Ospreys edge Edinburgh to go top
PRO12 FRIDAY WRAP: Sam Davies returned to the Ospreys to inspire them to a hard-fought 13-9 Pro12 win over Edinburgh and move them back to the top of the standings.
The win was the Welsh team's 13th of the season after 17 games played.
Meanwhile, a 65th-minute penalty try handed Connacht their fourth consecutive Pro12 win as they leapfrogged Cardiff Blues into seventh with a 33-3 win over Zebre at the Sportsground.
Pat Lam's side are on their longest unbeaten streak of the season and are now within two points of Glasgow Warriors and the top six.
Ulster continued their pursuit of a Pro12 top-four finish as they saw off a determined Benetton Treviso in appalling conditions, but were left frustrated after missing out on a crucial bonus-point.
Tries from Jared Payne, Sean Reidy and Charles Piutau set up the win for the Irish side but despite dominating possession and territory for the most part they couldn't find the all-important fourth try.
Connacht 33-3 Zebre
Naulia Dawai and Niyi Adeolokun had given Connacht a healthy 12-0 advantage at the break, but when Guglielmo Palazzani struck an early second-half penalty, Zebre hinted at a comeback.
Instead a sublime break from Kieran Marmion led to a try for John Muldoon before a penalty try for collapsing a maul took Connacht 26-3 in front before Lewis Stevenson grabbed try number five.
The reigning Pro12 Champions had lost just once at the Sportsground in their last nine matches and they started with the swagger of a side in fine form.
In atrocious weather, Adeolokun collected a fine wide pass from debutant Steve Crosbie to cross after seven minutes, with Cooney knocking over the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
With Connacht pushing for a second, they twice spilled the ball in the slippery conditions before a breakthrough nearly came through Eoin McKeon, only to be pulled back for obstruction.
But Fijian openside Dawai finished well out wide, stepping and fending the cover-tackler to dive over the whitewash before Cooney’s conversion bounced out off the post.
Zebre responded admirably, working their way into the Connacht 22m line and coming close with a well-set driving maul, but when the ball was moved wide a chip went astray and with it a hard-earned penalty advantage.
That returned the initiative to Connacht and twice they kicked to the corner in search of a third try to no avail, leaving the champions 12-0 ahead at the break.
Marmion replaced Cooney at half-time, but it was Zebre’s influential No.9 Guglielmo Palazzani who got the second half's first points, slotting a penalty on 44 minutes to close the gap.
But Connacht's Ireland No 9 made a mark of his own with an hour gone, dummying superbly to break into the Zebre 22 from inside his half.
When Zebre strayed offside a minute later, Muldoon – on as a replacement for long-term injury absentee Eoghan Masterson – capitalised on a smartly-taken tap penalty underneath the Zebre posts to barrel over.
Tiernan O'Halloran added the extras and as the pressure upon Zebre started to mount, they handed Connacht the bonus point with a collapsed maul before Ronaldson put Stevenson over after some quick-thinking from a penalty.
Tries: Adeolokun, Dawai, Muldoon, Penalty Try, Stevenson
Cons: Cooney, O'Halloran, Carty, Ronaldson
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Steve Crosbie, 9 John Cooney, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Tom McCartney (captain), 1 Ronan Loughney.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Jack Carty.
Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Gideon Koegelenberg, 6 Matteo Cornelli, 5 Valerio Bernabò (captain), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Matteo Archetti, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Guillermo Roan.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Ken Imbusch (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Edinburgh 9-13 Ospreys
Man of the match Sam Davies produced the game's moment of real magic in wet conditions at Myreside to create Josh Matavesi's first-half try.
But it was their defence that won them this clash – holding off the hosts who could only manage three Duncan Weir penalties.
Davies kicked two penalties and the extras from Matavesi’s score and they have now only lost one of their last 16 first-team games in all competitions and will await the result of Leinster's clash to see if they can stay top.
Ospreys have not lost on the road since November while for Edinburgh it was another narrow defeat to a Welsh opposition after last weekend's disappointment against the Cardiff Blues.
Duncan Hodge's side have now lost five in a row in the league, but they had their chances on a wet and windy Friday.
The hosts welcomed back Scotland prop Alasdair Dickinson for the first time since Boxing Day while flyhalf Weir and lock Grant Gilchrist were both released from Scotland squad duty to start.
Ospreys named six Wales squad members in their 23 – including Davies at flyhalf – and the No.10 was involved early and often in miserable conditions north of the border.
With the wind at their backs, the Welsh region kicked a lot in the opening stages, little rugby was on show before Weir's penalty put the home side in front.
But the Welsh region responded immediately when a high tackle gave Davies a simple slot from in front and after the first quarter it was 3-3.
And then the first half's one moment of magic arrived as Davies, a replacement for Wales in two of their last three clashes, dummied and skipped through the line before producing a deft back-hand offload to put Matavesi on the cut back under the posts.
It was a sumptuous score on a tough night for running rugby and with the extras the visitors were 10-3 to the good.
And that was how it stayed until the break, although Hodge's side could and should have done more when Damien Hoyland appeared to have a straight line to the corner but cut back inside and the chance was lot on the verge of the interval.
The hosts started the second half on top, even turning down a kickable penalty to try and turn the screw but handling errors and fine Osprey defence – they have conceded the least points in the Pro12 – held firm.
The hour mark came and went and still it remained 10-3 – the hosts also losing the unfortunate Dickinson on his comeback game to a serious-looking ankle injury.
But still the hosts kept coming and another penalty was this time taken for goal and Weir slotted over to trim the lead to only four points just after the hour mark.
Davies provided an immediate response however, smashing over a long range effort of his own to open the lead out again to 13-6 with ten minutes left.
There was still time for late drama though on a pitch that held up well considering the weather but by the end was slippery to say the least.
Weir slotted his third penalty with eight minutes left to make it 13-9 and then a Hoyland break had them back on the front foot before an Anton Bresler knock on relieved the pressure.
And in the end the Ospreys – although they nearly made a hash of kicking the ball into touch in the end – held on for a narrow victory.
Pens: Weir 3
Pens: Davies 2
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Glenn Bryce, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell Du Preez, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Neil Cochrane (captain), 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 Lewis Carmichael, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Junior Rasolea, 23 Michael Allen.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 James King, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Joe Bearman, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Jonathan Spratt, 23 Jay Baker.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Bob Nevins (Scotland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Ulster 19-7 Treviso
Ulster had never achieved four bonus-point victories in a row in the Pro12, and despite pre-match predictions of a comfortable home win, driving rain and standing water proved a levelling factor.
Kicking dominated the opening exchanges as the weather prevented slick handling but the Irish side dug deep to claim a victory over Treviso and move to within striking distance of the Scarlets in fourth-place in the Pro12 table.
In pouring rain, Treviso had the first opportunity to trouble the scoreboard but Tito Tebaldi missed his effort at goal after just two minutes.
Ulster boss Les Kiss was able to welcome back three Ireland internationals, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Jared Payne, into his back line and the injection of class told against Treviso.
After a scrappy start to the game, it was Ulster who finally got their noses in front on the scoreboard.
A touch of class from Payne saw the Irish side touch down for the game's first try after 20 minutes; following a set piece move from the scrum and veteran scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar added the extras.
Ulster dominated territory as the half wore on but difficult conditions meant the Irish team struggled to find a gap in the Italian defence.
After a period of sustained pressure, Ulster should have scored in the final few minutes of the first half but with the tryline gaping, Marcell Coetzee knocked on just two metres out from the Treviso line.
After the break, Treviso were reduced to 14 men on 46 minutes; Italian international Francesco Minto was sin-binned for a mistimed tackle just five metres short of the Italian line.
Ulster opted for the scrum, armed with the numerical advantage, but made a mess of their drive and eventually saw a penalty given against them after Tebaldi was able to get in and disrupt the attack.
Ulster's superior territory was finally rewarded on 52 minutes though, with Sean Reidy diving over for his sixth score of the season.
The try was made possible following a powerful break from Payne in midfield, while the elusive Pienaar was held up just inches short of the line seconds later, before Reidy eventually picked up and went over. South African Pienaar added the extras with a straightforward kick at goal.
Ulster extended their lead further just before the hour mark as the prolific Piutau collected a kick through from centre Stuart Olding to score in the corner.
The effort was referred to the TMO, but it was adjudged Charles Piutau had just kept himself in play; unfortunately Pienaar was unable to add the extras on this occasion.
Treviso ensured they would not end the evening empty-handed as Teofilo Paulo was the beneficiary of a series of close range drives to score a try in front of the posts, diving over a pile of bodies, with Ian McKinley adding the conversion to make the score 19-7.
Ulster desperately tried to score their fourth score of the evening in the final few minutes but stubborn Treviso defence denied the home side.
Tries: Payne, Reidy, Piutau
Cons: Pienaar 2
Ulster: 15 Craig Gilroy, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Peter Nelson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Pete Browne, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
Treviso: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Michael Tagicakibau, 11 Andrea Buondonno, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Santamaria, 17 Romulo Acosta, 18 Matteo Zanusso, 19 Filippo Gerosa, 20 Guglielmo Zanini, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Alberto Sgarbi, 23 Andrea Pratichetti.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Helen O’Reilly (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)