With any good novel, you get a really good feel for it after the opening chapter.
Richard Mulligan reports.
And so, as the first page turned on the new United Rugby Championship (URC), one has certainly got the taste for much more.
But there is an early spoiler alert. Leinster have the look of champions about them already – aiming to win the newest version of the competition and make it five successive titles.
Certainly a quick glance at the score lines from Round One reflects competitive games. They were high-scoring games too, six of the winning sides picked up a full haul of five match points and there were a plethora of bonus points for the losers, either in the margin of defeat or by scoring four or more tries.
Early days, but if the remainder of the competition continues in this vein then fans will not be disappointed and even neutrals will be entertained by the standard of rugby on offer. ‘Bigger, bolder, stronger’ were the buzz words from URC ahead of kick-off – it has certainly delivered on the inaugural week.
The headline fixtures in round one were in Ireland where Leinster and Munster were up against the two ‘strongest’ South African sides of the four to join the competition.
For both it was a baptism of fire against two of the teams who will challenge for the overall inaugural title.
Jake’s White Vodacom Bulls, fresh from a recent Currie Cup success in South Africa, discovered what every other side in the league has found in Dublin, Leinster are formidable opponents.
White himself admitted afterwards that the reigning champions set the benchmark to where he wanted his side to be.
“Welcome to the Northern Hemisphere Jake & Co.
The 31-3 scoreline in Dublin was a huge drubbing for the visitors and it will be interesting to see how they do in Galway this weekend against a Connacht side smarting from defeat away to Cardiff.
Munster looked impressive as they saw off the Sharks challenge in Limerick, the 42-17 reflecting the Irish Province’s domination and at the same time, last year’s beaten finalists to Leinster in the PRO14 final, sending out a clear message that they have picked up where they left off and intend to be better.
Both South African sides were without their 2019 World Cup winners, which has to be taken into account, and the Sharks result at Glasgow this weekend will also be watched with interest – they and the Bulls will no doubt prove different beasts on home soil.
And that brings me nicely to the Ulster game against Glasgow, the Scots coming to Belfast and running Dan McFarland’s charges close, losing in the end by six points, 35-29, collecting two bonus points having also scored four tries.
” The big plus was the performance of teenager Nathan Doak …
There will be an opportunity to take a more in-depth look as the first rounds of competition play out, but for now the five match point haul by Ulster was a positive start for them and there are, as expected, work-ons particularly around the lineout, receiving restarts and protecting the ball at the breakdown.
The big plus was the performance of teenager Nathan Doak at scrumhalf, called from the bench early when John Cooney was forced out with a hamstring tweak.
If there had been some doubts at this level – Doak having already put in an assured display during the U20 Six Nations with Ireland – most were vanquished. He was cool and composed, reflected in nailing conversions from the tram lines, directing the players and decent box kicking. His pass perhaps needs speeded up, but this was a decent introduction for the former Wallace High School pupil and it would be great to see him start against Zebre.
Going to Parma will hold no fears for Ulster, their record against Zebre is good, but they sometimes struggle to get the try bonus point and if Zebre kick on from where they left off against Lions last week, the Irish Province could find it harder again.
Returning to Belfast, it was fantastic to have supporters back in the Kingspan Stadium. The Ulster faithful rallied behind their team – and there were a few Glasgow supporters making their presence felt too. Having been at too many games without spectators – it was refreshing to have some real atmosphere on match days.
We await Round Two with much interest – let’s hope the package delivered last weekend continues in earnest.
URC ROUND 1 TOP PERFORMERS
After Round 1 of the United Rugby Championship, Oval Insights have identified the top performers from the opening weekend. These players are listed below.
Top Players from Round 1
- Carries: 17 Jamie Ritchie / Viliame Mata (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Clean Breaks: 2 Multiple Players
- Defenders Beaten: 8 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby) / Evan Roos (DHL Stormers)
- Kicks in Play: 16 Sam Davies (Dragons Rugby)
- Lineout Steals: 2 James Ryan (Leinster Rugby)
- Lineouts Won: 10 Niccolo Cannone (Benetton Rugby)
- Metres: 139 Simon Zebo (Munster Rugby)
- Passes: 65 Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby)
- Tackles: 20 Dylan Richardson (Cell C Sharks) / Jac Morgan (Ospreys Rugby)
- Turnover Won: 4 Nama Xaba (DHL Stormers)