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Pro 12 – Kearney King As The Provinces Nab A Clean Sweep

Rob Kearney dots down the firs of his two tries last Saturday

Rob Kearney dots down the first of his two tries last Saturday

Some of it was simply beautiful, some of it down and dirty nitty gritty, and some of it we’ll just never know as Munster V Treviso was inexplicably not televised. But it’s a clean sweep for the provinces, after an opening round that saw just the one – Connacht – team nab any joy. Ulster and Munster didn’t make it easy over what should have been straight forward enough Italian opposition, but they got the job done. Connacht ground out a win at the death that was just completely unrecognisable from their last two seasons, and Leinster came back to something resembling the defending champions they are. A good weekend indeed.

First up came Ulster and Munster taking on the Italians on Friday evening. You can’t learn a whole lot from a TG4 highlight reel, but suffice to say Munster improved on the previous week, and I suppose it’s easy to forget – I did –  that Munster have lost against Treviso the last two seasons away from home. From the footage we did get, and subsequent match reports, we can take two things: Ian Keatley is already that bit more assured from the kicking tee and more importantly, CJ Stander is going to have a huge season for Munster. Three tries down in two games, the South African is more than proving his worth, and justifying the uproar his signing to Munster caused. Munster do of course have one massive name still not back in their ranks, the colossus that is Paul O’Connell. Having been expected to make his return to the team against Treviso, he was forced to withdraw and remain at home for personal reasons. Myself and of course all Irish rugby supporters would hope that it was nothing of too severe a nature and should he return in the next fixture against Zebre, surely a more stabilized and assured Munster should be on show.

For Treviso, they were probably never going to win this one and true, a lot of top talent has departed their squad over the summer, but credit to them they opened the try scoring account, were in the lead at one point 20 minutes in and true enough were in with a shout for a good 60 minutes of the game. And regardless of whether Munster were at full tilt or not, an eleven point loss against one of the league’s top teams is certainly better than a thirty one point loss as they suffered last week. Early days yet of course.

Treviso 10 – 21 Munster

Ulster were in a similar boat to Munster in that their second game of the league was presenting them with arguably pressurizing opposition; there’s nothing worse for teams at this time of the season than to be up against opposition they’re “expected” to beat. As it turned out they had a similar day to Leinster, getting all the right mojo back and, most importantly, all the right people scoring tries. Every team has those dynamic players, the ones that you expect to see cross the whitewash. And say what they like, they expect to as well. So to have Nick Williams, Craig Gilroy and Robbie Diack all cross over before half time, tails were up and the game was on.

Zebre were out on their feet, unlike their Italian cohorts across the water, and in truth were never really in it. Ulster are on course to completely fortify the Kingspan Stadium this season and this was a good start. That the third quarter of the game saw no scores from them and one yellow card for their trouble was less than encouraging but they corrected that, whilst down to 14, with scores from two more of those dynamic players in Andrew Trimble and Dan Tuohy. The best Zebre could respond with was a baffling kick at goal with ten minutes left whilst more than 20 points down. Somewhat sums up their night and really, they have a lot to sort out before slipping into the utter whipping boys role they looked to be climbing away from.

Ulster 33 – 13 Zebre

Connacht, oh yes please Connacht. They’ve been knocking, they’ve struck gold at times, but consistency has eluded them constantly. Few Irish rugby fans won’t champion Connacht’s cause. They clearly have talent, and we all know they previously haven’t had the budget. Then Pat Lam goes and signs half of New Zealand over the summer, and hopes lift. Yet two of the most important wins of their recent existence have happened even before the arrival of these wunderkinds. The opener against the Dragons was important, no doubt, but the manner in which they overcame Edinburgh away from home this weekend was just far more crucial than most seem to realise. Nobody can ever say Connacht lack doggedness and determination, their two huge wins over Harlequins and Toulouse were solely based on those two attributes, but more often than not their efforts are in vain. Not so this time out. Darragh Leader kept them in the game through the first half and then Edinburgh struck with a half time try that could previously have seen them down and out. A yellow card in their favour and Leader brings them within four points. Then the hammer blow. A yellow card to Willie Falloon that, once more, could have been their undoing in previous seasons.

This is Connacht 2.0 however. The yellow led to an Edinburgh drive that finished in a knock on from the Scots. 5M scrum to Connacht and Sean Henry goes off sounding and looking badly injured. Yet still they hold out. Edinburgh off their feet, penalty Connacht, into touch it goes, lineout, try Connacht. Overall, neither team had their best day out, but that ten minutes or so, finishing in Falloon scoring the winning try after only just returning from the bin, was superb. Did they deserve to win? Maybe not entirely, but the team that sticks it out and sees the game through always deserves to win in that sense. A great two weeks for the West, and arguably a season defining fixture coming up against Leinster, with the Blues looking dangerous again all of a sudden.

Edinburgh 13 – 14 Connacht

Speaking of that certain Eastern province, they certainly have proven now that there is in fact life after BOD. most notably in the form of a certain Rob Kearney. To say Kearney has had a dip and subsequent return to greatness is an understatement. On the 2009 Lions tour he arguably had his last great outing as a world class fullback. Since then, he hasn’t disappeared but some injury woes and the odd dip in form here and there have held him back somewhat. It all seemed to turn around towards the tail end of the 12/13 season where he returned to glory in Leinster blue, and since that fateful day in November last year which we shall not speak off, when he went the length of the pitch to score that sumptuous try, he has been on fire. And normal service was resumed once more as he proved to be the greatest threat Leinster fielded against a Scarlets side who failed to capitalise on early opportunism and sat back for a hiding in the RDS.

Kearney was incrediby dangerous in the first 20 minutes alone, making nine carries, and scoring a brace of tries in the first half for his troubles. The second of said tries was an O’Driscoll worthy moment of skill, purposely kicking from the side of the boot for the perfect bounce that stood up for none other than himself to touch down. Scarlets had nabbed a score of their own after a kick and chase from a Jimmy Gopperth/Ian Madigan miscommunication but, unlike a near identical incident against Toulon last season, Leinster responded more than appropriately, with a visciousness. Scarlets didn’t take to the pitch as haggered as they left it, but they certainly took each score and metre gained as a personal blow, heads dropping all over the pitch as each minute went on. They will be less than happy with the complete reversal of return from Rhys Priestland’s boot this week by comparison to their opener, and they missed Gareth Davies a little too much. Scott Williams at 12 and Aaron Shingler at blindside were rays of light in an otherwsie dour performance, but it is of course early days and they are capable of more than this. Leinster played what was in front of them and put in a performance that was badly needed and, with the arrival next summer of that other fella over in France, Ian Madigan put in an important confident showing at 12, proving there’s life in his role with the club yet.

Leinster 42 – 12 Scarlets

Image courtesy of leinsterrugby.ie

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