Ireland, Scotland and Wales all claimed significant Test victories, while Scarlets, Munster and Ospreys claimed significant wins. Here is your one-stop shop for all things Guinness PRO12 this weekend.
- Scarlets’ new boy Johnny McNicholl may have scored a try after five minutes on debut in a nine-try 38-29 victory over then Guinness PRO12 leaders, but the former Crusader admitted he expects more: “I have high standards, I want to play good rugby every week.”
- Leinster’s defeat to Scarlets handed Rassie Erasmus’ side the chance to go top with victory over Benetton Treviso – they took it with aplomb, scoring seven tries on their way to the Guinness PRO12 Summit, and their South African director of rugby said: “I’d be lying if I say we’re not mentally in a good place.”
- Ospreys weathered a frosty night at Scotstoun to completely outplay Glasgow Warriors in a 22-5 bonus-point win and Steve Tandy hailed 21-year-old lock Rory Thornton as central to a win that moved them two points within leaders Munster.
- Pat Lam’s Connacht side claimed a vital third win of the season, the Guinness PRO12 champions closing the gap on eighth-placed Cardiff Blues with an 18-7 win over Danny Wilson’s side at the Sportsground.
- Angus O’Brien kicked 17 points for Newport Gwent Dragons as they defeated Duncan Hodge’s Edinburgh 27-19 at Rodney Parade to leapfrog them in the table.
- Ireland completed victories over the ‘big three’ of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia for the first time since England in 2003, their RBS 6 Nations clash with the still unbeaten in 2016 Red Rose side is looking ever more mouthwatering.
- Wales responded in perfect fashion to a 32-8 loss to Australia on the opening weekend by winning three of their four Autumn Tests for the first time since 2002, Osprey Justin Tipuric capped a fine series with a solo score to wrap up a 27-13 win over South Africa.
- Scotland fizzed in attack during a lively first-half display against Georgia, Stuart Hogg stole the show with a miraculous solo score, while Warriors teammate Ali Price made a fine impact on debut, breaking late on to set up Hogg’s second score.
How it stands:
Erasmus’ side were impeccable both up front – at one point marching Treviso over their own line from a five-metre scrum – and in the backs, with Tyler Bleyendaal in fine fettle, as they overtook fierce rivals Leinster in the Guinness PRO12 standings .
Munster have not lost since October 8, 25-14 to Leinster, and the galvanising effect of their 14-man 38-17 win against Glasgow in the Champions Cup, has been remarkable to see.
Leinster held second place courtesy of a late fightback and a try bonus, with Ospreys just a point back in third after their superb 22-5 win over the Warriors.
Scarlets’ 38-29 victory over Leinster fired them into contention in fourth place and after an indifferent start, they have now won six Guinness PRO12 games on the trot, while McNicholl’s addition looks a real fillip for the West Wales side.
Since Warriors’ stunning 42-13 Champions Cup win over Leicester Tigers, Warriors have lost three of four clashes in all competitions – they face a battle against Munster at Scotstoun on Friday.
Zebre’s clash with Ulster was called off, but the Italians remain one point ahead of compatriots Treviso.
Les Kiss’ side are sixth – three points behind Glasgow Warriors – while Cardiff Blues sit seventh after a loss to Connacht that moved the Irish province into eighth.
Dragons and Edinburgh make up the table, with the Welshmen overtaking Hodge’s side thanks to Sunday’s victory.
Result of the weekend: Ireland 27 Australia 23
If their historic win over New Zealand was the centre-piece of a stellar autumn for Ireland, this was the perfect finale.
Despite missing Sean O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton, Joe Schmidt’s side showed great character first to build a massive 17-0 lead, then once they fell behind to pull back through and win.
Ulster’s Iain Henderson – starting his first Test of the autumn – scored a fine try, Garry Ringrose made the most of a Test start against the Wallabies and also scored a try.
Rory Best capped his autumn and 100th cap by leading his side to victory over Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in a year.
Upset of the weekend: Tonga 19 Italy 17
After their historic win over South Africa last week, Conor O’Shea’s side fell to an unexpected 19-17 loss to Tonga at the Stadio Euganeo.
It had looked bright for Italy when Lorenzo Cittadini crashed over after 13 minutes, but Sonatane Takulua kept the scoreboard ticking with a penalty in the first half.
Siale Piutau scored in the 51st minute to move Tonga ahead, but Tommaso Allan crossed two minutes later and when Edoardo Padovani kicked a penalty at the death it looked all over.
Takulua had different ideas and thumped over his fourth penalty of the afternoon to deny the Italians.
Nevertheless O’Shea’s side will surely head into the RBS 6 Nations buoyed by a first win over the so-called ‘big three’ Southern Hemisphere teams.
Tip of the cap to Leinster’s Tadgh Furlong who, despite a barnstorming autumn and a world-class performance against Australia, got a bit embarrassed when linked to the British & Irish Lions.
“It’s kind of daunting in a way, to be honest with you,” said Furlong
“Because you know in your own head that ‘jeez, my scrum wasn’t great there’ or ‘my entry wasn’t great here, and if I do this against a really great scrummaging pack, I’m going to be torn apart here’.
“That is your thought process and, with people throwing that out, you get kind of embarrassed.
“The Lions is synonymous with such a big brand and so many great players have played there. Do I see myself there at the minute? No.
“I think I have a long journey to go and, as I said, I’ve only started four games for Ireland, two Heineken Cup games for Leinster and it is a big, big step to be making those shouts.”
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final