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Pro 12 – Testing Times Ahead Of Europe

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Clean sweep it may have been, but perfect it was anything but. This most recent weekend of Pro 12 rugby has shown just how much the Irish provinces, Ulster aside, may be clinging on by their fingernails in European competitions this season, a shame when the new iteration could do with some input from nations outside of France and England to solidify it somewhat. That’s not to say that things are in dire straits and we would be lucky to see even one Irish side make the knock outs, but several kicks up several behinds are required in order for all four provinces to be competitive. 

First of the lacklustre effort this weekend were Munster, doing their very best to lose against a Scarlets side who have shown over the last few weeks that last gasp rallies are their specialty. Munster won out in the end, importantly stringing two wins together after their hammering of Leinster in Dublin, but they are beginning to frustrate in that, unlike the last two years, it is clear to see great work being done across the pitch by them this year, but the rewards are not forthcoming.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a comprehensive win by the end, credit to them for bringing back the pride. But with mauls such as that beast we saw in the closing moments, and work horses like Ven Der Heever on the pitch, the tries need to be more forthcoming. Nobody is more aware of this than Anthony Foley however, and with Sale Sharks not all that likely to prove their toughest European opponent this coming weekend, now is the tipping point. A poor showing in Europe, win or not, will have a detrimental effect on Munster’s season, but at the same time the exact opposite awaits a win with a good display. Munster rugby is never entirely down and out, and none of that changes now.

Munster 17 – 6 Scarlets

Connacht’s game against Treviso not being televised seemed like quite the shame initially, such is the high standard of rugby they are producing. But then to see the final score and pick up some pitch side reports, maybe it was for the best. 9 – 6 is certainly nobody’s idea of a thriller and not being able to watch it was maybe for the best. However, lest I be berated for repeating myself ad nauseum, the game was won in the final quarter with a Craig Ronaldson kick and the Westerners spent the majority of the game’s conclusion camped on their line, even stealing a lineout to wrestle back possession and close out the game.

It’s all going so far so fairytale for Connacht, with them putting in displays that are outdoing all three of the other provinces. They have the best track record of all four thus far, again bar maybe Ulster, and should be able to run riot in their upcoming Challenge Cup fixtures. All the more important given they are likely to find themselves in the top tier next year based on their current progress.

Connacht 9 – 6 Treviso

Ulster put in one of the best games of the weekend all told, though one slight argument can be made that they should be scoring more than two tries when in such a position of dominance. Ravenhill is a fortress finally, when a team like Glasgow can find themselves so out of sorts as they did, putting in a season worst display, particularly with their ill discipline. Ulster can take massive credit for managing to so comprehensively get under their skin.

Neil Doak and Les Kiss have one challenge of mass importance ahead of their opening fixture against Leicester and that’s consistency. Ulster have no shortage whatsoever of talent, and of the four provinces have suffered the least damaging departures this season. What they have struggled with though is being able to back up their performances week on week. When your toughest challenge in rugby is mind games however, you’re in rich health. They have a tough pool, no question, but this really should be their year, particularly when their chances are doing nothing but slip with each passing one.

Ulster 29 – 9 Glasgow

Leinster, oh dear. Things are strange this season for Matt O’Connor’s men to say the very least. The first half of their game against Zebre was one of the most boring forty minutes of rugby ever witnessed, and blame for that falls to both sides it should be noted. 3 points to the hosts and not even a sniff of invention from either. It was hard to not switch over to the Ireland VS Gibraltar match to be honest.

Come the second half there’d been a clear talking to alright as Leinster showed a little more fight, once again Ian Madigan made the difference and sliced through for the opening try, having already put three points on the board to level the game. Luke McGrath scoring the second was encouraging – they may have two of the country’s best scrum halves but both are getting on in years. McGrath is a great prospect as a zip runner and playmaker for Leinster, two things they are badly in need of.

Wasps won’t present the greatest threat come next weekend, but in the way they are currently looking you would have to say that no team would have anyway near the fear of Leinster they have had in seasons gone by. There is work to be done and very little time to do it in. Try as we may have to avoid it now it must be said, these are somewhat worrying times for Leinster.

Leinster 20 – 3 Zebre

Image courtesy of limerickleader.ie

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