We are now at the end of Guinness Pro14 Round 2. Still plenty of matches left to play but it’s more than enough to come to some conclusions – right? Maybe, maybe not.
At any rate, we can give it a go. Here’s what we learned over the first two rounds.
What we learned – Pro14 Round 2
Munster still need to find the edge away from home
It’s only two rounds but so far Munster look worryingly like last season. They racked up scores at home but struggled elsewhere, including all their interprovincial derbies away. This year they have done the same, nilling Cheetahs at Thomond Park before losing 25-10 away at Glasgow. They are more than strong enough to make the playoffs but, if they want to win the league, they will need to be stronger on the road. New signings Tadhg Beirne and Joey Carbery made a noticeable difference when they came on in Round 2, which will give Munster fans hope.
Cardiff Blues need better discipline
Two weeks in a row, Blues have lost a game in the last few minutes. Two weeks in a row, they’ve done so because they lost their heads and gave away needless penalties. Last season, they held their discipline and their nerve to win at the death in Bilbao in the Challenge Cup Final. They will need to regain that ability if they want to seriously contend for the playoff places this season. The Pro14 looks to be getting tougher so they can’t afford to be throwing away games like this.
Penalty! Cardiff Blues 31-30 Gloucester
🏉 Gareth Anscombe strokes the ball over with little more than a minute to play in the European Challenge Cup final
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) May 11, 2018
Benetton continue to trend up
The beneficiaries of Blues’ latest headlessness were Benetton. They have now won their first two matches and sit top of Conference A. Only two seasons ago, that would have been close to unbelievable. The impact Kieran Crawley has had, assisted by Italy’s national coach Conor O’Shea, has been remarkable. They’re unlikely to be in the top two of their conference at the business end of the season, with Leinster and Scarlets to beat, but could they push Edinburgh or Ulster for third spot? My money would still be on the Scottish team but what we learned is that they can’t afford any complacency.
Scarlets might have a Plan B
You didn’t need a lot of experience watching rugby to see Scarlets‘ problem in their two knockout games against Leinster last season. They couldn’t live with the physicality of their Irish rivals. Moreover, their strength in depth just couldn’t match the double champions.
It’s early days, and it does feel like their injuries cost them a close match against Ulster in Round 1, but the victory over Leinster in Round 2 will give their fans a lot of hope. They weren’t perfect by any stretch but they were much more physical and saw out the game at the end. Ed Kennedy looked abrasive, Jack Ball had a great first game back, and there’s Uzair Cassiem to come. Yet more injuries will be cause for concern but there is plenty of cause for optimism too.
Both South African teams struggle
Last season the Kings were undoubtedly the league’s whipping boys. The managed to win only one game, against the Dragons at home – a feat every other team to play the Dragons managed. Their coach has acknowledged they will struggle again and, sadly, that looks to be right.
The Cheetahs were well-worth their admission in 2017-18. Their attacking game was great fun to watch and they deserved their playoff spot. Failing to score a point against Munster and being well-beaten by Ospreys is not the start they would have wanted this season. They lost a lot of players over the summer and that, combined with Currie Cup obligations, might be too much for them.
On the other hand, their away form was poor last season too. Their only victories on the road came against Dragons, Kings, and Zebre – the worst teams in the league. They will be looking nervously at Ospreys and Blues but don’t write them off yet.
Leinster fans are still waiting to see most of their big guns and Scarlets haven’t lost at home for 24 months, so they won’t be too worried by the loss in Round 2. Additionally, their youngsters winning in the last minutes in Round 1 was impressive. Ulster are two-for-two at home but have been reliant on last-gasp winners from John Cooney both times. They take on Kings next, which should make it three-from-three. The away games against Cheetahs and Munster that follow will be a much tougher test. Connacht ran Glasgow very close and were impressive against Zebre in Round 2. Neutrals will welcome a return to their 2016 ways but it’s early days.
It’s been another perfect start for Glasgow Warriors with impressive displays from Adam Hastings and George Horne. But they were near-perfect in the league last season before falling in Europe and then the playoffs. Round 1 of the Champions Cup will be the first real test: Saracens at home. Edinburgh have lost both their opening matches, in close games away from home. Richard Cockerill is unlikely to let that continue, especially as three out of their next four games are at home.
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) August 31, 2018
Ospreys have had a dream start, winning their first two games. The form of George North will be particularly welcome to their fans. Scott Williams looks to be out for a while, however, to temper the optimism in Swansea. Dragons finally got a win, albeit a hard-fought won over the Kings at home. Will it be the start of Bernard Jackman’s much vaunted revival or another false dawn?
Last but not least (yet): Zebre. They have came on leaps and bounds last season, although they were not as impressive as Benetton. A comfortable win over Kings at home followed by a convincing loss to Connacht away suggests this season could be similar to last: much better but still not good enough.
That’s what we learned and the Guinness Pro14 Round 2 clashes – what about you? Let us know your thoughts below.
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