Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GP14 ROUND 2 & INFINITY PARK!
If you are not yet a subscriber to The Rugby Channel then you need to become one without further delay. Why? Because by spending less than a single buck per week for an annual subscription there is plenty of outstanding rugby available to be devoured, either LIVE or On Demand, all year long!
On tap this weekend The Rugby Channel will deliver two marquee fixtures from the Guinness PRO14 (Leinster v Cardiff on Friday and Munster v Cheetahs on Saturday), plus three Merlins matches (D2 Men, Elite Men, and WPL), from the 10th anniversary celebration of the opening of Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado.
The kickoff weekend of the Guinness PRO14 on The Rugby Channel produced a couple of big scorelines, a tight win in tough conditions, and overall some very entertaining rugby. If you didn’t get a chance to see any or all of the three matches from Round 1, watch TRC Report #67 and check out all the highlights from our trio of featured contests.
Or use our Video On Demand option and enjoy them in their entirety, you’ll be glad you did.
Munster are once again looking like one of the teams to beat in the Guinness PRO14. In front of a relaxed crowd at Irish Independent Park they played a controlled game and capitalized on Benetton’s mistakes. As usual, their defense was solid and aggressive, keeping the visitors from ever getting across the whitewash.
The men in red scored five first half tries to earn a bonus point and wrap up the match before the interval, adding just a single five pointer in the second forty. But that lack of offensive output after the break wasn’t entirely the result of taking their foot off the gas and emptying the bench, it had more to do with Benetton putting together better phases with ball in hand and threatening to penetrate Munster’s defensive screen.
Munster had their hands full preventing Benetton from scoring any tries but their rigid discipline managed to keep the visitors from adding to their tally with the boot. The 27-3 halftime score was a fair reflection of Munster’s dominance in that period. The 7-0 second half scoreline also correctly reflected the way both sides played then.
Munster are always going to be tough to beat at home, Benetton will generally struggle on the road, so there were no surprises in this outcome. That doesn’t mean that Munster just has to turn up in Cork and Limerick to get four points though, as they found out last year. Benetton has some talent and they are going to knock off a team or two away from Italy, so beware the rest of the competition.
After running rampant and power scoring their way through to the very last Guinness PRO12 title it was absolutely no shock to see the Scarlets open at home and put up a big number against whichever team was unfortunate enough to have to meet them at Parc Y Scarlets. What was a bit unusual was to see how well the debutant Southern Kings held them in check in the first half to go into the sheds down only 15-10.
The Kings were good in the set pieces, played solid defense, and showed some initiative when they had possession in the first half. In the second half they looked a different outfit altogether as the Scarlets shredded them for forty-two more points, while allowing none, as they exploited gaps and made the Kings pay for any missed tackles or turnovers.
The Scarlets are off and running in defense of their crown and it will be interesting to see what teams come up with in order to try and stop them. In last year’s playoffs they ran through two of the best defensive sides in the competition and didn’t even seem to get slowed down and now they’ve started their campaign in exactly the same fashion.
The Southern Kings are certainly going to win some matches on the road this year and I’m not sure that facing the defending titleholders away in Round 1 is the best way to get an accurate gauge of how they will go this season. They obviously have more than a few quality, experienced players and they definitely have more than their fair share of speed out wide. The big questions are how they will deal with integrating a bunch of newcomers after the mass exodus following the Super Rugby dropping, and how they will adapt to a different style of game that they will face from heavily defensive-oriented sides in the Guinness PRO14.
If you enjoy a good old-fashioned, windy, rainy, forwards battle then this is the match for you. The conditions in Galway were pretty poor for early September but the men wearing jerseys 1 to 8 on both teams barely seemed to notice. They just got stuck into their work and the visitors did it just a little bit better and came away with the win by scoring the only two tries of the match during the second half.
Until Glasgow scrumhalf Ali Price slid over in the forty-eighth minute to take the lead, the only scoring for his side came from his boot on penalties. The game clinching second try also came from his foot when he kicked ahead to set up a seventy-second minute try by winger Lee Jones.
Connacht looked a more competent group than the one that got blown out on the opening weekend last year by Glasgow but it’s always going to be difficult to match the magic of the 2015/16 season when they won it all.
Glasgow under new coach Dave Rennie is going to again be factor in this tournament and winning matches like this one in trying circumstances is a great beginning to his tenure.
LEINSTER V CARDIFF – Friday, September 8 at 2:35 PM ET
Leinster got off to a good start away from home in Round 1 when they earned a bonus point victory over the Dragons at Rodney Parade. They were the stronger team in nearly every phase of play and scored five tries while allowing only two.
Cardiff was upset at home by an Edinburgh side that seemed to channel the toughness of their new coach Richard Cockerill. The Blues fought hard all the way in their 20-10 loss but were unable to put together enough offensive firepower to breach Edinburgh’s newly stiff defense.
Playing at the RDS in Dublin is never an easy ask for an away team, especially when coming off an unexpected loss at home. Leinster tends to vigorously punish handling and tackling errors at a high rate and strangle even the best attacking sides so Cardiff will have their work cut out for them on Friday.
Leinster looked sluggish in their home opener last season but now with an away win under their belts the crowd at the RDS will be expecting a more comprehensive performance to kick off their campaign to get back into position to win some silverware. I’m looking forward to seeing the men in blue for the first time this year!
MUNSTER V CHEETAHS – Saturday, September 9 at 12:15 PM ET
Munster obviously were not fully tested last week by Benetton but they are probably in for a sterner challenge on Saturday when the hungry Cheetahs come to Thomond Park.
The Cheetahs fell to Ulster 42-19 at Kingspan Stadium in their Guinness PRO14 debut but had moments where they displayed the flair and expansive game that has been their hallmark. The problem for the Cheetahs in Limerick will be how to secure enough ball to put Munster’s sturdy defensive structure under pressure.
I am particularly excited to watch this one because it really is a true clash of styles even though there is a heavy South African influence in both teams!
10th ANNIVERSARY OF INFINITY PARK!
Infinity Park in RugbyTown USA is indisputably the best venue for rugby in America and this Saturday, September 9th will be a celebration of ten years of excellence featuring three consecutive matches.
First up at 3:00 PM ET will be the Glendale Merlins Men’s Division II side taking on the Denver Barbarians, who are also marking their 50th year as a club!
Then at 5:00 PM ET the Merlins Men’s Elite team will take on the Ontario Arrows in what is essentially a rematch of their clash with the Ontario Blues on May 20 in Canada that the hosts won 43-25.
The celebratory day of rugby concludes with the second round of Women’s Premier League play as the Merlins host Chicago North Shore at 7:00 PM ET. The Merlins opened their season with an important away win over Berkeley, 27-26 and will be looking to make it two from two on Saturday.
This is going to be an action-packed weekend in both the professional and amateur ranks and you won’t want to miss any of it so Subscribe Now and get ready to rugbify your life with a subscription to The Rugby Channel for less than a buck a week!