The Guinness PRO12 will not get back into full swing until Boxing Day and it is Munster who will celebrate Christmas at the top of the tree – but only just. Here’s what happened in Round 10:
· While the win would have been reward enough for Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, the personnel he used to beat Newport Gwent Dragons 28-15 would have left him with an even deeper sense of satisfaction. Eight academy players were included in his matchday 23 and all made it clear they were selected on merit.
· A run of losses may be tough to kick but a winning habit can have just as powerful a hold over a club as Munster – who made it six from six in all competitions – will attest to. Ian Keatley’s late drop-goal sealed a 16-15 victory at BT Murrayfield and top spot over the European break.
· Zebre showed guts but Scarlets grabbed the glory by 31-24, as the Welsh region, at an even higher rate of knots than Munster, continued to bolt up the table after their seventh PRO12 victory in a row.
· Ruan Pienaar was at his effervescent best for Ulster as Cardiff Blues, who saw skipper Sam Warburton withdraw from the squad before kick-off, fell under the South African’s spell from his opening try onwards in their 35-22 defeat.
· Tom McCartney had only scored once in his previous 40 Guinness PRO12 appearances but he rather greedily chipped in with a try-double as Connacht soared past Benetton Treviso by 47-8.
· Keelan Giles remains the name on everyone’s lips at the Liberty Stadium – the teenage flyer who is on the fringes of the Wales squad scored his fourth PRO12 try in as many games in Ospreys’ 31-22 win over Ednburgh.
Keelan Giles can’t stop scoring!
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) December 2, 2016
How it stands:
Munster are hardly sitting comfortably at the top of the table as Leinster are perched behind in second purely on points differential.
But it is testament to the superb work Rassie Erasmus has put in since arriving at Thomond Park over the summer – and the way the team have united since the tragic death of Anthony Foley – that Munster have by far the stingiest defence in the league, with just 129 points conceded.
Trailing their every move are Ospreys and Scarlets, who look like teams renewed after Wales had no representation in the top four last term.
Not only has no team in the Championship scored more points than Ospreys but Steve Tandy’s men have scored an incredible 45 tries – at 4.5 per game – which is 11 clear of both Munster and Leinster.
From three defeats on the bounce to seven straight wins, fourth-place Scarlets have found themselves within five points of the leaders and four ahead of Ulster – who still possess a game in hand.
— Scarlets (@scarlets_rugby) December 3, 2016
Ulster’s next clash with Connacht, one of the final two PRO12 games to be played before Christmas, could see them edge ahead of Scarlets with a bonus-point win.
A win for reigning champions Connacht would have them back knocking on the door of the top half but don’t forget sixth-place Glasgow Warriors, for whom the first 1872 Cup duel with Edinburgh awaits on Boxing Day.
Connacht, in eighth, made up ground on Cardiff Blues after the Welshmen fell to defeat against Ulster. Pat Lam’s men now trail by two points and also hold a game in hand over the Blues.
It is as you were for the Dragons and Edinburgh down in ninth and tenth, while Treviso will be aiming to move off the bottom of the table by leapfrogging Zebre in their all-Italy clash on December 23.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) December 3, 2016
Jack Conan deservedly won man-of-the-match for his display against the Dragons – the Leinster No.8 showed off the twinkle toes of a winger by beating nine defenders in the match.
But for all his dynamism, Conan believes the man who has it all is fly-half Joey Carbery after the 21-year-old looked anything but a youngster while pulling the strings at the RDS.
“He’s made breaks, he’s electric, he’s got pace, he’s got a step, he can kick, he can pass. He is the future of Leinster Rugby, in my opinion,” said Conan..
“It has brought the standard up for everyone, to have this lad come in with virtually no experience and go out and play for Ireland. It is really deserving. It is great to see Joe give someone like that the opportunity to go and play.”
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