Ulster gave club legend Ruan Pienaar a winning send off at Kingspan with a 17-13 victory over Leinster but it wasn’t enough for them to sneak into the Guinness PRO12 semi-finals.
The home side needed a bonus point victory at least but were unable to get the four-tries against a Leinster side who slipped to second after Munster’s victory.
Roger Wilson, on his 221nd and last Ulster appearance, and Andrew Trimble got the vital scores for Ulster while Leinster responded with a penalty try.
An emotional Pienaar led out the Ulster side with his son Jean Luc at the Kingspan Stadium in what was in final appearance for the club.
England captain Dylan Hartley will be available for their opening fixture of the Six Nations against France after receiving a six-week ban for striking.
The 30-year-old caught flanker Sean O’Brien with a swinging arm during Northampton Saints’ Champions Cup loss to Leinster on Friday and received the third red card of his career.
He has now been suspended for a total of 60 weeks.
Hartley, who pleaded guilty to the charge at an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Wednesday, is able to play again from 23 January.
Gregor Townsend has named his team to play Leinster in the 1st home game of the new season tomorrow afternoon (kick-off 15:00 BST, 14:00 GMT, 16:00 SA Time).
The Warriors will run out on the new artificial pitch at Scotstoun Stadium for the 1st time in front of a crowd in excess of 7 000.
Following last Saturday’s 41 / 5 win over Connacht in Galway, Fraser Brown replaces Pat MacArthur at hooker and Sila Puafisi comes in for Zander Fagerson at tighthead prop.
After his man of the match display last weekend, Stuart Hogg once again starts at fullback, with Leonardo Sarto named on the right wing and Tommy Seymour lining up on the opposite side.
Alex Dunbar and Sam Johnson form the centre partnership, with Peter Horne and co-captain Henry Pyrgos continuing at flyhalf and scrumhalf respectively.
Gordon Reid is once again named at loosehead prop and he’ll pack down in the front row alongside Brown and Puafisi.
Tim Swinson and co-captain Jonny Gray start their 2nd consecutive game together in the engine room.
It’s also the same loose forwards which started in Galway last Saturday, with Rob Harley, Simone Favaro and Ryan Wilson combining.
Alex Allan and Lee Jones come onto the bench, with Ryan Grant and Sean Lamont not involved this weekend. Allan could make his 1irst appearance in a Warriors shirt since February.
Connacht became the seventh team to claim the Guinness PRO12 title with a magnificent display at BT Murrayfield, beating Leinster 20-10 to complete a dream season
In front of a record crowd for a Guinness PRO12 Final of 34,550, Pat Lam’s team scored three tries on the biggest day in their 131-year history.
While they were nervy in the opening exchanges once they got their hands on the ball, Connacht dominated the opening 40 minutes.
Able to open up Leinster with alarming regularity, they scored two fantastic first-half tries, through Tiernan O’Halloran and Niyi Adeolokun to lead 15-0 at the break.
While Jonathan Sexton cut the deficit with a penalty early in the second half, Matt Healy’s try just before the hour stretched the lead out to 17.
That was cut to ten when Sean Cronin went over to set up a huge last ten minutes but there was to be no comeback as Connacht produced one final effort to see it out.
Leinster dealt Munster a 5th straight loss in all competitions, as they leapfrogged them into the Guinness PRO12 play-off places with a 24 / 7 win at Thomond Park.
A try in each half from Isa Nacewa and Jack McGrath proved enough for Leinster, despite the best efforts of Anthony Foley’s team.
The icing on the cake was provided by Zane Kirchner with a last-gasp interception as Munster pushed for a losing bonus point to seal the win.
And as a result, Leinster, who started the season slowly, are now settled in the top four heading into 2016.
Leinster prop Cian Healy has been banned for 2 weeks for dangerous play during last weekend’s European Champions Cup game against Toulon.
The 28-year-old Ireland international was charged with striking Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado with his knee during the 24-9 defeat in France.
The striking charge was found to be not proven but the incident was deemed to be foul play.
Healy misses the return fixture against Toulon and a Pro12 match with Munster.
Although there were no aggravating factors, judicial officer Roger Morris said the ban could not be reduced because Healy does not have a clean disciplinary record.
As the Guinness PRO12 clubs now turn their attention to Europe, Connacht moved to the Top of the table by recording a 5th consecutive league win for the 1st time since 2002 – beating Benetton Treviso 33 / 19 underneath the Friday night lights at the Sportsground.
Robbie Henshaw made his breakthrough at fullback and in his 1st game for Connacht since returning from the Rugby World Cup he was back in the No 15 shirt, dotting down for 1 of his side’s 3 tries as Matt Healy and Tom McCartney notched the others.
Jayden Hayward crossed twice for Treviso and Edoardo Gori grabbed another try at the death but the Italians still slipped to a 14th consecutive Guinness PRO12 defeat.
Leinster have confirmed that they have received a request from the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to release Kane Douglas, under World Rugby Regulation 9.
Leinster team manager Guy Easterby told the club’s website that a formal request had been received last Friday.
“We are delighted for Kane and wish him well as he seeks the form and fitness required for selection for The Rugby Championship and, of course, the World Cup after that,” Easterby said.
Douglas isn’t the only foreign Leinster player affected by a Rugby World Cup call up.
“Zane Kirchner is also in the initial South African squad and likewise we wish him well,” Easterby said.
Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy has called time on his illustrious career, making himself available for the World Cup 1 last time.
In a statement released personally by D’Arcy he said he will leave rugby entirely from October this year.
D’Arcy was a promising fullback for schools side Clongowes Wood in the late 1990’s, and on the eve of his Leaving Certificate was called into the Irish squad for the tour of South Africa by coach Warren Gatland.
However, because of his studies he declined the opportunity.
On leaving school he joined the Lansdowne Football Club and made his Ireland debut on 15 October 1999 as a substitute against Romania during the World Cup.
2 Time defending champions Toulon will bid for an unprecedented hat-trick of European titles against Clermont after beating Leinster 25 / 20 following extra-time in Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final.
Toulon’s Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked 6 penalties and converted a Bryan Habana interception try for a personal haul of 20 points in an ultimately thrilling match that went to extra-time after finishing 12 / 12 after regulation time.
Leinster had Ian Madigan to thank for 5 penalties, while Sean O’Brien scored a late try that made for a nerve-racking climax.
Turnovers, ruck penalties and handling errors saw out a tight if uninspiring, pressure-laden 1st-half during which Toulon failed to convert their territorial domination into points.
The European Rugby Champions Cup semifinals takes place this weekend.
On Saturday, Clermont Auvergne host Saracens at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne at 16:15 French Time (15:15 BST, 14:15 GMT).
On Sunday, Toulon host Leinster at Stade Felix-Mayol, Toulon at 16:15 French Time (15:15 BST, 14:15 GMT).
Clemont Auvergne vs Saracens:
Saracens knocked Clermont Auvergne for 6 at the European Cup semifinal stage last season, will it be repeat or redemption this time around?
The 46 / 6 triumph booked McCall’s men a place in last seasons’ Millennium Stadium finale against Toulon. They set new semifinal records for the most points scored by a team (46), the largest winning margin (40) and the most tries scored (6). Surely lightning cannot strike twice between the Pool 1 rivals, who each scored a victory over each other in the early Rounds.
Saracens have their defensive leader, Brad Barritt, back in the side after a knee injury kept him out of action for a month. England playmaker Owen Farrell crossed for 1 of Saracens’ 6 tries last year and is set to make an impact off the bench after he was sidelined for 3 months in the last meeting between the pair.
A bumper weekend of European cup action saw the semifinalists for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup decided across 3 days.
After an enthralling set of games on Sunday, we now know that Clermont will play Saracens in Saint-Etienne, while Toulon will face Leinster in Marseille in what are set to be 2 titanic battles.
Champions Toulon remain in the hunt for what would be a 3rd successive European title. No side has ever achieved that before but Toulon unquestionably have the players to do so.
They were too smart and too strong for a stubborn Wasps outfit at the Stade Mayol on Sunday, winning with Juan Smith and Bryan Habana watching on from the stands due to injuries. Both are expected however to be in contention for the semifinals.
Bakkies Botha did start in the second row as Toulon won 14 out of 15 lineouts, contributing to their success. Another trophy or 2 for the cabinet remain on the horizon for the Springbok legend ahead of his retirement. Michael Claassens was on the bench.
Defeat for Wasps of course also meant defeat for Ashley Johnson, as the former Cheetahs back rower’s side fell short despite a late rally in the 2nd half. Twice European champions in the past, Wasps are certainly on the up again.
Toulon will face Leinster in the semifinals after Zane Kirchner’s side knocked out Francois Louw’s Bath in Dublin. The former Bulls back was called from the bench early on at the Aviva Stadium and nearly scored a try in the corner not long after his arrival.
With 3 of the 4 quarterfinals taking place on french soil, and all 3 of those against English opposition it could feel somewhat like the Hundred year war for the Premiership sides.
In the only non Anglo-French encounter, Bath travel to Leinster while the remaining fixtures sees Clermont Auvergne take on Premiership table-toppers Northampton Saints, Racing Metro will play last year’s finalists Saracens, and finally champions Toulon will face Wasps.
The record books show that in 72 quarterfinal encounters in Europe’s top flight, 54 have been won by the home club – a staggering 75% success rate for those sides on home soil.
Premiership clubs make up half the Champions Cup quarterfinalists, although all have to play away from home.
English teams have a 20% success rate away from home in the tournament, winning only 4 times in 20 quarterfinal games to date.
For the 9 away matches against French opposition, the success rate is as low as 11%, with only 1 win – Northampton Saints’ 7 / 6 victory over Biarritz Olympique in San Sebastian in 2007.
The only other English away victories in the last 8 have been Leicester Tigers over Leinster Rugby at Lansdowne Road in 2005, Bath at Leicester in 2006 and Saracens against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium last season.
The 3 French clubs in the Champions Cup quarterfinals have never lost at home in the last 8 of Europe’s top flight.
Toulon and Clermont have won home quarterfinals in the past 2 seasons, while Racing Metro have reached the knockout stage for the 1st time in their history.
The odds are definitely stacked against the English clubs, but that does not mean that any of the French teams will take them lightly.
Jake White’s Montpellier bounced back from their comprehensive loss away from home to Glasgow Warriors last week by beating fellow French team Toulouse in their final European Rugby Champions Pool 4 match on Sunday. Montpellier won a closely contested match by the narrowest of margins with a final score of 27 / 26 in their favour.
This victory for Montpellier meant that Saracens qualified for the last eight of the Cup in spite of losing their last Pool 1 match against pool winners Clermont Auvergne. The score in that match Clermont Auvergne 18 / 6 Saracens.
The 5 pool winners along with the 3 best second placed team advanced and Saracens made it through as the last qualifying with the lowest amount of points from their 6 matches (17). Had Toulouse won they would have qualified as Pool 4 winners along with Bath who won their Pool 4 match against Glasgow Warriors. Toulouse also ended the pool stage on 17 points but Saracens got through via a superior points difference, +14 versus Toulouse’s +2.
The festive season continues with derby matches in Round 12 of the Guinness PRO12. Some of the matches are the return leg of derbies played around the Boxing Day period. The attention in Scotland will be focussed on BT Murrayfield on Friday night where Edinburgh will host their rivals from the west, Glasgow Warriors, in a PRO12 fixture that doubles up as the second leg of the 1872 Cup.
Glasgow Warriors go into the game with a 10-point advantage following their win over Edinburgh on Boxing Day and will be looking to retain what is said to be the oldest cup in club rugby, yet again. There was only 1 try scored in the first leg of the 1872 Cup last week and with blustery conditions likely for Friday night the game may be a low scoring battle of attrition that could go the way of the team that makes the least errors.
Considering the relative positions of the 2 teams on the PRO12 table and the fact that Glasgow go into the game with that 10- point cushion one should expect at the very least that they maintain their grip on the 1872 Cup.
Zane Kirchener’s late try at the RDS Arena made sure Leinster got revenge for their early season defeat to Connacht with a 21/11 win in the Guinness PRO12 last night.
Leinster – who were beaten 10-9 at the Sportsground on the opening day of the season – were in control from the off but struggled to kill off a spirited Connacht side who made the home team sweat.
The hosts went into the final stages ahead but a late try from George Naoupu moved the visitors to within three points, setting up a nervy finish.
But Kirchner showed quick thinking to steal in and dot down with moments left to ensure Leinster picked up their sixth win of the season.
Leinster skills coach Richie Murphy has confirmed reports that Jimmy Gopperth is talking to other clubs and will leave the province at the end of the current season.
Ireland’s first-choice flyhalf Jonathan Sexton will return to Leinster next season after a stint with Racing Metro and utility back Ian Madigan – Sexton’s understudy with the national team – is contracted until 2016.
It is understood that Wasps are favourites to sign New Zealander Gopperth, who would move at the end of the current season, but that he is talking to a number of clubs across Europe.
“Jimmy was given a heads-up early on about Johnny [Sexton] coming back and he feels he still wants to be a first-team player,” Murphy said.
The third round of matches in the Guinness PRO12 take place this weekend with three matches scheduled for Friday night, two for Saturday and one for Sunday.
Welsh outfit the Ospreys, who are unbeaten in the PRO12 this season, will head into round 3 at the top of the table with nine points. The only two other unbeaten teams are Glasgow Warriors and Connacht who are in 2nd and 3rd position respectively. Ulster are the other team in the top 4, courtesy of a draw and a win in their first two fixtures and they are the only team who have two bonus points for scoring four tries or more. Ulster top the try scoring list at this early stage in the competition having scored nine tries in their two matches. However, they have conceded the most tries, a handful, of the teams in the top four.
Connacht continued their winning start to the season with another tight triumph, this time a 14-13 victory over Edinburgh Rugby thanks to Willy Faloon’s last-gasp try.
Tom Heathcote’s boot and a try from Cornell du Preez gave Edinburgh a 13-6 lead at half time; Connacht’s points coming from two Darragh Leader penalties.
Faloon was sent to the sin bin with 16 minutes left on the clock, but returned to touch down the winning try in the dying minutes.
The first round of matches in the Guinness PRO12 take place this weekend with two matches scheduled for Friday night, three for Saturday and one for Sunday.
The opening fixture of the tournament kicking off tonight in Limerick will see Munster Rugby hosting Edinburgh Rugby and for the last fixture of the round Cardiff Blues travel to Italy to take on Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
With the new Guinness PRO12 season kicking off this weekend on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs. The competition is between clubs from Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland. Ireland and Wales have four clubs / regions/provinces in the Guinness PRO12, while Italy and Scotland both provide two teams each to complete the twelve team line-up.
The Irish Rugby Football Union, Connacht and Leinster have agreed a loan deal that will see two high-profile players swap provinces.
Scrumhalf John Cooney and lock Quinn Roux will play at Connacht next season.
Roux will move to Connacht on an initial deal until December 31 and will link up with coach Pat Lam’s squad next month for the beginning of the pre-season period.
Meanwhile, Cooney, whose terms have been agreed for the full 2014/15 season, will continue his shoulder rehab with Leinster during the off-season before departing for Galway.
It was a solemn farewell for Brian O’Driscoll but an electric Zane Kirchner ensured the Leinster legend bowed out with back-to-back RaboDirect PRO12 titles.
O’Driscoll, playing in his last professional match, was forced off the pitch early on at a sun-soaked RDS but Kirchner lifted Leinster spirits with a try before setting up Shane Jennings in the first half.
Finn Russell ensured Glasgow Warriors were never too far off the pace with an accurate kicking display but Kirchner crossed over again late on before Gordon D’Arcy completed the scoring to make it 34-12.
Defending Champions Leinster will face Glasgow Warriors in the final of the RaboDirect PRO12 in front of a capacity crowd in Dublin tonight. Kick off is at 18:15 BST, 19:15 SA Time.
Leinster will be more familiar with the experience having played in and won many finals in the PRO12 and elsewhere in European Rugby, while it will be Glasgow Warriors first appearance ever in a final at this level.
Leinster stalwarts Brian ‘O Driscoll and captain Leo Cullen will be playing their final match for the club before they retire. The Glasgow Warriors also features players competing in the their final match for the team- Chris Cusiter, Ruaridh Jackson and Moray Low, who will be furthering their careers with clubs in England next season.
Leinster Rugby’s Jamie Heaslip talks about this weekends Rabo Pro12 final against Glasgow.
After the Heineken Cup double, last year Leinster settled for an Amlin trophy, but after being knocked out by the eventual winners, now look to the Pro12 to retain the trophy-winning streak they have cultivated over the last five years.
“They’re the positions you want to be in at this time of the year, to be playing in those games (European finals). I was awful jealous at the weekend not being involved in any sort of competition. It was the first time in a couple of years that happened.”
“We want to kick on come this week and we know the challenge ahead of us. We played these guys last year in the semis, we played them I don’t know how many times over the last couple of seasons in Europe and the league. We know that margins that are there; last year could have gone either way. I think Rob made a great tackle on the line and held a guy up over the line, one score separated the team.”
Former Heineken Cup champions Leinster have announced that they have signed Wallabies and Waratahs lock Kane Douglas after his Australian Rugby Union contract expires later in the year.
The 24 year old, who made his Australian debut in 2012 against Argentina and has gone on to win 13 further caps since then, will join a roster that already includes Irish internationals Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy.
We have reached the knockout stage of the 2013 / 2014 RaboDirect PRO12 season with the semi-finals to be played this weekend. The first game takes place in Glasgow tonight (Friday) and will see Glasgow Warriors, who finished in second spot on the log host third placed Munster. This is the first time that Glasgow Warriors have hosted a semi-final game in the PRO12.
The second game, to be played tomorrow (Saturday) will be an all Ireland affair with first placed Leinster hosting fourth placed Ulster. Johan Muller, in his last season at the club, will be captaining Ulster and will be hoping for a win to make it one more game before the curtain falls on what has been a very good time for him at the Belfast club.
Round 22 of the Pro12 promises to be a fitting finale to the regular season, with Play-Off spots and European qualification still to be settled.
As with previous seasons all 6 games will kick off simultaneously to add to the excitement and give no advantage to any team.
At the top of the table 3 teams are still in contention for the 2 home Play-Off spots and European qualification still to be settled.
Tom Court, the Ulster prop forward, appeared today before an independent PRO12 Disciplinary Committee in Neath, South Wales, having been dismissed with a Red Card in the RaboDirect PRO12 match between Ulster and Leinster at Ravenhill on Friday 2 May 2014.
Leinster have confirmed that 21 players have signed new IRFU contracts to continue playing with the province for the next season and beyond, plus the signing of prop Sean McCarthy from Jersey.
Coach Matt O’Connor made the announcement ahead of training as season ticket number sales have also now passed the 10,000 mark for next season.
Kane Douglas is understood to have agreed to a two-year deal with Leinster that would rule him out of contention for the 2015 World Cup.
The 14-Test cap Wallaby locks omission from the World Cup squad due to the Australian’s policy to not pick foreign based players would be a massive blow according to his Warartahs team mates.
The May Day weekend should provide the most intense scrutiny of the RaboDirect PRO12 table to date.
The opening fixture between Zebre and Ospreys could go a long way to answering some of the questions – a loss for the hosts would put Treviso in the driving seat for the Italian spot in next season’s European competition, whilst a loss for the visitors Ospreys, without picking up any league points, would take away their mathematical chances of making the Play-Offs .
The tug of war regarding the premier club competition in European rugby has been conducted very publicly for a long time and a week ago it was reported that an announcement on the structure of future competitions was imminent. However, it all seems to have gone quiet and no final announcement has been forthcoming.
There are rumours that the Italian clubs and their representative bodies were needing to discuss a few details of what should otherwise be a done deal. Furthermore there is the question of the broadcasting battle between Sky and BT Sport which is apparently in the process of being sorted out with a joint broadcast agreement likely for next season. The final rumour is that the parties involved may not have wanted to make any announcements this week in the lead up to the quarter finals of the current Heineken Cup competition.
With the Six Nations over the club tournament of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy takes centre stage once again as round 17 kicks off this Friday.
Having led Leinster to the Pro12 title last season, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt took the 6 Nations crown at the first time of asking in a tense finish to the Championship last weekend. Following on Ireland’s success it is perhaps appropriate that as the Pro12 returns to centre stage three of the top four teams are Irish Provinces.
After a round of games played in dreadful conditions during which yet another fixture fell foul of the weather, players and spectators alike must be hoping that Round 14 of the Pro12 fares better.
The round kicks off with two games in the Irish capitals on Friday night, one in Belfast and one in Dublin, both featuring Welsh opposition.