Scarlets book their spot in semis
PRO12 SATURDAY WRAP: Scarlets confirmed their place in the PRO12 top four with a 30-8 win against Connacht in Galway.
Four first-half tries saw Scarlets wrap up the game by the break, as the Welsh side produced some exhilarating rugby to down the defending champions 30-8.
Meanwhile, Ospreys closed in on a PRO12 semi-final spot with a convincing 24-10 victory over Ulster at the Liberty Stadium in Round 21.
The Welsh side went five points clear of their rivals in the league standings after first-half tries from Tom Habberfield and Tyler Ardron was followed up by a robust second-half defensive display.
Replacement Brendon Leonard added Osprey’s third as they went in search of a bonus point but Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale responded in the dying minutes for the visitors but the damage was done.
In the other match of the day, Munster finished strongly in Italy to secure a 34-14 bonus-point win that keeps the pressure on Leinster in the battle for top spot in the PRO12.
We take a look at all the action!
Ospreys 24-10 Ulster
Ulster put pressure on the hosts from the off but Ospreys exited well, led by flyhalf Dan Biggar, as they probed deep into Ulster territory.
With just seven minutes gone, the ball squirted out the back of a scrum in the Ulster 22.
Rhys Webb was on hand to pass to centre Ashley Beck who delivered a masterful offload around the back of Ulsterman Stuart McCloskey to wing Tom Habberfield who raced away into the corner for the opening score. Biggar added the extras from the touch line.
But Ulster – fighting for a top-four place themselves – responded with some powerful running from Charles Piutau and Craig Gilroy with captain Rory Best taking a superb offload to bust through a tackle close to the Ospreys line.
The Irish province were thwarted by a superb steal from flank Justin Tipuric who arrived at the breakdown before any other player.
The visitors continued to probe and were award a penalty soon after, flyhalf Paddy Jackson slotted from 40 metres to put his side on the board after 20 minutes.
Ospreys continued to edge possession in a game where both sides were visibly tense with a lot riding on the result, Biggar eased Ospreys’ nerves when he landed a long penalty to restore their seven-point lead.
Moments before the break, Ospreys threatened the line after a superb break from centre Kieron Fonotia, the ball was recycled and Biggar’s long pass to Keelan Giles was almost intercepted by Luke Marshall only for the ball to go into touch.
On the stroke of half-time Ospreys were finally rewarded for their sustained pressure.
Fullback Dan Evans collected a long clearance and sliced through the Ulster defence at speed. He left Gilroy stranded as he passed to Habberfield who in turn found supporting lock Ardron who dived over under the sticks – Biggar slotted the conversion for a 17-3 lead at the break.
The Ulstermen piled on the pressure after the break but the Ospreys defence stood firm during waves of attack on their own line and were rewarded with a turnover which deflated the Irish side.
With a quarter of an hour to play, Ulster knew they had to act quickly to keep their semifinal prospects alive.
Replacement Stockdale collected the ball on the wing – he fended Giles and beat Fonotia to come up just inches short of the line.
Minutes later, the Irish side had a perfect attacking opportunity from a scrum but their passes just couldn’t stick and they gifted possession back to the Ospreys.
And the Welsh side punished the visitors for their errors with replacement Leonard scooting over for Ospreys’ third try with five minutes to play.
Straight from the restart, Stockdale found a dog leg in the Ospreys line to hit back immediately and set up a grandstand finish with both sides seeking a bonus point.
But replacement Sam Davies bravely collected a bouncing ball with Gilroy bearing down on him to see Ospreys home.
Ulster now rely on other results to go their way to have any hope of qualifying for the semifinals.
Tries: Habberfield, Ardron, Leonard
Cons: Biggar 3
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Habberfield, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Underhill, 5 Tyler Ardron, 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 Dan Baker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Josh Matavesi.
Ulster: 15 Craig Gilroy, 14 Andrew Trimble (captain), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Treviso 14-34 Munster
Darren Sweetnam and Simon Zebo crossed for Munster in a scrappy first-half display laced with errors.
Treviso’s David Odiete responded for the hosts in the second half, Munster burst into life scoring two quick-fire tries courtesy of Alex Wootton and Jack O’Donoghue to seal the win.
Sweetnam completed the Italian job adding his second late on to add some gloss to the scoreline in a tough battle in Italy but Treviso had time to respond with their second try in the final play.
It was a scrappy opening quarter at the Stadio Monigo with neither side able to dominate proceedings from the off.
Flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal – captain for the day after Billy Holland injured himself in the warm-up – kept the Italian outfit pinned in their own half but the visitors regularly coughed up possession.
The breakthrough came after 20 minutes when hooker Rhys Marshall broke the line and chipped over the Treviso defence, the bouncing ball popped up kindly for the supporting Donnacha Ryan who was stopped short of the line.
A few phases later, Munster made the most of numbers out wide and wing Darren Sweetnam dotted down in the corner to open the scoring in Italy.
Minutes later, Munster powered their way up to the Treviso 22 and, just when they were starting to be pushed back by the Italian side, Bleyendaal put Zebo through a gap and the Irish fullback raced away to score with the Kiwi flyhalf adding the extras.
And on the stroke of half-time, Bleyendaal was again on hand to extend Munster’s lead to 15 points after the men in red won a penalty at the lineout.
The hosts rallied shortly after the break but a smart line break was followed up by a superb covering tackle by Zebo to keep the Italians out.
But Treviso fullback Odiete found a way through the red wall to put the Italian side on the board – flyhalf Ian McKinley adding the extras.
The game became tense and neither side dominated possession in the 15 minutes that followed until Bleyendaal found good field position and Munster went direct.
A series of pick and goes shattered the Treviso ruck defence and tied in the Italian defenders, Francis Saili found replacement Wootton who crossed the whitewash in the corner – Bleyendaal failed to convert from a tight angle.
And No.8 O’Donoghue sealed the win as he scored Munster’s fourth try to ensure the men in red would return to Limerick with all five points.
O’Donoghue showed his power by handing off a Treviso defender and breaking away for the score to put Munster out of sight, Bleyendaal’s conversion put the Irish outfit 27-7 ahead.
And Sweetnam added his second in the last ten minutes when he arrived first to dive over the line having chased down his own kick.
But Treviso had the final say when replacement Jean-Francois Montauriol burrowed over in the last play.
Tries: Odieta, Montuariol
Cons: McKinley, Tebaldi
Tries:Sweetnam 2, Zebo, Wootton, O'Donoghue
Cons: Bleyendaal 3
Treviso: 15 David Odiete, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 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, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Andrea Pratichetti.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Darren O’Shea, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Brian Scott, 18 Rory Burke, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Alex Wootton.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Connacht 8-30 Scarlets
Connacht tightened up in the second half and scored a try of their own, but it was not enough to prevent the Scarlets from winning their 16th game of the league campaign.
The defeat leaves Connacht in eighth ahead of their final-day visit to Munster.
Scarlets welcomed back flyhalf Rhys Patchell and flank Aaron Shingler – with Wales duo Scott Williams and Gareth Davies dropping out.
Connacht made ten changes, with Darragh Leader starting on the right wing for the first time in 18 months.
But it was the Scarlets who flew out of the blocks, with a superb move down the left-hand side resulting in fullback Johnny McNicholl bursting through to score within three minutes.
Patchell landed the conversion, and Connacht immediately knew they were up against it.
A strong line-out in the Scarlets half pushed Connacht up the field, and their pressure resulted in a successful Marnitz Boshoff penalty.
But the Scarlets are so dangerous with ball in hand and they went up the other end to score their second try minutes later.
Winger Steffan Evans made a neat dummy run, and he sprinted clear to touch down and deflate the home crowd.
Connacht powered forward, trying to find a way back into the game but the Scarlets defence remained strong – while Boshoff sent his second penalty attempt sailing wide.
And the Welsh side scored again shortly after as Evans ghosted over in the left corner, before Liam Williams secured the bonus point minutes before the break.
Connacht made some changes at half time, and they were rewarded just before the hour mark as Craig Ronaldson crossed in the left corner following multiple drives.
That instilled confidence in the hosts, as they pinned Scarlets back with some accurate kicks from hand and neat passing.
But Scarlets rounded the night off in style, as replacement DTH van der Merwe crossed for their fifth try of the game.
Tries: McNichol, Evans 2, Williams, Van Der Merwe
Cons: Patchell 4
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne (captain), 4 James Cannon, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Finlay Bealham.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 John Muldoon, 21 John Cooney, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Danie Poolman.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 John Barclay, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Helen O'Reilly (Ireland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)