense, and maintain their structure even though the match didn’t necessarily allow them to enact the game plan they wanted to employ.
Scarlets need to quickly regroup, work on their discipline, and put this loss behind them. Three yellows are a substantial obstacle for any team to overcome. Their one bit of solace may come in the fact that their last match of the regular season will come against Ospreys at Parc Y Scarlets in what could be a playoff spot determiner.
Coming off their loss to Munster, Leinster will be itching to get back into the winner’s circle but it won’t be easy as they meet an Ulster team who can catch them in the standings with a bonus point win.
Leinster has only lost three matches in Guinness and Europe this year and each time they responded the following week by recording a victory, once on the road and twice at home.
Ulster was on a slide before their postponed match against Zebre at the end of November, losing four of five but since then they’ve won three of four, including an important home triumph over Clermont.
Last week’s win over Connacht in Belfast was a workmanlike effort, good enough to move them into fourth on the Pro12 ladder. Beating Leinster in Dublin would be a step up in class for Ulster but it’s exactly the type of victory that could give them a boost for the second half of the campaign.
No better way to enjoy New Year’s Eve morning than to get up early and watch these two battle it out.
The defending champions are sitting in eighth position, twenty-two points behind the competition leaders, who they happen to be hosting on Saturday in Galway.
In other words, Connacht needs to start winning now and not stop for quite some time if they want to retain a shot at defending their crown.
That’s going to be a significantly more difficult task with their growing injury list that includes one of their most dangerous threats, Bundee Aki, out until at least February after ankle surgery.
Here’s the thing though. Connacht still managed to beat powerful Wasps two weekends ago at home which lets Munster know that nothing is a given for visitors at the Sportsground.
Whatever your Irish provincial leanings, this match figures to be hard fought and entertaining from start to finish.
Back at home and still feeling the sting of their first Guinness loss since Round 3 back in September, Scarlets will be working hard this week to get start the new year off right and hopefully break into the top four on Sunday.
Until last week’s 27 – 16 win over Newport, Cardiff hadn’t secured a Guinness victory since the first week in November when they beat Benetton Treviso.
The Blues have a realistic shot at climbing back into the playoff race but in order to rise from their current seventh they’re going to need to win their next two matches on the road against Scarlets and Glasgow.
Scarlets took the Round 7 meeting between these two at Cardiff Arms Park and the Blues will be looking to even the score in the very first clash of 2017.
The Rugby Channel is going to have a banner year in 2017 and you need to be a subscriber in order to get the full benefit of what we have programmed for you. For less than a dollar per week you will get to watch the rest of the Guinness Pro12, the Anglo Welsh Cup, the Americas Rugby Championship, the Six Nations, the June Tours, the Fall Tours, and much, much more!