It was a busy night of Guinness PRO12 action on Friday with important wins for Scarlets, Ospreys and Connacht.
Scarlets fans have been eagerly anticipating Johnny McNicholl’s debut and the Kiwi winger didn’t disappoint, scoring a try after just five minutes in the 38-29 success.
After a slow start to the season the Scarlets are now up to fourth in the table, although they were made to fight hard against the 14 men of Leinster after Barry Daly’s red card.
McNicholl admitted there had been some pre-match tension, but that was quickly eased as he opened his account for the region.
He said: “The touch was very lucky, it was an opportunist try. There wasn’t much skill involved there but it did settle the nerves down. I was a bit nervous pre-game.
“It was a great start, the boys played really well. The outcome was great and the boys played good footy for 60 minutes. We’ll look at the last quarter on Monday.
“Leinster came back at us, they were a pretty tough side to put away in the end.
“It was almost like they grew an extra arm and a leg when they lost a player to the red card. They were a very physical, a good side, they never went away.
“I have high standards, I want to play good rugby every week.”
The Scarlets took advantage of Glasgow Warriors’ loss to the Ospreys to sneak into the play-off places, with the Ospreys picking up a bonus-point 22-5 win at Scotstoun.
After a close first half, the Ospreys made the most of Brian Alainu’uese’s sending off to run in three tries in the second half.
The bonus-point success closed the gap on Leinster to a single point at the top of the table, much to the delight of director of rugby Steve Tandy, who believes his squad has greater depth than last season.
“It’s a huge win for us,” he said.
“The bonus point is a great outcome. The boys responded and it’s really pleasing. It’s been a tough week for us. The same as Glasgow, we’ve had a lot of boys away in camp, but we’ve had a lot of illness this week.
“There are a few boys who’ve not trained all week but have turned up and put in a performance tonight in difficult conditions. They’ve responded well, the way they delivered a performance out there. It says a lot about the group.
“Looking back to last season, we had a pretty tricky start during the World Cup but it’s key to where we are today. Sam Underhill, Olly Cracknell, Dan Baker, Sam Davies, they all had valuable experiences and ups and downs that they’ve learned from. You look at Rory Thornton, the way he’s led the lineout. These are still young men but they are learning fast.”
Connacht, meanwhile, have struggled in the defence of their title, but look to be rounding into some form.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) November 25, 2016
They battled to an 18-7 victory over Cardiff Blues, and while Danny Wilson was disappointed about his team’s lack of accuracy, he admitted Connacht were worthy winners.
He said: “Connacht deserved their win – they took their opportunities and we didn’t. We lacked accuracy and it’s cost us the result.
“In the second half we let ourselves down. We got ourselves in a good position at half-time.
“We certainly defended well and put them under a lot of pressure with our attack but the second half was full of errors.
“We created plenty of opportunities and we have to bad hard on ourselves for not putting those opportunities away. We dropped two balls over the line during that game and our contact area wasn’t good enough – we lost way too much ball.”
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