With only one round of the Pro 12 to go before the European competitions commence, both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh welcomed back the majority of their Rugby World cup contingent in an effort to bring them fully up to speed before facing French opposition next weekend, in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup respectively.
Cardiff Blues 30-35 Glasgow Warriors
Gregor Townsend was able to welcome back a whole host of his international players, including Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Josh Strauss, for the trip to the Arms Park on Saturday to take on a Blues side struggling for confidence after an embarrassing defeat to Zebre last weekend.
The strong wind favoured the home side in the opening quarter with stand-off Rhys Patchell able to slot three penalties to Finn Russell’s one to put his side ahead as the Warriors’ kicking game seemed to aid the Blues’ attacking threat, such was the extent of the blustery conditions.
After falling further behind thanks to Gavin Evans’ try in the corner, the Warriors responded through man of the match Leone Nakarawa, who used all of his 6ft 5in frame to stretch over the line, NFL-style, to reduce the arrears, whilst winger Taqele Naiyaravoro once again touched down for his new side just before the break after a scintillating break from Tommy Seymour.
Townsend and his coaching team would have been hugely frustrated with their side’s discipline which almost cost them the game and will be a major concern heading into Europe in the coming weeks.
“There are a number of aspects we need to improve on and there will be a lot of coaching points that we can take out of this game and things we need to focus on this week,” the Warriors coach stated afterwards, referring to the huge penalty count in the Blues’ favour, and the two second half yellow cards for Hogg and replacement forward Ryan Wilson at crucial periods in the contest.
“We always review the penalties we concede and there are plenty to look at this time. When you give away 19 (penalties) along with the two yellows, you have to ask questions,” he continued, highlighting his side’s worryingly uncharacteristic disciplinary record so far this term.
Instead of being hindered by the first sin-binning however, Ryan Wilson’s yellow card for a collective team offence actually buoyed the reigning champions and they ran in two close-range tries from Ryan Grant and captain Jonny Gray to take control of proceedings and despite Hogg’s late yellow card for deliberately thwarting a Cardiff effort which yielded a penalty try, the Scots held on for another bonus-point victory.
The victory, and the five point haul that came with it, propels Glasgow back into the top half of the Pro 12 table and they now head into their European campaign on the back of two bonus-point wins and crucially, their top players now have a full 80 minutes under their belts.
Edinburgh 14-16 Munster
Alan Solomons’ side came mightily close to recording a famous home win over former champions Munster, but were thwarted by the Murrayfield posts as Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s conversion attempt came back off the uprights leaving them two points adrift of the Irish heavyweights.
After winning their opening four Pro 12 fixtures, the capital side have now lost three in a row which will be a major concern heading into their Challenge Cup fixtures against FC Genoble and Agen.
Munster, all in black, started strongly and grabbed an early try through John Ryan who took advantage of the weak home defence to touch down and Ian Keatley’s conversion gave them a seven point lead.
Edinburgh, who were able to welcome back the likes of Matt Scott, WP Nel, Ross Ford and Alasdair Dickinson to their starting line-up, were much improved in the second half and clawed their way back into the contest through their scrum-half’s left boot and then took the lead through their huge Tongan centre Will Helu who finished off a sweeping side-to-side move to cross.
Solomons will see this as one that got away from his side, and in truth they were unlucky not to come away with at least two points from Saturday’s match but hooker Ford’s costly concession of a kickable penalty from under the shadows of his own posts, coupled with the return of Munster’s Francis Saili from the sin-bin, swung momentum in the Limerick side’s favour.
“There is no question about that – we should have won this game,” Solomons sighed afterwards.
“We’ve got to look at ourselves and we’ve got to make sure those fine margins fall on our side,” he continued, obviously frustrated at the results over the past three weeks.
Edinburgh know full well that they’re expected to qualify for the knock-out stages of the upcoming Challenge Cup having narrowly lost in the final last season, but they’ll need to sharpen up in the coming fortnight or it could all unravel for them before the Pro 12 resumes at the end of the month.
Elsewhere in the Guinness Pro 12:
Leinster edged form side the Scarlets in a tense battle at the RDS on Friday night with the Dubliners claiming a 19-15 win, whilst over in GalwayConnacht moved to the top of the table with an emphatic 33-19 win over Treviso.
Ospreys bounced back from last week’s defeat at Scotstoun to thump Zebre 36-3 at the Liberty Stadium whilst in Sunday’s clash Ulster came away from Rodney Parade with a narrow 12-19 win over the Newport Gwent Dragons.
The European Champions Cup and Challenge cup get underway next weekend when Glasgow Warriors travel to Paris to take on the star-studded Racing 92 whilst Edinburgh also face French opposition in the form of FC Grenoble at BT Murrayfield.