Munster book semifinal spot
PRO12 WRAP: Dave O’Callaghan’s decisive try handed Munster a 22-20 dramatic victory over Irish rivals Ulster and booked their place in the PRO12 play-offs with two games remaining.
Heading into the Thomond Park clash lying second in the table, Munster knew victory would guarantee a top-four spot, while in-form Ulster’s own semifinal hopes were also in the balance as they were level on points with fourth-placed Scarlets.
*In the other matches on Saturday, Cardiff Blues romped to a bonus-point 35-17 win over the Ospreys at Principality Stadium.
*Leinster head coach Leo Cullen took a huge risk to rest his big-name stars but the gamble paid off in style with a hard-fought bonus-point 37-24 win over Connacht.
*Robert Barbieri and Angelo Esposito scored tries either side of half-time as Benetton Treviso leapfrogged Zebre in the PRO12 table thanks to a 21-6 victory over Edinburgh.
*While, it took an an hour for the Scarlets as their struggled to find their best form but a moment of inspiration from Jonathan Davies set them on their way to a 21-16 win over Newport Gwent Dragons.
We look at all the Saturday matches!
Benetton Treviso 21-6 Edinburgh
The Italians were dominant at the set-piece for the majority of the game and No.8 Barbieri scored from the scrum to put the hosts in control at half-time. Eagle-eyed kicking from Ian McKinley also helped Treviso’s cause and Gori made victory certain on the hour mark, while Edinburgh only had two Jason Tovey penalties to show for their efforts.
Glenn Bryce was in the thick of the action early on as the fullback showed a few promising touches, but Treviso stood strong and were particularly resolute in the scrum.
However, a Treviso knock-on deep in their own territory nearly spelt disaster for the hosts – only for Chris Dean to lose control of the ball after picking a good line off Phil Burleigh.
The deadlock was finally broken at the start of the second quarter thanks to Damien Hoyland, whose scything break led to a penalty that Tovey successfully converted.
As soon as that kick went over Treviso hit back off the tee through McKinley, and the flyhalf put one through the posts again as the home side continued to assert themselves at scrum time.
Indeed the momentum had well and truly swung the Italians’ way, forcing Hamish Watson to ground the ball over his own line just past the half-hour mark.
And a try was perhaps inevitable given their superiority at the set-piece – Barbieri picked up the ball from the base of the scrum before piling over the whitewash.
McKinley’s conversion made it 13-3 and the Treviso train showed no signs of slowing down after the break as the Irishman added another three-pointer upon the restart.
It could have been worse for Edinburgh after Treviso booted a penalty to the corner following a high tackle, but they eventually cleared their lines.
Burleigh nearly found the inspiration that the away side needed as he found a gap through Treviso’s stout defence, but the final offload was intercepted.
There was no doubt Edinburgh were gathering momentum however and they got their rewards for a spell of pressure through a second successful Tovey penalty.
But Esposito struck a hammer blow for Treviso after quick hands put him through into the corner, and though McKinley missed the conversion, they had a healthy 21-6 lead on the hour mark.
Try as they might, Edinburgh, who have now lost eight on the spin in the PRO12, could not find a way through.
Luca Sperandio nearly added another try for Treviso at the death, but he failed to ground the ball over the line.
Tries: Barbieri, Esposito
Pens: McKinley 3
Pens: Tovey 2
Treviso: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto Porolli, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Jean-Francois Montauriol, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, Tito Tebaldi, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliami Fihaki, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (captain) 1 Murray McCallum.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Cardiff Blues 35-17 Ospreys
In the first of two matches in the Welsh capital, Cardiff were in inspired form, running in five tries to hand the Ospreys their first-ever defeat on Judgement Day.
Having lost three straight games in all competitions, including heartbreaking defeats to Stade Français in Europe and then Leinster last weekend, the Ospreys needed a response against their regional rivals.
Instead it was the Blues who dominated proceedings in the opening half at Principality Stadium, racing into a 21-3 half-time lead.
Kristian Dacey got the ball rolling just six minutes in, and while Sam Davies got the Ospreys on the board with a penalty, further tries from two Williams, Lloyd then Nick, put Cardiff in complete control.
Blues’ dominance continued at the start of the second half as Tau Filise secured their bonus point with a fourth try from close range before Gareth Anscombe ran in number five as things unravelled for the Ospreys.
The Ospreys mounted something of a late fightback with tries from Dan Evans and Paul James but it was too little too late on a tough afternoon.
The Blues gave notice of their intentions from the opening minutes, with Rhun Williams breaking down the left only for a loose pass to put paid to that opportunity.
They didn’t have to wait long for the first try though, Dacey spotting a lack of blindside cover off a maul and peeling off to go over unopposed.
Davies cut the deficit to four with a penalty after Cardiff failed to roll away at a breakdown but that good work was undone immediately.
A knock-on from the restart got Cardiff back on the front foot and after an initial charge from Alex Cuthbert, Lloyd Williams was able to snipe over.
Anscombe converted again and soon after he was almost in for a try, just held up by Rhys Webb. It was only temporary respite for the Ospreys though as Nick Williams proved unstoppable from close range at the resulting scrum.
Trailing 21-3 the Ospreys needed a spark and they were given a lifeline when Cuthbert was sin-binned for taking out Evans in the air just before the half-hour.
That led to a long period of Ospreys possession but they could not do anything with it and the Blues survived until half-time.
Any hopes of an Ospreys comeback were then killed off at the start of the second half with Filise crashing over from close range after Cuthbert’s initial burst.
Two minutes later and they were in again, Willis Halaholo’s little grubber through bouncing up and Anscombe getting the better of Wales flyhalf rival Davies to collect and stroll over. His conversion made it a scarcely believable 35-3 with Cardiff in dreamland.
On the hour the Ospreys finally got their first try, Evans crossing after some great hands from forwards and backs while Anscombe was sin-binned for going offside in the build-up. Davies converted with a drop kick as the Ospreys tried to mount an unlikely comeback.
They followed that up with a score from James, again from close range and again converted quickly by Davies to cut the deficit to make it 35-17 but that was as good as it got for them.
With games against their play-off rivals Ulster and Scarlets to close out the season, the Ospreys still have their destiny in their own hands. But following this loss they have two weeks to find their form or risk missing out on the top four altogether.
Tries: Dacey, L Williams, N Williams, Filise, Anscombe
Cons: Anscombe 5
Tries: Evans, James
Cons: Davies 2
Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Rhun Williams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Gethin Jenkins (captain), 7 Kristian Dacey, 6 Taufa’ao Filise, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Josh Navidi, 2 Ellis Jenkins, 1 Nick Williams.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 James Down, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Aled Summerhill.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Tyler Ardron, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Luke Price, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Connacht 24-37 Leinster
The away victory guarantees a prized home semifinal in the quest to go one better this season.
However, they certainly did not have it all their own way in an entertaining encounter that remained close until the screw was turned mid-way through the second half.
Craig Ronaldson put Connacht ahead with a well-threaded penalty after less than a minute before the visitors rallied from their early slumber.
Two tries in just four minutes was an impressive signal of intent with Zane Zirchner followed over the line by Adam Bryne who picked off a pass and ran it in, Ross Bryne then providing the extras.
Connacht are stranded in mid-table but they still had plenty of spirit for the fight at the Galway Sportsground – until their rivals proved just too strong in the closing stages.
Ronaldson converted a Danie Poolman try and notched another three penalties before the break while Rory O’Loughlin grabbed Leinster’s second score, Luke McGrath’s break splitting the hosts apart before the left wing finished.
However, the half-time score of 19-20 was a fair reflection of a clash in which any result had long looked possible.
After the restart the hosts briefly took control, Dave Heffernan taking advantage as the ball was spread wide to break the Leinster rearguard.
However, Leinster aren’t odds-on favourites to win a record fifth PRO12 title – and their first since 2014 – without a good reason.
And they hit back with 17 unanswered points to claim the victory.
Just three minutes after Heffernan’s score, Rhys Ruddock finished from close range to bank the bonus point.
Byrne converted the extras with ease and then performed the same task after Barry Daly’s try had put the match beyond reach.
Byrne then completed his ten point contribution with his second penalty in the closing stages.
Tries: Poolman, Heffernan
Pens: Ronaldson 4
Tries: Kirchner, A Byrne, O’Loughlin, Ruddock, Daly
Con: R Byrne 3
Pens: R Byrne 2
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Mike Ross, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Barry Daly.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Davies (Wales), Joy Neville (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Munster 22-20 Ulster
Rory Best and Angus Lloyd traded early tries but an otherwise cagey first half saw the sides head to the dressing room locked at 10-10.
However, an enthralling second period saw the momentum swing back and forth – the lead changed hands on four occasions – before Munster eventually prevailed to preserve their record of just one loss in any competition since mid-December.
An early second-half penalty put Ulster ahead, before the impressive Keith Earls’ try made it advantage Munster, Luke Marshall then restored the visitors’ lead but O’Callaghan found the try-line late on and Tyler Bleyendaal nailed the conversion for the win.
It ends Ulster’s unbeaten PRO12 streak at seven games but Munster know haven’t lost to their interprovincial rivals in the last six encounters.
A frantic start at Thomond Park saw the sides level at 7-7 with only six minutes played. Firstly, Ulster produced an inexorable driving maul from which Best benefitted – bundling his way over.
Paddy Jackson added the conversion but the hosts were soon level as Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony made the initial burst and Lloyd darted over against the side he is on loan from, Ian Keatley nailing the extras.
An offside then gave Jackson the chance to slot a 13th-minute penalty, which he duly did, as the visitors continued to control the territory.
That domination led to another penalty following a high tackle but Ireland flyhalf Jackson missed the chance to extend the advantage, as his kick drifted wide.
Munster finally began to get a foothold in the lead up to half-time and when Ulster pulled a scrum down in their own 22, Keatley made no mistake from the tee.
Things could have got even better for Rassie Erasmus’ men before the break but Andrew Conway was held up over the line.
Ulster’s leading try-scorer this term, Jacob Stockdale, thought he had given his side the lead early in the second period when he went over the whitewash but the try was ruled out for a forward pass in the build-up.
They settled for a 52nd-minute three-pointer for Jackson after the Munstermen were penalised at the breakdown to edge 13-10 ahead but, with an hour played, Earls got his try.
Francis Saili showed off his lightning feet in the build-up and a sweeping right to left move put the 2009 British & Irish Lion over in the corner.
Bleyendaal narrowly failed to add the conversion and Munster’s lead lasted all of three minutes – Jackson sublimely slipping in Marshall for the score and slotting the extras for a 20-15 advantage with a quarter of an hour remaining.
But Erasmus’ troops have proved time and again this year – both in the PRO12 and in Europe – that they are a force to be reckoned with, and re-took the lead on 69 minutes.
They kicked to the corner from a penalty in the Ulstermen’s 22 and steadily marched a driving maul up to the line before several phases of pressure eventually saw O’Callaghan bundle his way over.
Bleyendaal held his nerve with the conversion and some resilient late defence denied the visitors to seal Munster’s place in the play-offs.
Tries: Lloyd, Earls, O'Callaghan
Cons: Keatley, Bleyendaal
Tries: Best, Marshall
Cons: Jackson 2
Pens: Jackson 2
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls; 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kiloyne.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave O’Callaghan, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Andrew Conway.
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Andrew Trimble (captain), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Alan O'Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart McCloskey, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Emmanuele Tomò (Italy), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)
Newport Gwent Dragons 16-21 Scarlets
Scarlets were outplayed in the first 40 minutes, trailing 3-6 at the break.
They got back to 6-6 but it was only after a Davies break on the hour, leading to a sin-bin for Adam Hughes, that they really took control.
Davies got the first try two minutes later and Liam Williams, who had also taken over the kicking duties, followed suit to finally put the Dragons to bed, although Hughes did cross with the final play for a deserved losing bonus point.
The win pushes the Scarlets up third in the PRO12 table, and with the two teams behind them, Ospreys and Ulster, meeting in a fortnight, a win at Connacht next time out will likely see them into the play-offs.
It took until the final quarter for that to change, but the Scarlets will not mind as they secured the all-important four points.
While Wayne Pivac’s side had the better of the opening exchanges they could not turn that into points, and instead it was Angus O’Brien who thrived on his 50th appearance for the Dragons.
Two penalties from virtually the same spot in the space of two minutes gave the Dragons a 6-0 lead, and it was deserved with the Scarlets choosing to kick the ball away rather than counter-attack.
The Scarlets did respond with a penalty of their own on 26 minutes, Dan Jones slotting the three points after Rhys Buckley was penalised for a no-arms tackle.
But it was the Dragons who finished the half the stronger, and they will have been frustrated at their inability to convert their chances when a rolling maul was stopped over the line before another attempt ended with a knock-on.
Trailing by three the Scarlets made a better start to the second half and they levelled things up on 50 minutes with a Jones penalty.
However the Scarlets were not firing, one penalty kicked dead by Liam Williams soon after indicative of their struggles.
They needed a spark and they got one with a brilliant break by Davies who found Steff Evans in support. He was tackled by Hughes but the Dragons winger failed to release in the tackle and was sin-binned as a result.
The Scarlets sensed it was their moment to strike and they did just that. First Scott Williams was stopped just short but the Dragons were caught offside and the Scarlets took the penalty quickly to put Davies over. Liam Williams had surprisingly taken over kicking duties, and converted from out wide with the help of the post.
The Dragons weren’t about to fold however, hitting straight back with a third O’Brien penalty to trail by four with 15 minutes remaining.
However Liam Williams proved his equal with a penalty from 35 metres out, after a breakdown infringement, to push the lead back to seven.
And he followed that up with a try of his own, finishing on the right after being put into space to wrap up the victory.
They still had time to chase an improbable bonus point, with DTH Van der Merwe looking set to run in try number three when he broke through but Hughes produced a brilliant tackle to stop him.
And it was Hughes who had the final say finishing off a fantastic counter from the Dragons as they at least got one try for their efforts.
Pens: O'Brien 3
Tries: Davies, L Williams
Con: L Williams
Pens: Jones 2, L Williams
Yellow Card: Hughes (Newport Dragons, 58)
Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Sam Beard, 11 Adam Warren, 10 Angus O'Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Rhys Buckley, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 17 Phil Price, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Ashley Sweet, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Dorian Jones, 22 Tom Prydie, 23 Jack Dixon.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny Mcnicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Tom Price, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Sean Brickell (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)