The Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings suffered disappointing defeats in their first matches back on tour in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend, as Connacht and Munster made the most of their home ground advantage in Ireland with an eye on the playoff race.
A late try by Connacht’s Jarrad Butler steered them to a 25-17 victory against the Toyota Cheetahs in Galway on Saturday, while a strong second-half performance by Munster earned them a 43-0 victory against the Isuzu Southern Kings in Cork on Friday.
The clash between the Toyota Cheetahs and Connacht was fast and physical from the outset with both sides running hard on attack and backing this up with a spirited defensive effort, which paved the way for a thrilling battle.
The Free Staters made a strong statement in the opening quarter as speedster Rabz Maxwane and Louis Fouché crossed the chalk thanks to enterprising attack and solid support play, while the hosts only scored a penalty goal.
Connacht hit back with a try minutes later to reduce the deficit to 12-10, and the Toyota Cheetahs found themselves under pressure soon after as Nico Lee received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. Fortunately for Franco Smith’s men, their defence held until halftime, which left them in the lead.
A powerful rolling maul early in the second half handed Connacht the lead for the first time, and after several unsuccessful attempts to breach the visitors’ defence, the teams found themselves level at 17-17 thanks to a stunning individual try by Shaun Venter.
Connacht opted for a penalty goal in the last quarter to create some distance between themselves and the Toyota Cheetahs on the scoreboard, and with the passionate home crowd cheering them on, they eventually broke through for their third try with two minutes to play to seal the 25-17 victory.
The Isuzu Southern Kings, meanwhile, paid a heavy price for their ill-discipline and handling errors in the wet and blustery conditions in Cork, which saw them go down 43-0 against Conference A leaders, Munster.
The men from Port Elizabeth were fired up from the outset with some hard running on attack, but turnovers at crucial times throughout the match denied them from converting their efforts into points.
Their ill-discipline didn’t assist their cause, as they received three yellow cards – two of which were within a minute of one another which saw them being reduced to 13 men for nine minutes – while they conceded 20 penalties.
In stark contrast to the Isuzu Southern Kings, Munster did well to capitalise on their try-scoring chances, although they had to work hard at times to breach the determined defence.
The first half was competitive, with Munster managing to force their way through the defence only once in the first quarter, while their second try was scored in the 37th minute when the visitors down to 14 men after Ruan Lerm was sin-binned. This handed them a 12-0 lead at the break.
The hosts built on this form in the second half by retaining possession and showing patience on attack, and it paid off as they scored their bonus-point try in the 60thminute.
They added another shortly after, and as if this were not enough for the Isuzu Southern Kings, they lost Tertius Kruger and Andisa Ntsila to yellow cards in quick succession, which paved the way for the home side to add another two tries to take their try tally to seven for a rewarding 43-point victory.
In the other matches, Edinburgh defeated the Dragons 34-17 at Murrayfield, Ospreys went down 8-0 against Ulster in Bridgend, Leinster beat Zebre 40-24 in Viadana, Benetton edged Scarlets 25-19 in Treviso and the Glasgow Warriors beat the Cardiff Blues 38-34 at Cardiff Arms Park.
Connacht – Tries: Tom Farrell, Tom Mccartney, Jarrad Butler. Conversions: Jack Carty (2) Penalty Goals: Jack Carty (2).
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Rabz Maxwane, Louis Fouché, Shaun Venter. Conversion: Tian Schoeman.
Munster – Tries: Neil Kronin, Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam, Billy Holland, Rhys Marshall, Jean Kleyn, Rory Scannell. Conversions: Rory Scannell (4).