McFarland’s Men in Good Health After Nail-Biter
Ulster put their illness issues behind them to claim their first win at Thomond Park since 2014 as they defeated Munster 15-14 in a real nail biter.
Their squad had been ravaged by gastroenteritis out in South Africa, forcing the postponement of their scheduled game against the Cell C Sharks in Durban.
But they bounced back from those troubles to make it five wins out of six in the BKT United Rugby Championship this season. Tries from Jordi Murphy, Tom Stewart and James Hume established a 15-3 half-time lead and they held firm amid a gripping finale following a Munster revival.
Head coach Dan McFarland said: “The finish to the game was a nail-biter, but it was always going to be down here. We didn’t play particularly well, but the guys fought through. It’s huge. The guys are thrilled. Munster don’t lose at home very often. We have got to be proud.”
Prop Marty Moore, the Man of the Match, added: “It was a tough week in South Africa, tough travel with a little bit of uncertainty with health and illness, so for everyone to regroup and come down here and get the win is massive. It’s a hard place to win, so it’s very special. It’s definitely one to savour.”
Munster, for whom wing Shane Daly scored a try, have just the two victories from their opening block of seven BKT URCmatches and are down in 14th place in the table.
Flanagan: "This Group is Right Where We Want Them To Be"
Having won just two games in the BKT URC all last season, the Dragons have now already surpassed that total after the first seven rounds of matches.
Dai Flanagan’s team routed Zebre 47-7 at Rodney Parade to claim their third victory of the campaign, adding to earlier home wins over Munster and the Ospreys.
Young winger David Richards marked his first league start with a two-try Player of the Match display, while scrum-half Rhodri Williams, centre Steff Hughes and full-back Angus O’Brien also crossed, with fly-half Sam Davies landing nine out of nine shots at goal.
The rejuvenated Gwent region are now up to tenth in the table, making them the second-highest placed Welsh team after Cardiff. Head coach Flanagan said: “It’s a good reward for the effort this group have put in for the last six to eight weeks. They have been outstanding to work with. If I could place myself in any environment, it would be exactly where we are now.
“We are quite a consistent group. We are never that bad and we are never that good, that’s the truth. Our challenge is to be better each time we play.”
Leinster March On
It was a case of different personnel but same outcome as league leaders Leinster made it seven wins out of seven in the BKT URC with a resounding 35-5 victory away to the Scarlets.
With their Ireland squad players absent, they showed no fewer than 11 changes from the side that had defeated Munster the week before, but their fresh faces shone brightly amid a five-try bonus point triumph.
Full-back Chris Cosgrave, 21, wing Rob Russell, 23, and prop Thomas Clarkson, 22, all went over, adding to two penalty tries, with centre Steff Evans claiming the solitary touchdown for the hosts.
It means Leo Cullen’s team are now eight points clear of second-placed Ulster at the top of the BKT URC table.
Skipper Rhys Ruddock, who was named Player of the Match, commented: “Leo says these are his favourite weeks, seeing guys get their opportunities to put on the jersey for the first time.
“To be one of the older lads in the team and to be there for the younger guys when they get their first opportunity and do so well is pretty special. I love doing it.”
On the victory, which saw Leinster pull well clear after leading 14-5 at the break, Ruddock added: “We are delighted. We knew it would be a real challenge coming here. We knew the Scarlets would throw everything at us and they certainly did.
“We probably lacked a bit of clinical finishing in the first half, but we are really happy with the performance overall.”
The Scarlets, who were also missing a host of players through injury and international calls, lie one from bottom of the table after winning just one of their opening seven matches. They had three men sin binned, adding to their growing list of cards this season.
Head coach Dwayne Peel admitted: “We need to be better in our discipline and we have a couple of weeks to reflect and work on that. From an effort perspective, I thought we were pretty good and Leinster would probably have thought our physicality was good.
“I think we were 10 line-breaks to three in our favour. Inaccuracy at times cost us. We got behind them but did not finish, we had a couple of set-piece errors as well.”
“We’ve Become Better Each Week,” Says Carty
After losing their first three games of the season, Connacht have now won three of the last four, with their latest triumph being a hard-fought 22-19 victory away to the Ospreys.
They conceded two tries inside the opening ten minutes, as lock Huw Sutton and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams went over for the hosts.
But, by half-time, they were 14-12 up and they finished the match with their noses in front, the boot of fly-half Jack Carty ultimately proving the difference amid three touchdowns apiece. Scrum-half Caolin Blade, the try-scoring Player of the Match, said: “Thirty minutes into the first half, we were still 12-0 down and kind of scratching our heads a little bit. But we stuck in there and are absolutely delighted with the win. We will take the four points. Fair play to the boys.”
Skipper Carty, who landed two conversions and a key drop goal, added: “The Ospreys have got some dangerous players, particularly in the back three, so it was about nullifying them by keeping the ball in their half and squeezing them. Then, after that, our defence kind of won it for us.
“To come back from 12-0 down speaks volumes for the character we have built in this group. We lost the first three games, we didn’t panic and we have got better each week. We are just delighted to have finished this block of matches off on a high.”
Like the Scarlets, the Ospreys have just the one win from their first seven matches, along with two draws.
Champions Back to Winning Ways
Reigning BKT URC champions the Stormers came from 22-10 down at the break to claim a 33-21 bonus point victory over the Lions in Johannesburg.
The two uncapped players in the Springboks’ autumn tour squad celebrated their call up in style, with centre Sacha Mngomezulu pouncing for a try off a chip over the top from fly-half Manie Libbok who also slotted five shots at goal as the Stormers claimed their first win in three URC games.
In the other game out in South Africa, the Bulls secured a 40-27 bonus point victory over the Sharks at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld, with fly-half Chris Smith adding eight successful kicks at goal to his team’s four tries.
As for the Scottish sides, Glasgow Warriors thumped Benetton 37-0, while fifth-placed Edinburgh came from behind at the break to beat sixth-placed Cardiff 25-17 at the Arms Park.