Leinster in pound seats after intriguing URC Round 12 results
ROUND 12 REVIEW: With several important games being decided with late scores, there was certainly a lot to engage rugby fans and have them biting their nails in the latest round of the United Rugby Championship, none more so than the Glasgow thriller that ended the round.
Just like England Test cricket captain Ben Stokes is reinventing the wheel in the format with his aggressive and innovative brand of leadership, so the two coaching protagonists who met at Scotstoun on Sunday, John Dobson of the Stormers and Franco Smith of the Glasgow Warriors, are doing the same for their sport.
The upshot was a thrilling game that was decided off the last move, and if you look back at the long-range tries that made up 75 percent of the four-try haul that secured Glasgow their bonus point win, you could argue that the Stormers were beaten by their own revolutionary brand of rugby. The wheel might well have started turning for Glasgow when they were beaten by the Stormers in Cape Town in April, and their coach at the time was so appreciative of the style embraced by his opponents.
Life is turning out to be good for the Warriors under their new coach. With six wins in a row the Warriors now have impressive momentum under Smith, and you can factor in European Challenge Cup wins over Bath and Perpignan into his winning sequence. And Sunday’s five point haul has brought them into touching distance of the top four on the overall log, something that seemed unlikely a few weeks ago.
But this is how exciting the URC season is turning out to be – while Glasgow are styling at the moment, they are still far from safe in their battle for supremacy in the Scotland/Italy Shield. That is because Benetton also now have that unmeasurable yet so critically important sporting ingredient on their side – momentum.
Benetton were involved in another thrilling game this weekend, winning off the last move of their game against Ulster in Treviso on Saturday. It was a result that leaves them just one point behind Glasgow in the Shield, with the bonus point that came with Sebastian Cancellieri’s winning try against the Stormers being the difference between the two teams at present.
Benetton, the Rainbow Cup champions the season before last, should certainly be pleased with the way their season is turning out, and there are a few other teams that should feel the same, most notably the Welsh team, the Ospreys. They lost in Swansea to the tournament frontrunners, Leinster, but there was no denying their commitment and confidence as they took an early lead before eventually losing by just five points.
With Cardiff being upset at home in another exciting game by Scarlets, who many would agree were probably due for a good win as they have so often shown promise in defeat, the two Welsh frontrunners have dropped out of the top two. However, the results have kept the battle for Shield honours in the Principality interesting, as there are just five points separating leaders Cardiff from the Ospreys with a third of the league phase of the competition still to run.
Returning to the Scotland/Italy conference, the Benetton game wasn’t the only one that was decided off the last move. Edinburgh kept the Shield a three-way race by beating the competition’s bottom team, Zebre, but they left it late. Very late. They had to wait until the last move of the game to score the try that gave them a 24-17 win over the Italian side.
Indeed, it was a weekend filled with some irony in the two games played on Scottish soil, well on Scottish artificial surfaces, for both games ended with the same score – 24-17 – and both of them were also decided in favour of the Scottish teams off the last move of the game when a draw looked likely. Those kind of wins always have the punters wanting to return, so they are good for the competition.
With the Bulls getting full points against the Dragons while the Stormers only managed a losing bonus point in Glasgow, the South African conference has become tighter, but what the Scotstoun result, coupled with the one in Swansea, did do was widen the gap at the top between Leinster and the second placed Stormers.
The Ospreys threw everything into the game so Leinster, in coming from behind to score their win in front of a partisan crowd and against strong opponents, underlined their championship qualities. They are now 11 points ahead at the top after being unbeaten after 12 games, and although the Stormers have a game in hand, that’s a big gap as the URC season takes a two-week break for two rounds of Champions Cup fixtures.
When the competition returns there is a potentially thrilling face-off between the second and third-placed teams, the Stormers and Ulster, to look forward to in Belfast, with Ulster seemingly on the slide and in desperate need for good results in the Champions Cup to regain winning momentum.
Round 12 United Rugby Championship results
Munster 33-3 Lions
Dragons 14-29 Bulls
Benetton 31-29 Ulster
Edinburgh 24-17 Zebre
Cardiff Rugby 22-28 Scarlets
Connacht 24-12 Sharks
Ospreys 19-24 Leinster
Glasgow Warriors 24-17 Stormers