The defending champions Leinster, remained the only unbeaten side in the Guinness Pro 14 but failed to become the first side to register a full-house of 20 points when they ground out a victory over Zebre while the Toyota Cheetahs suffered a straight red card against Connacht.
Leinster equalled the lowest score in the Pro 14 when they edged out Zebre 3-0 at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Italy on Saturday evening. Flyhalf Ross Byrne was the only person to register his name on the scoreboard with a 19th minute penalty which earned his side four logs points. The victory though, moved Leinster top of Conference A with 19 points, three ahead of the Toyota Cheetahs, who went down narrowly to Connacht.
The Cheetahs’ discipline let them down at the Sportsground with centre Dries Swanepoel being shown a straight red card in the 70th minute with the visitors leading 22-14. But the Irish hosts ran in two unconverted tries, the second of which came after the hooter had sounded, to clinch five log points and hand new Cheetahs coach, Hawies Fourie, an unpleasant start.
The Cheetahs were looking good for their fourth straight victory after Joseph Dwaba, Rhyno Smith and Clayton Blommetjies had crossed the whitewash but replacement centre Thomas Farrell’s double strike at the death, along with Niyi Adeolokun and Kieran Marmion’s tries, ended the Cheetahs’ unbeaten run and maintain their lead at the top of Conference B.
Munster kept up the pressure on Connacht in Conference B with an excellent 28-12 victory over Ospreys at Irish Independent Park, bagging four tries for a full-house of five log points. Ospreys could only manage four penalties through flyhalf Luke Price, who landed a brace in each half.
The teams headed into the break, separated by just a single point after scrumhalf Neil Cronin scored the opening try, converted by flyhalf Tyler Blyendaal against Price’s penalties. But the Munster took control of the second stanza with two tries through hooker Rhys Marshall and fullback Mike Haley with Ospreys down to 14 men, thanks to a yellow card shown to flanker Sam Cross.
But the home side made sure of the win and the bonus point when replacement back-rower Arno Botha crossed the whitewash on the stroke of full time to keep Ospreys just one place off the bottom of Conference A.
Wet conditions in Wales saw the home side, Dragons, overcome their Scottish rivals, Glasgow Warriors 18-5 with the Welsh side scoring two tries to the single late score from the visitors. The homes side led 6-0 at the break thanks to two penalties from flyhalf Sam Davies before tries from flanker Taine Basham and wing Ashton Hewitt opened up an 18 point lead 10 minutes after the restart.
Former Stormers centre Huw Jones rounded off the game for the Warriors, dotting down on the stroke of full time but the game had already been won, keeping the Dragons ahead of their Scottish rivals in Conference A.
The Isuzu Southern Kings remained without a victory in Conference B as they went down 30-36 to Benetton at the Stadio Monigo despite fighting back from 36-9 down in the second half. The home side, who picked up their first victory of the campaign, outscored the South African visitors five tries to three to secure a full house of five log points to move ahead of the Cardiff Blues, who went down against Ulster.
Tries from wing Angelo Esposito and flyhalf Ian Keatley gave the Italians a 15-9 lead at the break, with the Kings’ flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis landing three penalties. But three more tries in 20 minutes from Iliesa Tavuyara, Nacho Brex and Federico Ruzza seemingly put the home side out of site, 27 points clear with just 18 minutes remaining on the clock.
However, the brave Kings fought back with tries from Rossouw de Klerk, Christopher Hollis and Bobby de Wee to come within a score of clinching the game but ultimately ran out of time, leaving the Kings languishing bottom of Conference B on two points.
Ulster closed to within a point of the Cheetahs with a 23-14 victory over the Cardiff Blues at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday and despite both sides scoring a brace of tries, it was the boot of scrumhalf John Cooney that made the difference.
Cooney landed both conversions as well as three penalties for a personal haul of 13 points with wing Luke Marshall and flyhalf Billy Burns scoring tries for the Irish home side. For the visitors, wing Aled Summerville and flanker Will Boyde crossed the whitewash with flyhalf Jarrod Evans landing both conversions.
Marshall and Burns both crossed for Ulster in the first period which gave the home side a comfortable 17-0 lead at the break but the visitors brought the game to life in the second stanza with Summerviller and Boyde crossing the line to bring the Blues to within six points heading into the final quarter. But Cooney landed his third penalty goal on 63 minutes to extend the lead which remain as such until the final whistle.
In the final game of the weekend, Edinburgh produced a dominant display of rugby to crush the Llalelli Scarlets 46-7 after leading 26-0 at the break. A hat-trick of tries from wing Duhan van der Merwe along with a brace from hooker Mike Willemse and tries from centre Mark Bennet and wing Eroni Sau, gave the Scottish side five log points which moved them above the previously unbeaten Scarlets.
The Scarlets managed their solitary score through replacement hooker Marc Jones, converted by Dan Jones midway through the second stanza, but Edinburgh, who were already 29 points to the good, rubbed salt into the Welsh side’s wounds three late tries, two of which came in the final five minutes of the match to seal a memorable victory for the Scottish team.
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