With the Guinness Pro 14 still a baby in terms of the season it has already thrown up some very unexpected results and last weekend was no different. It is time for a look around the provinces.
Starting with Connacht and the visit of the Scarlets to the sportsground. Scarlets are the second best team in the league and usually play like it. If you look at their recent win over Leinster it appeared that a visit to Galway would result in the winning points after a tough fight. Connacht on the other hand are settling into their new relationship with Andy Friend. After going through a tough short term marriage with Keane last year they may have been understandable slow to commit fully to Friend but there has been no such reticence to the new suitor. Andy Friend has reached around the province (that sounds very wrong but you get the idea) and gotten the entire population on board. He has spread a freedom around the team that was missing last year and with the slow re-introduction of the international players into the squad you can really see them making a charge this year. The Scarlets where sent packing by a score of 33-20. But the score doesn’t tell the entire story. Connacht had 68% possession for 78% territory, ran 120 more metres, forced the visitors to make near 3 times the amount of tackles they made and kept the penalty count to a professional 8. No lineouts or scrums lost, it really was amazing to see. It is one thing to beat the lower tear/mid table teams but this was a top team absolutely sent packing. Onward and upwards, no one fancies a trip to the sportsground now and Leinster head down next week. Which is a must see game!
Speaking of the reigning and defending champions, Leinster welcomed Edinburgh to the rds. Starting with the score it was 31-7 to the home side. Looking at the stats Leinster had 49% possession for 49% territory so it shows a slightly different story to the Connacht match in that Leinster made the most of their possession, the points to metres ratio was really strong and a sign of a confident team. The home side ran exactly 200 more metres than the visitors at 496 metres, fitness isn’t an issue. Both sides had to make 191 tackles, Leinster made 175 and Edinburgh made 162, that tells part of the story. The biggest stat and the real marker is the penalties conceded, even with the previous stat, Leinster only gave away 3 penalties. In making 175 tackles they only gave away 3 pens. Amazing to see. James Lowe had 18 runs for 82 metres with a try. That is insane! Ever since he settled into the defensive system in the last quarter of last season he has been amazing. It is well worth watching only him for 15 minutes the next time you are at a game; he reads the game amazingly well. Ringrose also had a big shift 12 runs for 83 metres. While Edinburgh may not be at the top table, they are not a bad team and to be dealt with the way they were makes next week’s match in the sportsground something to salivate over!
The Cheetahs welcome Ulster, the final score was 39-39. Whenever there are that many points scored you never have a bad time but let’s look at the stats. The Cheetahs ran 100 more metres at 459, Ulster had 53% possession for 54% territory which isn’t a bad return. Much like Leinster, Ulster are making the most of the time they have the ball in hand. Ulster made 65 of 84 tackles needed which needs to change. They conceded 12 penalties to the home sides 10. Not bad, but compared to the Leinster and Connacht it is something they can work on. Billy Burns stepped into the breach only missing 1 tackle and scoring when called upon. Important for him to get on the scoreboard as often as possible. The big thing for Ulster this year, after a horror show last year they really did some great business over the summer. The CEO was sacked, great players signed and the start of the season has been great for them. Unbeaten so far and top of the conference, would we have said that would happen 8 months ago?
Finishing with Munster, they made their way to Cardiff expecting to arrive home with the winning points. Cardiff are winless so far this year, not playing badly but without anything on the board. All of the stats are fairly even, it is the tackle count that cost the visitors. 20 tackles where missed, but there where at least 2 times they were on the home side try line only to make a silly mistake that shouldn’t happen. It was a very un-Munster performance. Usually they can be counted on to show some fight and scrap throughout the game. Always keeping within a score and never being out. They looked out for most of the game, finishing at 37-13 the score probably is accurate and will rankle in the Munster warriors. It wasn’t great to watch, even as a blue, I want Munster to be Munster but they just weren’t at the races. It is easily fixed, but Munster can’t depend on emotion to get them through tough situations as they have in the past. The team is still finding their way but the tackles missed needs to be at least halved in order to keep them in the game. 5 players missed 2 tackles and 1 player gave away 3 penalties. This is a stat that will annoy them over the Monday review session.
It was a great week for Irish provinces mostly…
Until next week.