By Phil Rice
Pro14 rugby kicked off last weekend with successful starts for Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. Connacht lost to Glasgow by one point (27-26) as Craig Ronaldson’s long-range penalty in the final play of the match, came back off the post.
The provinces opposition doesn’t come much stronger than their opponents at the weekend, so it was a most encouraging start for all of them.
Apart from Ronaldson’s unlucky miss, Connacht outplayed a very strong Glasgow team for much of the match and can look forward with genuine optimism after disappointing last season.
Their backs were creative with the centre combination of Tom Farrell and Kyle Godwin looking particularly dangerous.
Munster took on a depleted Cheetahs side and after a slow start took control and ran out emphatic winners, 38-0.
JJ Hanrahan started the game at fly-half and showed Joey Carbery that he will have to earn the 10 jersey.
Hanrahan was involved in much of Munster’s best efforts before he gave way to substitute Carbery’s first outing for the province.
Ian Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal sitting in the stands must have been wondering who much rugby they will play this season.
Ulster had possibly the most demanding fixture of the weekend, against Scarlets. The Welsh side were missing a number of regulars through injury, but still fielded a strong XV.
Ulster were keen to put the angst of last season behind them and with Ian Henderson very much to the fore Ulster played with much greater purpose than we saw from them last year.
New signings Will Addison at fullback and Billy Burns made impressive debuts for the province, but perhaps the most eye-catching player was substitute winger 19-year-old Angus Kernohan. who proved a real handful for the Scarlets defence.
In the end, it was John Cooney’s fifth penalty in the final minute that gave Ulster a narrow but deserved victory, by 15-13.
Leinster had a tough away fixture to European Conference Champions, Cardiff Blues. The Welsh side were clearly up for the game and led for most of the match.
Leinster were sluggish for much of the game and in the end were slightly fortunate to snatch victory with a try bonus point as substitute hooker Bryan Byrne squeezed over for his second try of the game with two minutes left.
Leinster rested almost all of their first-choice team and relied heavily on their captain for the day, Rhys Ruddock, who gave a barn-storming performance.
With quality hookers in short supply in Ireland at present, Brian Byrne did his chances of personal progression no harm at all, with an eye-catching substitute performance.
This weekend the stand out fixture is the Scarlets v Leinster match on Saturday evening.
It would be surprising if Leinster didn’t introduce a number of their front line players against the runners-up in their Conference last season. Captain Johnny Sexton is likely to feature along with most of their international front five players.
Munster are away to Glasgow Warriors on Friday evening and will find them far more demanding opposition than their opponents last weekend.
Tadhg Beirne may make his much anticipated debut for the province and Munster will need to starve Glasgow’s talented backs of the ball if they hope to prevail.
Ulster entertain Edinburgh at the Kingspan Stadium. The much fancied Scottish side lost to Ospreys at the weekend and their Coach Richard Cockerill will be demanding a better performance this weekend.
New recruits Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy may make their first starts for Ulster. Connacht have no fixture this weekend.