Scarlets sneak nine try thriller
PRO12 FRIDAY WRAP: A nine-try thriller saw Scarlets beat Leinster, with the hosts eventually running out 38-29 bonus-point winners while Connacht and Ospreys bagged wins of their won.
The hosts ran riot in the first period, with Johnny McNicholl, Werner Kruger, and Steff Evans all running in tries while Richardt Strauss' 39th-minute effort was all Leinster could muster.
Things went from bad to worse for the boys in blue when Barry Daly was sent off in the first minute of the second half with Will Boyde and Ryan Elias scoring soon after but the Irish province showed their character to claw back two tries through Adam Byrne and Tom Daly.
And they got what they deserved for an admirable second half comeback at the death, as Andrew Porter scored his first try in Leinster colours to wrap up a try bonus of their own.
*John Cooney scored 13 points as defending champions Connacht won their third league game of the season with a tight 18-7 victory against Cardiff Blues. The scrumhalf scored the first try of the night from close range before the Welsh side hit back through Wales international wing Tom James.
But Cooney's expert kicking regained Connacht the lead before centre Bundee Aki finished off a nice, flowing move in the second period to take the wind out of Cardiff's sails. The Blues applied plenty of second-half pressure in a bid to get back into the game but Connacht held on for a crucial win.
*Dan Baker's second half try wrapped up a superb 22-5 bonus-point win for Ospreys at Glasgow Warriors as they moved up the table in convincing fashion. In ice-cold conditions, the first half was littered with mistakes and neither side could fashion anything more than a half chance until late in the second half when Tom Habberfield capitalised on a fine Tom Grabham kick.
Brian Alainu'uese's red card turned the game further in Ospreys' favour and Steve Tandy's side soon made it pay as Tom O'Flaherty collected a Josh Matavesi kick to score. Dan Baker capped a physical performance with a score before Ashley Beck showed good footwork to grab the bonus-point try. Junior Bulumakau grabbed a late consolation as the Warriors remain fourth.
*The match between Ulster and Zebre at Kingspan Stadium was postponed due to adverse pitch conditions. Cold conditions in Belfast left parts of the pitch frozen and match referee Craig Evans took the decision to call the game off in the interests of player safety, which is always paramount.
All Friday's scores and scorers!
Connacht 18-7 Cardiff Blues
Both sides showed plenty of attacking intent in the early stages, as Connacht flyhalf Jack Carty made a dangerous run while the Blues' passing game offered promise. In such an open game, the first try was unlikely to be far away and so it proved as the defending champions struck through Cooney after a powerful scrum.
But the Blues, not to be outdone, fought back and levelled the scores quickly as James intercepted a lose Carty pass to score his seventh try of the season. And the Welsh side had a chance to take the lead after the referee awarded them a kickable penalty but Steven Shingler pulled his effort wide.
The Blues continued on the front foot as fullback Dan Fish narrowly missed out on a try after he was marginally beaten in a foot race to his kick over the top. But Connacht led at the break after another powerful scrum forced a penalty, which Cooney comfortably knocked over.
Cooney extended their advantage after the break with his second penalty after the referee spotted a tackle off the ball, before being replaced by 22-year-old Caolan Blade.
Blade almost made an immediate impact as he burst through the Blues defence, before the ball was later knocked on. But they could not stop the hosts from scoring for their second try minutes later as wing Niyi Adeolokun split open the defence and centre Aki touched down.
Now trailing by 11 points, Cardiff started to play with more urgency as Rey Lee-Lo and substitute Matthew Morgan linked up nicely down the left wing but the ball was lost by Tomos Williams at the base of a ruck.
And minutes later they thought they were back in it when Morgan touched down in the corner, only for the TMO to rule it out for a knock-on. The Blues continued to ask questions of the Connacht defence with a series of line-outs in the Irish side's 22 but the home side's defence remained firm to the end.
Tries: Cooney, Aki
Pens: Cooney 2
For Cardiff Blues:
Connacht: 15 Cian Kelleher, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 John Cooney, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Danie Poolman.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Taufa'ao Filise, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Rhodri Davies, 22 Alex Cuthbert, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Glasgow Warriors 5-22 Ospreys
Matavesi had conjured a slim chance from nothing after eight minutes, but a knock-on from the supporting Ma'afu Fia meant the chance was squandered.
As the half wore on, neither side could break the deadlock and the Warriors had a penalty in a good position only for Corey Flynn to miss his target at the lineout.
Glasgow did retain possession, but both sides were struggling to gain any real foothold.
Tandy's side found themselves in a similar position with ten minutes left in the half, knocking on after nine phases inside the Glasgow half.
And it took a mixture of luck, pace and skill to finally get some points on the board, Tom Grabham exploited an empty backfield from turnover possession, his long kick down field bouncing kindly for Tom Habberfield, who beat the cover defence by the smallest of margins to dot down.
Though Matavesi missed the conversion, it was the Welshmen who led 5-0 at half-time.
Tandy's men continued with the bit between their teeth in the second half, Glasgow's inexperienced pack struggling to deal with the work of Sam Underhill, Sam Parry and Dan Baker for the Welshmen up front.
Alainu'uese's red card for a reckless clear out compounded Ospreys' advantage up top and Tandy's men went to the corner from the resultant penalty, but somehow the standout Tim Swinson helped hold the ball up in a maul and force a Warriors scrum.
It was a temporary reprieve for Glasgow, Habberfield pinched the ball from the base of the scrum and Matavesi's accurate cross-kick found replacement winger O'Flaherty unmarked out wide, though Ospreys' No 10 was unable to convert.
The Welshmen had more or less all the running now and as they built nicely through the phases into the Warriors' 22, Baker carried powerfully from close range and two fellow Ospreys latched on to barrel him over for a third score – though Matavesi missed an easy conversion.
And Beck showed fantastic eye for space and good footwork to go over from close range to seal the bonus point late on.
Bulumakau finished well after a period of incessant pressure from the hosts, but it was little more than a token effort.
For Glasgow Warriors:
Tries: Habberfield 2, Baker, Beck
Red card: Brian Alainu'uese (Glasgow Warriors, 47)
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Lewis Wynne, 5 Brian Alainu'uese, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 D'arcy Rae, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Robert McAlpine, 20 Langilangi Haupeakui, 21 George Horne, 22 Patrick Kelly, 23 Junior Bulumakau.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Dafydd Howells, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Grabham, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Rob McCusker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Luke Price, 23 Tom O'Flaherty.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Scarlets 38-29 Leinster
It was the hosts who drew first blood in a thrilling, end-to-end start to the contest. From a Leinster scrum on the Scarlets 22, the home side pounced on a loose ball and McNicholl was away to score on seven minutes, with Rhys Patchell adding the conversion.
Soon the penalties started to mount for the visitors and after skipper Isa Nacewa was warned, Mike McCarthy saw yellow and Scarlets kicked the resulting penalty into the corner before Kruger was able to rumble over at the back of a driving maul.
Patchell was again on the money from the tee but Nacewa reduced arrears on 26 minutes with a simple penalty after the boys in blue, still down to 14, won a penalty in front of the posts.
But the Welsh region were truly in the ascendancy just before Leinster returned to full strength, building the phases and line-outs with Evans eventually going over, and another smart Patchell conversion gave them a commanding 21-3 advantage.
It could have been ever worse for Leo Cullen as Evans dropped the ball moments later with the tryline at his mercy, and the four-time champions made them pay.
Leinster put the ball through the hands, running the ball all the way across the back line to the right wing, where Byrne cut inside and fed hooker Strauss to score to give his side a sniff going into the break, although Nacewa's conversion sailed wide.
But their task got an awful lot harder straight after the interval when they were reduced to 14 men as Daly saw red for tackling Aled Thomas in the air, with the fullback landing dangerously. And the ruthless Scarlets made them pay straight away, as a brilliant passing move saw Evans and Thomas combine to send young No.8 Boyde over in the left corner.
Bonus-point secured, Patchell then sent another brilliant conversion over from out wide to give the hosts a 20-point cushion at 28-8.
A scrappy 10 minutes followed but after Hadleigh Parkes elected to go for the corner once again, great composure from the Scarlets' forwards saw Elias score with a bit of help over the line from Aaron Shingler.
Byrne hit back for Leinster on 55 minutes after a great Ian Nagle drive and Scarlets fans will have started to feel nervy four minutes later when Ross Byrne's grubber through the sticks was dotted down by Daly to make the score 35-22.
Despite more Leinster pressure, Scarlets soon steadied the ship and Daniel Jones' 71st minute penalty gave them a little more breathing room, before Porter's bonus-point securing score as the clock ticked into the red.
Tries: McNicholl, Kruger, Evans, Boyde, Elias
Cons: Patchell 5
Tries: Strauss, Byrne, Daly, Porter
Cons: Nacewa 3
Yellow card: Mike McCarthy (Leinster, 21)
Red card: Barry Daly (Leinster, 41)
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Tom Price, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Gareth Owen.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (captain), 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12. Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Andrew Porter, 18 Oisín Heffernan, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)