It was a big night of Guinness PRO12 action as Leinster moved level with Munster at the top of the table, Scarlets cemented their place in the top four, and Newport Gwent Dragons picked up a much-needed victory.
- Leinster fire on Sexton return to move into second
- Scarlets boost top four ambitions
- Dragons survive yellow trouble to down Treviso
Cullen ready for Montpellier test
Having seen off Ulster last weekend, Leinster prepared for European action in perfect fashion with a thumping 70-6 win over Zebre that takes them up to 46 points for the season, level with Munster.
They will now take on Montpellier in European Champions Cup action in Dublin, looking to book their place in the last eight, and Leo Cullen has called for a groundswell of support to face the French side.
He said: “We forced things a bit at times but we have to be happy with that but all focus now is on next week.
“We need a full house and huge support.”
Meanwhile Zebre’s struggles go on as their winless streak extended for another game, their last success coming against Edinburgh in October, and team manager Andrea de Rossi admits the mental reserves of the team have been tested in recent weeks.
“When you concede 70 points it’s always difficult to find the words,” De Rossi told OnRugby. “For us the important games were against Treviso and Edinburgh, we had the chance to start the new year well and prepare for the tough coming months that await us.
“We will take on teams that attack from start to finish, a bit like Leinster did, they didn’t kick once.
“To not win for so long (October 28 against Edinburgh) demands mental strength to find motivation and it’s not easy. The hardest part is this: finding the motivation within us to get out of this negative spiral.”
Pivac thrilled with Scarlets determination
There was a game with huge play-off connotations at Parc y Scarlets as Ulster came to visit, but in the end it was the home side that claimed a 16-13 success.
That helped close the gap on the top trio, and extended their advantage over sixth-placed Ulster, and coach Wayne Pivac was particularly impressed by his team’s ability to cope with three games in quick succession.
He said: “I am very pleased with the outcome; you have got to factor in that Ulster have had three games in 15 days and we have had three in 11 with two tough five-day turnarounds.
“I thought it was a superb second half given the conditions and where our players are at. What people don’t see behind the scenes is that they are pretty beaten up.
“It was sheer will and determination, there is a good vibe in the group, I was pleased we were able to hold on and get the result and I am happy where we are in the league at this juncture.
“I would certainly have taken eight points from these last three games. A lot of players didn’t train this week, just played. A lot have been hanging in there.”
Meanwhile Les Kiss admits his team has it all to do to get back in play-off contention after falling to potential top-four rivals.
“I thought we probably would have better return from it if things had gone our way.
“We controlled that first half, I thought we were superb with retention of ball, but we were not as clinical as we needed to be at the start of the second half and gave them a bit of life and traction into the game.
“We are not in the ideal position, but we are still contenders. The players certainly believe it in the sheds and we have to make sure we dust off and get up for two big European games against two big teams and then get back on the horse for the PRO12.
“It will be an important Six Nations period for us, we will have injured players hopefully coming back by then which will be a big plus for us and just give our squad a bit of depth.”
Dragons survive yellow in Italian success
Finally Newport Gwent Dragons overcame a slow start to record a 26-8 win over Benetton Treviso to move up to ninth in the table.
And according to head coach Kingsley Jones, the turning point in the game was at the end of the first half, when the Dragons survived the sin-binning of Sarel Pretorius to go in 10-8 up.
“I was pleased with lots of the game,” Jones told the South Wales Argus.
“The start, giving Treviso a try like that from a kicking error, was the last thing we wanted but the positive thing was the way that we reacted to it.
“The critical moment was before half-time when we got a yellow card but defended well to stay in control, not only that but took three points. I know from being on the other end of that how it can be a killer blow.
“I was a little bit disappointed with the last ten minutes, we could have gone for the jugular, but you have to celebrate a good win against a team who are down there with us and had 13 internationals in their starting line-up.”
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