Some teams and players have started 2016 with memorable wins in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12, while others suffered from a festive hangover.
Back among the tries
Alex Cuthbert had a lean time in 2015, struggling for form in a Wales jersey and looking like his confidence had disappeared. But there are signs now that the big wing is on his way back and on Saturday he scored the try which Rhys Patchell converted to give Cardiff Blues a 29-27 win over the Scarlets in the Guinness Pro12.
The Scarlets had led 20-10 at the break but the Blues fought back twice, taking the lead with a try from Kristian Dacey, then rallying once more in the closing minutes after a converted Gareth Davies try had put the Scarlets back in front. Cory Allen, Josh Navidi and Lou Reed all went close as the Blues applied the pressure and Cuthbert finally powered over from close range, in the shadow of the posts, with Patchell duly converting to steal the win.
Cuthbert scored two tries in European action in December and now has his first of the Pro12 season. Blues and Wales fans will hope his scoring streak continues.
Neat work from Keatley
Munster went into their Guinness Pro12 clash with Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on the back of a run of five successive defeats – their worst run since the 2003-04 season. However, Anthony Foley’s team got that monkey off their backs by winning 9-7, thanks to three successful kicks from Ian Keatley.
The Munster No 10 put in a great all-round performance in difficult, wet conditions. His tactical kicking was spot on, he managed the game superbly, kicked two penalties and a drop-goal and was duly named Man of the Match.
Saracens won all of their games in the Aviva Premiership and European Champions Cup in the first half of this season and show no sign of letting up now the calendar reads 2016, as they set a new club record of eight consecutive Premiership wins when they thumped Leicester Tigers 26-6. In the process, Saracens became the first team to be awarded three penalty tries in a Premiership match (thanks go to Stuart Farmer for the stats).
Replacement hooker Jamie George was the only try-scorer apart from Mr P Try and, as the hat-trick of penalty tries were earned by Saracens’ dominant pack, George Kruis was rewarded with the Man of the Match award.
Both Scotland’s pro teams are standing side by side on the Saints podium this week – Glasgow Warriors for agreeing to effectively give up their home advantage and play the second leg of the 1872 Cup at BT Murrayfield when their Scotstoun pitch was declared waterlogged; and Edinburgh for the way they closed out a 14-11 win.
Glasgow led 11-9 as the final ten minutes began and Edinburgh strangely turned down two difficult but kickable penalties, but collected the winnings from their big gamble when Phil Burleigh cut a diagonal line, shrugged off two tackles and scored the winning try.
Then, in the final couple of minutes of normal time and through five minutes of red time, the Warriors battered away at the Edinburgh line, but despite going through 29 phases in one attack and 13 in another, Glasgow were unable to break through. It was a heroic team effort from Edinburgh in defence and, having won last week’s first leg of the 1872 Cup 23-11, they retain the trophy and move up to the giddy heights of fourth in the Guinness Pro12 table.
A quick tip of the hat goes to Billy Burns, who scored a try with his first touch of the ball after coming on as a replacement for Gloucester against London Irish. The Cherry and Whites were 22-14 up with 69 minutes gone, having trailed for much of the match, and Burns’ score was set up by a strong break from Billy Twelvetrees and a neat pass from Rob Cook.
Well done Willis
Newcastle’s 20-year-old stand-off Craig Willis bounced back from some earlier misses from the tee and held his nerve to kick two late penalties and give the Falcons their first win of this Aviva Premiership campaign.
Willis, who is a member of the Falcons Academy and turns 21 next month, only made his first Premiership start last weekend in Newcastle’s 22-10 loss at Leicester. This week he kicked four penalties and converted Rob Vickers’ try, which was just enough to secure a 19-14 win over Bath and lift the Falcons off the bottom of the table.
In a Stu
When Edinburgh stand-off Phil Burleigh scooted through the Glasgow Warriors defence to score the winning try, Stuart Hogg had the chance to tackle him, but was fended off too easily. Peter Murchie managed to grab Burleigh as he reached the try-line, but couldn’t drive him back and prevent the try. Glasgow’s defensive effort was not helped by the fact that Peter Horne was limping horribly at the time, but Hogg in particular should have done better.
Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and Gerhard van den Heever got themselves in a bit of a pickle in the last couple of minutes of Munster’s 9-7 win over Ulster. Paddy Jackson had kicked a penalty towards touch and Amorosino tried to leap up and keep the ball in, but when he batted it down it went straight to van den Heever, who played it from an offside position and conceded another penalty.
Jackson – who had already missed one penalty – went for the posts, hoping to steal the win, but his attempt didn’t quite hit the target, so Munster hung on.
Red-faced Scarlets and a case of the Blues
The Scarlets shot themselves in the foot during their nail-biting clash with Cardiff Blues as they went down to 13 men during the second half and conceded the lead while they were in that predicament.
Steff Evans was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on and just a minute later back row Emyr Phillips was sin-binned for dragging down a maul close to the try-line. Phillips was in a difficult position, as if he hadn’t acted to stop the drive then the Blues would probably have scored, but as it was they conceded a try to Kristian Dacey from the next lineout drive and Patchell converted to put Cardiff ahead with 23 minutes to go.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “Discipline let us down at times and allowed the Blues back in and ultimately to win the game. We’re disappointed with lapses of indiscipline from some of our players. We have to be better… the boys know that.”
Cardiff Blues wing Tom James is also among the Sinners after his careless, telegraphed pass was intercepted by DTH van der Merwe, who then sprinted in for a first-half try. However, James did plenty of good work to help make amends. A horrible misunderstanding between hooker Dacey and his lineout jumpers also gifted Ken Owens a first-half try, so the players involved in that mix-up were relieved it did not cost the Blues the game.