URC Round 11 Review

URC Round 11 Review

Leinster leading the way again

League leaders Leinster are looking to learn the lessons from last season as they set their sights on their first silverware in three years.

Leo Cullen’s team top the BKT URC table in the wake of their 33-20 bonus point victory over Cardiff Rugby at the Arms Park on Saturday night.

That’s where they finished at the end of the regular campaign last season only to lose at home to Munster Rugby in the play-off semi finals, before being beaten by La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final a week later.

So can they make amends this term?

“We got ourselves in a good position at the end of last season, we just couldn’t quite get over the line, in both competitions,” said head coach Cullen.

“We have hopefully learned a few lessons and need to make sure we are better now this year.”

Leinster are four points clear of both the Vodacom Bulls and Glasgow Warriors at the top of the BKT URC table after Round 11.

“It’s very tight. You’ve got the top three and then a little bit of separation, with just five points separating the next eight teams,” said Cullen.

“We have still got a trip to South Africa to go, which is challenging. There are so many different sub-plots in terms of the fixture list.”

Having raced into a 12-0 lead at the Arms Park, Leinster found themselves trailing 15-12 at half time, with Cardiff prop Rhys Carre having powered over for two tries in the 

space of four minutes just before the break.

But despite starting the second half down to 14 men following a yellow card for full-back Jordan Larmour, they took control through the close-quarter carrying of their forwards.

The three tries that took them clear were virtual carbon copies, amid a relentless pick-and-go approach, with replacement loosehead Michael Milne twice forcing his way over as the bonus point was secured.

Cullen commented: “We made a really good start, scoring two tries in the first ten minutes of the game and had some other chances.

“Fair to Cardiff, they dug in really well and threatened on a few occasions. They came with a good plan and tested us at a few different stages. Matt Sherratt is doing a good job. He is a clever coach.

“At half time, it was ‘Oof, we are in a proper game here now’. It wasn’t just we had fallen behind, but Jordan was in the bin.

“But I thought we started the second half pretty well and played down their end. We were composed and played the game in the right area, which was good. That was a really critical period of the game.

“As the match went on, the guys who came off the bench added well. I’m pleased to get a win, but there are lots of things we can get better at as well.

It’s the Bulls in second spot following their 40-22 bonus point victory over the DHL Stormers in Pretoria - more on that record-breaking game to come - while Glasgow became the first team to claim a league win over Benetton Rugby in Treviso for 12 months as they battled their way to a 19-9 triumph.

Elsewhere on Saturday, the Emirates Lions defeated the Hollywoodbets Sharks 40-10 in Johannesburg, where the start of the second half was delayed because of thunder and lightning, while Connacht Rugby overcame the Scarlets 26-10 at the Galway Sportsground.

Finally, Ulster Rugby ran in seven tries as they beat Dragons RFC 49-26 in their first outing since the departure of head coach Dan McFarland, with wing Mike Lowry and lock Harry Sheridan both touching down twice.

No sting to the tale at The Hive

There was just a point separating play-off hopefuls Edinburgh Rugby and the Ospreys in the table going into Friday night’s clash at the Hive Stadium, so it was fitting it should prove to be such a close-run affair.

After trailing 16-3 at the break, the visitors fought back with tries from hooker Sam Parry and returning No 8 Morgan Morris to set up a grandstand finish.

It then all came down to the final play as they kicked a penalty to the corner.

Was there to be a sting to the tale at The Hive?

The answer was no as the Ospreys lost the ball forward in going for a move at the front of the lineout, bringing an end to their five-match winning run.

Their head coach Toby Booth said: "There’s obviously a massive air of disappointment and that’s the sign of a team that wants to get better, which is good.

“We had a shot to win it at the end, but we don't want to gloss over the problems we had before half-time when we gave them easy scores through our indiscipline and then we didn’t capitalise on a few key moments.

“We played a good physical game, but we didn’t take our chances. If we want to be a play-off team, we need to become more clinical and we can’t give ourselves a mountain to climb. The penalty count in the first half was difficult.

“But I was massively proud of the character and the effort to get us back in there.

“If you look at where we are now compared to when we were here last year, there has been a lot of progress.

“The fact the changing room was so disappointed shows we have got the right people on the bus.”

Scotland squad flanker Hamish Watson scored Edinburgh’s only try midway through the first period, with the boot of 14-point fly-half Ben Healy ultimately proving the difference between the teams.

Player of the Match Watson said: “It was a very frustrating game, really scrappy. It’s one of those games you come off the field and it feels a tiny bit like a loss, but it’s still a win and four points. We are in the right half of the table, so that’s good.

“The Ospreys are a really good team on a good roll, so we knew it was going to be tough and they weren’t going to go away easy.”

Edinburgh coach Sean Everitt added: “I am just happy we got another win. The wins are important at this stage to stay in touch with the guys at the top, but we are not happy with the performance.”

So one of those odd games where both teams were left with feelings of disappointment, but crucially the hosts came away with the victory to widen the gap between the sides and move up to fourth in the table.

In Friday’s other match, reigning champions Munster Rugby beat Zebre Parma 45-29, with 20-year-old flanker Ruadhán Quinn scoring two of their seven tries, while the Italians crossed four times to claim their eighth bonus point of the season.

Munster head coach Graham Rowntree said:

“We played some scintillating rugby and I’ll take the five points, but if we’re going to be honest with ourselves we’ve got to eradicate some of the loose things that we’re doing.  We weren’t ruthless enough.

“Fair play to Zebre as well, we knew they can play. We knew they were dangerous off counter-attack. I’ll take the win. I’ll take the good stuff.”

Match of the weekend

Vodacom Bulls 40, DHL Stormers 22

The biggest crowd of the season in the BKT URC watched a titanic tussle as the Bulls ended their seven-match losing run against the Stormers.

There was an attendance of 50,026 at a sold out Loftus Versfeld, surpassing the 49,246 for Leinster v Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Round 6.

It was a record crowd for a regular season fixture in the URC and the second highest for a single league match.

The kick-off was delayed for an hour because of the storm which had impacted the Lions v Sharks clash at Ellis Park earlier in the day.

When the game did get underway, Jake White’s Bulls surged into a 19-5 lead only to be pegged back, so that there were just four points between the sides at the break.

But the hosts pulled clear in the second half as hooker Johan Grobbelaar completed a try double and place-kicking fly-half Johan Goosen finished with a 20-point haul.

The Player of the Match award went to their second row Ruan Nortje who declared: 

“What an awesome occasion to be a part of.

“It’s my first time ever at a packed Loftus. It’s a childhood dream and I’m just humbled by what happened.

 “I had goosebumps throughout that whole game. I’m lost for words. It was just amazing to be a part of such a special occasion.

 “Obviously the Stormers had our number the last seven games and we knew it was never going to be easy.

 “They kept on fighting and it was credit to the character of our guys for keeping them out at the end and then scoring that try at the other end.” 

Player of the weekend

 Sanele Nohamba (Emirates Lions)

The guy is pure box office - and he can do it from two different positions!

 Having played much of the season at fly-half, he switched to No 9 for the meeting with the Sharks and proceeded to torment his former team.

His display was nothing short of magnificent, as he played a key part in the Lions’ 40-10 victory in Johannesburg. He was a lightning bolt amid the thunderstorm that hit the ground.

 The 25-year-old set things in motion with a sniping break and devastating side-step to score the game’s opening try and had a big hand in the next two touchdowns, first with a pinpoint cross-kick and then an intelligent scoring pass.

 Right now, you could make an argument that he’s a contender for both the best 9 and the best 10 in the league! He is on fire and certainly one of the competition’s most dangerous individuals with ball in hand.

 Accepting his Player of the Match award, he said: 

“The message throughout the week was to play without fear, express ourselves and, most importantly, have fun together as a group.

 “The last game we played here against the Bulls was a little bit disappointing, so it’s massive to bounce back like this.

 “It was great. The atmosphere was really good.

 “Our aim is to get to the play-offs and the only way to do that is get points and that’s what we did.”

Quote of the weekend

Cardiff captain Josh Turnbull after making his 200th appearance for the Welsh region in the Origin Round encounter with Leinster at the Arms Park:

 “I had my old school PE teacher come and present my jersey before the game. I hadn’t seen him for a long time and he’s someone who just instilled the value of hard work in me. 

“That’s what I’ve probably backed my game on for 17 years, working as hard as I can.

 “My wife and my girls came in the changing room as well. So it was emotional. I was trying to hold back the tears a little bit and then walking out with them. Whether it’s the last time I go on the pitch and play, I’m not too sure, but it’s been one hell of a rollercoaster and one hell of a journey.”

What’s coming up?

 The league now takes a two week break before returning after the Six Nations for Round 12 on March 22 & 23.

Table topping Leinster will travel to Parma to take on Zebre Rugby, while the second-placed Bulls are in Wales for a meeting with the Dragons, as Glasgow entertain Cardiff.

 There are three big games in terms of the battle for play-off spots as the Ospreys host Munster, the Stormers welcome Edinburgh to Cape Town and Connacht face the Lions in Galway.

Completing the fixtures, you’ve got Sharks v Ulster and Scarlets v Benetton.

Latest News