A second successful weekend for Irish provinces as Munster and Leinster top the conferences
By Phil Rice
Munster and Leinster sit atop the newly formed Pro14 conferences after both clubs recorded their second bonus point wins at the weekend.
Of the eight matches played by the provinces in the first two weeks of the new season, seven have been wins and six have been bonus point victories. Connacht recorded their first win of the new league when they defeated the recent entrants from South Africa, Southern Kings.
It has been an inauspicious start for the two teams from the Southern Hemisphere, all four games they have played have been substantial defeats.
They will play their first home matches this weekend when Leinster travel to Port Elizabeth to play the Southern Kings on Saturday lunchtime and the Cheetahs host Zebre the following day.
The latter fixture will probably offer the South African team their best opportunity for a win this season.
Failure to beat the Italians, the perennial whipping boys of the league, at home, would seriously undermine the strategy of expanding the league to include teams from far and wide.
Leinster eventually overcame a dogged Cardiff Blues side last Friday evening at the RDS, to join Scarlets at the top of B Conference.
Despite playing without their Lions stars along with a number of other injured players, Leinster brought on a number of replacements for the final quarter and they scored the late tries that earned the Irish side a bonus point win. A testament indeed to the strength in depth of their squad.
Sean Cronin was barely on the pitch when he scooped up a loose ball on the halfway line and sprinted 50 metres to score under the posts.
This was followed by an outstanding piece of athleticism from substitute winger Barry Daly when at full speed he jumped high to catch a cross kick from Ross Byrne to crash over for a spectacular try.
Finally, man of the match Jack Conan made one of his many bursts through the Cardiff defence and passed inside for substitute scrum-half Nick McCarthy to dive over for the bonus point try.
But the final flourish could not paper over Leinster’s inadequacies during an errorstrewn first hour of play. Ross Byrne struggled to control the game with any authority despite an abundance of possession.
Joey Carbery and Johnny Sexton are due to return to action when the team gets back from their two week trip to South Africa.
Munster welcomed the Cheetahs to Thomond Park and cruised past them with a 51-18 scoreline. In total they scored eight tries, four of them touched down by young winger Alex Wootton.
Not surprisingly he picked up the man of the match award and it will be interesting to see how he develops against teams with more rigorous defences.
Tommy O’Donnell put in an immense performance and appears to be back to his best after a relatively quiet spell last season.
Ulster began their game with Treviso as if they intended to earn a bonus point before half time. Two early tries from Irish winger Andrew Trimble, who was winning his 150th cap for the province, had them leading by 14-0 in as many minutes.
But the Italian side refused to lie down and provided stubborn resistance until midway through the second period when new Irish cap Jacob Stockdale touched down for a third try.
It was expected that Ulster would push on for the bonus point win but it was Treviso who scored two late tries and left the Irish province clinging on to record a barely deserved victory 21-14.
For all the undoubted talent Ulster have possessed in recent years, there is no doubt they have underperformed overall.
On occasions they can play with outstanding flair and panache but they frequently follow that with performances like Saturday’s when they look like a different team.
In order to challenge for the trophies to which they aspire, they will need to dig deeper and find a stronger resolve to fulfil their talent on a more consistent basis.
Ulster take on the champions Scarlets this Friday evening at the Kingspan in what will be a real test of their credentials. Connacht go to the Dragons on the same evening. Munster are away to the Ospreys on Saturday afternoon.