Ulster fight back to remain top
PRO12 SATURDAY WRAP: Ulster fought back from a blistering opening 20 minutes from Ospreys to keep their 100 percent record alive with a narrow 9-7 victory at the Kingspan Stadium.
Paddy Jackson proved decisive, with all the Irish side's points coming from the boot, slotting a penalty with just a couple of minutes left in a game Ospreys had led from the outset.
Nicky Smith bundled over for a try on his 50th appearance as the Welsh side looked for their fourth win of the season, eventually falling narrowly short in an enthralling encounter.
Meanwhile, Munster's Irish internationals did the damage as they convincingly beat Zebre 49-5 in a seven-try showing to move top of the table. Conor Murray, CJ Stander and Simon Zebo, as well as Darren Sweetnam, all crossed the whitewash as Munster wrapped up the bonus point before the break and they refused to let up after the interval.
A penalty try and Stephen Archer's effort made the score 42-0 and although Gabriele Di Giulio finally got the visitors on the board with nine minutes remaining, the hosts had the final word with Stander grabbing his second score of the game.
Elsewhere, Wayne Pivac's Scarlets scored two tries when reduced to 14 men to claim their second win in a week on their travels to Benetton Treviso, 22-6. Pivac had urged his side to build momentum after last week's first win of the season against Connacht and they duly delivered in an encounter that never really sparkled to life.
In the other match on the night, in-form Cardiff Blues suffered their first defeat of the season as Jonathan Sexton helped Leinster come from behind to triumph 16-13 at Cardiff Arms Park.
The Irish province had trailed 3-13 at half-time but Rhys Ruddock's try and eight points from the boot of Sexton completed the turnaround and continued their unbeaten run against the Blues which dates back to 2011.
Sexton also stole the headlines away from Blues flyhalf Gareth Anscombe who scored all of his side's points, including a breakaway try to put them in control in the first half.
All Saturday's scores and scorers!
Munster 49-5 Zebre
It took just two minutes for the hosts to get off the mark as Sweetnam darted over and Tyler Bleyendaal banged over the first of Munster's seven successful conversions.
Carlo Canna had the chance to narrow Zebre's deficit with a ninth-minute scrum penalty but his kick drifted wide and that was the closest the Italians came to troubling the scorers in the first period.
Halfway through the first 40 minutes, scrumhalf Murray dived over off the back of a line-out maul before his Ireland teammate Stander charged down an attempted clearing kick in the Zebre 22 and gathered to dot down under the posts.
Munster's bonus-point clinching try was arguably their best of the match as Bleyendaal intercepted and found Sweetnam, whose offload released Murray to chip through for Zebo to kick and control for the score.
Try number five came 10 minutes into the second half as a kick ahead from Sweetnam saw him tackled off the ball by Gideon Koegelenberg and the penalty try awarded. Archer then charged over the whitewash following Ian Keatley's initial break and pass but Zebre got on the scoreboard when Di Giulio crossed in the corner.
There was still time for flank Stander to touch down for the second time in the match as he broke away from the Zebre defence and Keatley's successful conversion took him over 1000 points.
Tries: Sweetnam, Murray, Stander 2, Zebo, Penalty try, Archer
Cons: Bleyendaal 4, Keatley 3
Try: Di Giulio
Yellow card: Gideon Koegelenberg (Zebre, 52)
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Billy Holland (captain), 5 Darren O'Shea, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 Dave Kilcoyne,
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Peter O'Mahony, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Cian Bohane.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Charles Reed, 9 William Palazzani, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 Gideon Koegelenberg, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (captain), 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Thomas Boni, 23 Lloyd Greeff.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (WRU), Dermot Blake (IRFU)
Ulster 9-7 Ospreys
Ospreys began the first half in frantic fashion, opening up the hosts' back-line twice in the opening five minutes as Ben John, in particular, worked the angles. The reward was to come moments later, Smith making the most of his accolade game to power over Rory Best to touch down, an apt reward for a string of encouraging phases of rugby.
Steve Tandy's side didn't let up either, with Dan Biggar converting for a 7-0 advantage as a direct approach seemed the order of the day, but their intuitive attack was met with smart defence to keep the try count to just one.
You wondered if the fast start could be maintained, as a stunned home crowd at the Kingspan Stadium watched just 12 percent of match action in the Ospreys half by the end of the first quarter, a game between two sides who have enjoyed positive starts to the campaign.
But Ulster fought back, showing the character which saw them top the table in the early stages of the season, although Louis Ludik couldn't make the most of space in the corner when he fumbled from Darren Cave.
Ulster were on the board soon after, however, with Jackson kicking on the half-hour mark, the last movement of the scoreboard after an intriguing first half which saw the excitement far from reflected in the 7-3 score.
And it was the hosts who kept on with their momentum in the second period, Jackson needing just four minutes to cut the deficit to just one before an impressive Best, who returned to the starting XV, forced another infringement.
Jackson was not to be successful this time around, and although Les Kiss' side remained heavily on the front foot, resolute Ospreys defence dwindled the impact of heavy possession and territory for the Irish side.
Still Ulster came pouring forward but the defence was matched in equal measure, almost stunning the home crowd with a try of their own. A huge breakaway saw Tom Habberfield racing down field, sliding out of touch at a valuable moment as the game was kept to just a solitary point.
Dan Biggar missed a chance to extend that lead, skewing a drop-goal attempt narrowly wide on the left side with just 10 minutes to go in a breathless encounter. And after a second half almost camped in the Ospreys half, the pressure told for Ulster.
Just two minutes were left on the clock when the hosts won a penalty, with Jackson this time making no mistake having missed earlier kicks from the tee to steal a last-gasp victory.
Pens: Jackson 3
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma'a fu Fia, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Olly Cracknell, 21 Tyler Ardron, 22 Tom Habberfield, 23 Sam Davies.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Paul Haycock (IRFU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)
Cardiff Blues 13-16 Leinster
The Blues' Kristian Dacey launched an early attack while wing Blaine Scully also made up ground before the move was eventually stopped by referee Dudley Phillips for an infringement. Leinster then thought they had crossed for the first try of the match when flank Dan Leavy forced his way over in the corner on 14 minutes but the TMO ruled he had been in touch.
But they did get on the scoreboard shortly afterwards when the Blues were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle and Sexton slotted over a simple penalty on 19 minutes. The hosts were dealt another blow when news filtered through that Sam Warburton would not be rejoining the field after earlier taking a heavy blow to the face from Josh van der Flier.
Leinster were enjoying better position but when Sexton was wide with a long range penalty attempt, Cardiff Blues drew level on 26 minutes through an Anscombe long-range three-pointer.
And the flyhalf was involved in the next big move of the game shortly afterwards as he received the ball from Lloyd Williams in the middle before spotting the gap and running half the length of the pitch to score the opening try of the night.
The conversion was also successful, shortly followed by another penalty, and suddenly Cardiff Arms Park was rocking as the home side went 13-3 up and maintained that advantage into the break.
After their strong first half, conceding a soft early penalty was certainly not part of the plan with Sexton duly dissecting the points for 13-6. And it got worse for the hosts Leinster drew level minutes later with a converted try of their own. Centre Rory O'Loughlin setting things up with a soaring 50 metre break.
The Blues were then forced to defend a five metre line out, which they were unable to do, as Ruddock forced his way over and Sexton converted on 50 minutes.
The Welsh side tried to find a way back onto the front foot and almost got it on the hour mark when they overpowered the Leinster scrum to win a penalty, but the previously unflappable Anscombe dragged his effort wide.
Both sides continued to try and get the edge but it was Leinster who nudged ahead with 10 minutes to go when Josh Navidi was caught offside in front of the posts and received a yellow card, with Sexton easily sending over his penalty.
Cardiff Blues were not done though and found themselves camped on their opponents' line with the clock ticking down. They were then awarded a scrum but couldn't make it count as Sexton seized on the loose ball and booted it into touch to bring an end to the Blues' unbeaten start.
For Cardiff Blues:
Pens: Anscombe 2
Pens: Sexton 3
Yellow card: Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues, 69)
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Dan Fish.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Mike Ross, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Barry Daly.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Ian Davies (WRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Benetton Treviso 6-22 Scarlets
The early exchanges were pretty cagey as Scarlets, for whom Scott Williams was playing his 100th game, tried their best to give their small rump of travelling supporters something to sing about. While Samson Lee made an encouraging return to action in his first game since injury during Wales' tour of New Zealand.
But both sides conceded penalties as things got scrappy but Scarlets will blame some flaky handling for not breaking the deadlock early on. The game was 33 minutes old before Italian international Tommaso Allan slotted over a penalty, after the home side out-muscled Scarlets at the scrum and forced them to commit a foul.
Rhys Patchell levelled the scores shortly after the break from the tee but Allan pushed the hosts back ahead within three minutes.
David Bulbring saw yellow as Scarlets went down to 14 but six minutes later, despite their numerical disadvantage, replacement prop Werner Kruger crossed the line and Patchell added the extras. That try swung the momentum firmly towards the hosts, underlined when Treviso replacement Ian McKinley hit the upright after Scarlets had again been penalised in the scrum.
Scarlets edged further ahead 10 minutes from full-time, DTH van der Merwe touching down before try-scorer Kruger was yellow carded with just three minutes to go, Treviso sending the resulting penalty wide.
But being a man down seemed to inspire the visitors and with the clock showing 80 minutes, fleet-footed Steff Evans intercepted a loose ball and surged clear from flailing Treviso tackles to score.
For Benetton Treviso:
Pens: Allan 2
Tries: Kruger, van Der Merwe, Evans
Cons: Patchell, Thomas
Yellow cards: Alberto De Marchi (Benetton Treviso, 27), David Bulbring (Scarlets, 48)
Benetton Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Luke McLean, 10 Thomas Allan, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Dean Budd, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Marco Fuser , 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Cherif Traore, 19 Filippo Gerosa, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Andrea Buondonno.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Steff Hughes.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll (IRFU), Simone Boaretto (FIR)