Four for Four for Irish Provinces but Injury headaches for Joe Schmidt

I pick out the main talking points from the European action as Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht all secured victories.

Leinster remind Toulouse of the path ahead

Toulouse entered their clash with Leinster on the back of 12 successive victories and on top of their Champions Cup pool. For 40 minutes the RDS was home to a slugfest, one which closely resembled an international game. Leinster however are an 80 minute side and they had too much for their French counterparts. This was a stark reminder that although Toulouse have improved they are still not on the level to compete with the best in the competition. With Johnny Sexton and other internationals to return, Leinster once more look the team to beat.

Leinster Pro 14 Champions
Leinster are the defending champions and look the team to beat once more Photo by: Billy Stockland/INPHO

Carbery’s response to adversity is very encouraging

Joey Carbery suffered an off day when Munster lost to Castres in their fourth game of the Heineken Cup. His response to that poor performance has been extremely encouraging. He has kicked 17 successful penalties in a row in games against Leinster, Connacht and Gloucester. His mental toughness shows just why he has the potential to be a pivotal player for Munster and Ireland in the years ahead. His game management has improved too and a 26 point haul against Gloucester will do his confidence no harm at all.

joey carbery
Joey Carbery celebrates his try against Gloucester. Photo by: Inpho.

Stockdale continues incredible try scoring form

Jacob Stockdale has took to senior rugby like a duck to water. The 22 year old winger scored his fifth and sixth tries as Ulster surprised last year’s finalists Racing 92. Stockdale’s second try in which he sidestepped past Olivier Klemenczak before breaking ahead, chipping on with a crisp-left foot strike, showing tremendous pace and then stepping inside to read the bounce quicker than three Racing defenders. Frighteningly good and as he is only 22, there is plenty more to come.

jacob stockdale
Jacob Stockdale scored a brace of tries for Ulster. Photo By: Getty.

Connacht have strength in depth

Connacht overcame Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup and now look poised to qualify for the quarter finals. The Westerners have used the competition to test their squad. Andy Friend did name a strong side but the performance of James Mitchell at scrum half and James Cannon in the second row. Substitute fly half David Horwitz kicked the winning penalty. If Connacht are to push for Champions Cup qualification then they will need a strong squad.

Schmidt’s scrum half crisis

If there is one negative that can be drawn from the weekend’s rugby, it is Ireland’s problem in the no9 position. Luke McGrath’s injury in Leinster’s win coupled with John Cooney not being fit to play for Ulster against Racing means that Conor Murray is Ireland’s only fit scrum half. Kieran Marmion was injured in Ireland’s victory against New Zealand last November and is not due back until late February. This means that Murray is the only capped Irish scrum half currently fit, less than three weeks out from the 6 Nations.

conor murray
Conor Murray is currently Ireland’s only fit scrum half. Photo By: Inpho.

Competition for Places for 6 Nations

The clean sweep of victories for the Irish provinces was notable because of the strength of performances by individuals fighting for a place in the Ireland squad. Since Ireland’s defeat to Argentina at the World Cup in 2015, Schmidt has tried to develop strength in depth. The provinces have allowed Irish talent to develop and now it is coming to fruition for the and the national side. This has raised hopes of a strong 6 Nations and World Cup.


Talking Points as Scarlets set up a shot at revenge against Leinster while Ulster seal European Rugby

Glasgow Warriors 13 – 28 Scarlets

Pivac must be considered for Wales job

Wayne Pivac has coached his Scarlets side to two victories over Dave Rennie’s Glasgow side this season. Warren Gatland looks set to leave his Wales job after the Rugby World Cup next year but his successor will be named this summer. Pivac, Rennie and Chris Boyd, who is taking over at Northampton Saints are on a 3 man shortlist. This win for Pivac will do his chances no harm.

Wayne Pivac
Pivac has done his chances of landing the Wales job no harm. Photo by: Getty

Wales out half tussle

Rhys Patchell was deservedly named Man of the Match in Scotstoun. He scored Scarlets’ first try in the fourth minute while his kicking and running game were excellent. After Gareth Anscombe helped the Cardiff Blues to win the Challenge Cup and Dan Biggar became the highest scorer in the history of the Pro 14, Warren Gatland has competition for the 10 jersey against South Africa on June 2nd.

Leinster 16 – 15 Munster

Leinster’s strength in depth sees them over the line

Leinster have one of the strongest squads in club rugby and they showed their dept once more as they beat a full strength Munster side. James Lowe was outstanding and it is incredible to think that he did not make the squad for the Champions Cup final. Max Deegan secured the vital turnover at the end of the game while Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Dan Leavy all to return for next week’s final.

James Lowe
James Lowe provides a wonderful offload to create Jack Conan’s try. Photo by: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Old mistakes haunt Munster

Munster nearly pulled off an improbable comeback but their basic handling errors proved their undoing. They were unable to provide Simon Zebo with a happy send-off as their errors and indiscipline proved their undoing. Jean Kleyn was sin binned after a head on collision with Ross Byrne as Munster were set for a 5 metre scrum. Instead they lost Kleyn and conceded a penalty. This was Munster’s fourth semi-final defeat in a row and 10th out of 15. They now face a long Summer.

Simon Zebo
Will Munster miss Zebo? Photo by: INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster 35 – 17 Ospreys

Time of Change at Ulster

Ulster’s win against the Ospreys saw them seal Champions Cup rugby next season as they said farewell to Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall amongst others. Ulster will have a new head coach in Dan McFarland next season and they will be hoping to rebuild. They will need to blood more young players next season as they need to repair the damage of this season.

Tommy Bowe
Tommy Bowe will retire but will they miss his experience next season? Photo by: Billy Stickland/INPHO



Pro 14 Quarter Final Talking Points – Munster edge through while Scarlets show their credentials

Munster 20 – 16 Edinburgh

Munster’s need to improve to trouble Leinster

Munster edged past Edinburgh after their resounding defeat to Racing 92 in the Champions Cup. They needed to win this game but there are still question marks around their game. Their attack needs to improve as they failed to take advantage of overlaps. They will not get many chances against Leinster so they will need to be clinical. Conor Murray’s box kicking was not up to its usual standards and that will need to be addressed. Munster can find redemption but they need to up their game.

Keith Earls and Simon Zebo
Keith Earls and Simon Zebo celebrate Munster’s vital second try. Photo By: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Zebo shows what Munster will be missing

Simon Zebo produced a moment of magic to create Keith Earls’ try. In the 42nd minute he collected a poor pass before chipping the ball over the Edinburgh defence before producing a brilliant pass to Keith Earls. In his final home game, Munster’s record try scorer showed why many fans are angry at the IRFU for not doing more to keep him at Munster.

Simon Zebo
Simon Zebo waves goodbye on his final home appearance for Munster. Photo via: munsterrugby.ie

Scarlets 43 – 8 Cheetahs

Steff Evans at his best

Scarlets turned on the style as they defeated the Toyota Cheetahs to set up a mouthwatering showdown with Glasgow. Evans scored twice as Scarlets hit six tries. Evans’ second try was the pick of the bunch as he picked the ball up 45 metres out before evading tackles. He sent a delicious grubber kick through before touching down. Wales coach Warren Gatland must be delighted with Evans’ form while Leigh Halfpenny and Scott Williams were constant threats.

Steff Evans
Steff Evans on his way to his second try. Photo By: Alex Davidson / INPHO

Cheetahs away day blues continue

The Cheetahs were toothless as they slumped to a heavy defeat To their credit they fought until the end and grabbed a late try but the game was long over as a contest. They have only won 4 games away from home, with two of those against fellow South African team the Southern Kings. This loss was another heavy defeat away from home and they will need to improve their away form if they are to challenge for the title next season.