A magic fixture and a bumper crowd
Leo Cullen says there was something for everyone in a “magic fixture” as his Leinster team beat champions Munster 21-16 at a packed Aviva Stadium.
A crowd of 49,246 turned out in Dublin to see Cullen’s charges gain revenge for last season’s play-off semi-final defeat to their arch rivals at the same venue.
Winger Jordan Larmour produced a fine finish to claim what proved to be the decisive score 15 minutes from time in a keenly fought contest.
Head coach Cullen commented: “It had a bit of everything, with two teams going flat out at it. The supporters want to see that, don’t they?
“We are very thankful for all the people that came out to support us.”
Leinster flanker Jack Conan, who was named Player of the Match, added: “It was great to be back in front of a full house. Everyone lent their voice and it felt incredible.
“It was good to get the win. It was incredibly physical out there. Munster kept it on for 80 minutes and put it up to us.”
Next up for Leinster now is another Irish derby against Connacht out in Galway.
“We know how tough it is down the Sportsground,” said Cullen.
“It will be a great occasion. It’s such a great celebration of Irish rugby.
“This was a magic fixture and next week will be a magic fixture as well. It’s what you want to see.”
Striking a cautionary note, Conan concluded: “We were really good in parts, but really indisciplined and scrappy at times.
“We were nowhere near our best. We have got to be miles better for the games we’ve got coming up, with Connacht next week and then into Europe. Bits were good, but we need to be way better.”
As for Connacht, they went down to a 53-27 defeat to the Vodacom Bulls at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld, as they were outscored by seven tries to three.
The three games in South Africa all resulted in high-scoring home wins, with the Emirates Lions beating Zebre Parma 61-19 in Johannesburg, while the Hollywoodbets Sharks ran in 10 tries in Durban as they inflicted a record 69-14 defeat on the Dragons to finally claim their first victory of the season.
But the DHL Stormers endured yet more misery on the road as they lost 31-24 to Cardiff at the Arms Park to make it four defeats from four matches on their European tour.
Replacement prop Rhys Litterick was Cardiff’s hero with a match-winning try in the final play as they claimed their first league win at the famous old ground since February.
Glasgow hit top spot
Another week and another new league leader, with Glasgow Warriors moving top of the table courtesy of a 33-20 bonus point victory over Ulster at Scotstoun.
That had looked an unlikely result when the visitors went 14-0 up after just 11 minutes through tries from Tom Stewart and John Cooney.
But Glasgow were back level by the break and then moved clear in the second half with replacement hooker Johnny Matthews touching down twice to confirm his status as the league’s top try-scorer this season with seven.
The Player of the Match award went to Scotland centre Sione Tuipulotu who was understandably delighted.
“We kind of messed up the first 20 minutes and went down 14-0, but that’s something that was good for us to go through,” he said.
“We just kept saying to stay in it. We managed to fight back and wrestle back momentum, so I am proud of the boys.
“It’s awesome to play in front of our home crowd. They packed it out and we just want them to keep showing up for us and hopefully we can keep winning.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s meeting with Munster in Cork, he said: “It’s a massive challenge away against last season’s champions. It’s a very tough task, but to win against a quality side like Ulster is encouraging.”
Booth’s derby day delight
Ospreys coach Toby Booth was “absolutely delighted” with the way his players responded to a spot of stick from him to claim a 31-9 bonus point victory over the Scarlets in the west Wales derby.
Booth had been disappointed with the performance in the 20-5 defeat away to the Dragons in Round 5 and made his feelings known.
But he was in a very different mood following Sunday afternoon’s triumph at the Swansea.com Stadium which saw two tries for centre Keiran Williams, with No 8 Morgan Morris and debutant fly-half Dan Edwards also crossing.
“I’m absolutely delighted. West Wales derbies are really important, everyone knows that,” he said.
“When the fixtures come out in pre-season, it’s the first thing everyone looks for and it’s at the forefront of everyone’s conversation every time it comes around. It just can’t be replicated by other things.
“So to win that is great and the manner of it was very pleasing, especially coming off the back of a disappointing result.
“They took a bit of stick from me in the week and to see us bounce back was really pleasing.”
Try-scoring skipper Morris commented: “It’s massive for me to lead the side, especially on a big derby day with all the fans here.
“I’ll be honest, it’s quite easy when you’ve got people like Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake, Adam Beard and Owen Watkin in the team because they are doing my job for me. I’m just the guy that speaks to the ref!”
He added: “Our front five was unbelievable. We know when we bring it, we can really turn on the physicality.”
It’s a result that leaves the Scarlets bottom of the BKT URC table after just one win from their opening six matches.
Their head coach Dwayne Peel said: “I thought the Ospreys were very good at the breakdown area. They caused a lot of issues for us and turned a lot of ball over.
“Our ball toughness wasn’t good enough. The likes of Jac Morgan and Morgan Morris made a right hash of our breakdown, so that’s an area we have to fix moving into next week.
“They got on top of us at set-piece in the second half and their maul and scrum was very strong.”
Game of the weekend
Cardiff Rugby 31, DHL Stormers 24
Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt summed it up perfectly.
“We are definitely giving the fans’ their money’s worth. No-one is leaving early, that’s for sure,” he said.
That’s certainly true, with everyone at the Arms Park having been on the edge of their seats right up to the final play, which brought a match-winning try for replacement prop Rhys Litterick deep into stoppage time.
It was all the sweeter for Cardiff after so many near misses this season, with every one of their games having gone down to the wire.
“It’s a lot nicer than the last three weeks, that’s for sure,” said Sherratt.
“I’m not sure what it’s doing for my health - I was under the desk at the end - but I’m pleased for the players.
“I had been saying to them, ‘Boys, if we keep in the fight, we will get a bit of luck and we will get one’ - and we have got one.”
That had seemed pretty unlikely when the DHL Stormers raced into a 14-0 lead after just 12 minutes with tries from hooker Andre-Hugo Venter and centre Ruhan Nel.
But Sheratt’s charges responded with replacement wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb and hooker Liam Belcher touching down to cut the half-time deficit to 17-14.
The DHL Stormers surged further ahead again when Nel claimed his second, but back came the hosts once more, with outstanding wing Mason Grady powering over off a lineout set-move.
Four minutes from time, with the scores level, the visitors were reduced to 14 men when Connor Evans was yellow carded and you could sense the belief growing within a Cardiff side packed with youngsters.
Then came the thrilling finale, with Litterick’s close-range effort confirmed after a lengthy TMO deliberation to signal scenes of wild delight both on and off the pitch.
“Rhys said that’s his first try since U11s. What a way to get it!” said Sherratt.
What a way indeed.
Player of the weekend
Marco Zanon (Benetton Rugby)
The international centre scored two tries as Benetton turned around a 19-10 half-time deficit to claim a notable 24-22 victory away to Edinburgh.
He showed real strength and determination for his first - skittling three defenders out of his path - and then opportunism for his second as he pounced on a loose ball.
“In my mind, I say to myself never give up, put pressure on and the chance will come and I take it,” said the 26-year-old from Vincenza.
“I am so happy and so proud of the team. We worked so hard.”
There was good reason to be happy because it was Benetton’s first league win in Scotland since 2017.
Quote of the weekend
DHL Stormers coach John Dobson after his team’s 31-24 defeat to Cardiff Rugby at the Arms Park:
“I didn’t expect us to play like that, I must say. That wasn’t a pleasant experience. We were extremely poor.
“It was by far our worst performance on this trip. It was a very disappointing way to finish a disappointing tour.”
What’s coming up next weekend in the BKT URC?
It’s the final round of matches before the break for Europe and there are some real humdingers to look forward to.
New league leaders Glasgow Warriors travel to Cork to take on reigning champions Munster on Friday night, while second-placed Leinster are out in Galway for an all-Irish clash with Connacht the following evening.
There are further derbies in Wales, where Cardiff entertain the Scarlets at the Arms Park, and in South Africa as the Vodacom Bulls host the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Pretoria.
Elsewhere, Ulster face Edinburgh in Belfast and Benetton welcome the Ospreys to Treviso, while the Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers are home to Dragons RFC and Zebre Parma respectively.