United Rugby Championship: Cardiff start season in fine fashion by beating Graham Rowntree’s Munster

Planet Rugby

Graham Rowntree’s first competitive match in charge of Munster ended in defeat as Cardiff secured a 20-13 victory in the Welsh capital.

Rowntree took over following Johann van Graan’s departure but, despite taking a 6-5 lead after 30 minutes through a pair of Ben Healy penalties, they eventually succumbed to the hosts.

Max Llewellyn had got Cardiff off to a superb start before Kristian Dacey regained their advantage after Healy’s three-pointers.

The early stages of the second period proved to be a tight affair before Jack O’Sullivan broke the deadlock for the Irish province, giving them a 13-12 advantage with 18 minutes remaining.

However, a Jarrod Evans penalty moved the Welsh region in front before Aled Summerhill’s score rounded off an excellent opening round win for Dai Young’s charges.

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It took Cardiff just four minutes to score the opening try, with a weak tackle from Munster lock Fineen Wycherley allowing Llewellyn to get back up on his feet to run in unopposed from 25 metres out.

Munster’s game was littered with handling errors, but they finally got on the board when Healy smashed over a difficult penalty.

Cardiff were dealt a significant blow when summer signing Liam Williams was forced off the field with his arm in a sling.

The Irish province then looked almost certain to score after Shane Daly danced his way past Evans before offloading to Liam Coombes, who was stopped centimetres short of the line.

Cardiff’s scramble defence was excellent, meaning Munster had to make do with three points from Healy’s boot which put them into the lead against the run of play.

But Cardiff hit back on the stroke of half-time when a well-timed inside ball from hooker Dacey sent Llewellyn charging through a gap.

The big centre proceeded to draw in the last Munster defender to put Dacey over for the try. Evans converted, meaning Munster turned around 12-6 behind at the interval.

Cardiff did not make the most of their territorial advantage and it cost them early in the second half. Munster won a penalty at the breakdown and booted the ball deep into the hosts’ half.

The visitors went through the phases and, after a period of sustained pressure on the Cardiff line, O’Sullivan powered over from short range.

Crowley added the extras to put Munster into the lead with only 15 minutes left.

But Evans soon nudged Cardiff back in front from the tee before some wonderful footwork from Uilisi Halaholo sent Summerhill over for the decisive try.

Zebre almost pull off Leinster upset

Leinster were left clinging on for a 33-29 United Rugby Championship victory over Zebre Parma in Italy after last season’s bottom side threatened to pull off their first victory over the Irish province.

Zebre ended the inaugural URC campaign with only one win to their name but they pushed Leinster – who topped the overall standings last term – all the way at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi thanks to an excellent second-half display.

Tries from Luke McGrath, Rhys Ruddock (2) and Jason Jenkins had given Leinster a 28-10 half-time lead and a try bonus, with Richard Kriel and Pierre Bruno touching down for the home side.

Simone Gesi and MJ Pelser crossed early in the second period as the deficit was reduced to 28-22 and the margin was down to four after Zebre responded to Dave Kearney’s unconverted try with a Franco Smith touchdown.

Zebre pushed for an unlikely victory but had to settle for a pair of bonus points in the end, along with a performance that will give them huge encouragement heading into the rest of the season.

Last season’s runners-up Bulls too strong for the Lions

The Bulls celebrated director of rugby Jake White’s new long-term contract by opening their United Rugby Championship campaign with a 31-15 win over the Lions in Johannesburg.

World Cup-winning coach White signed on until 2027 on Friday and will hope to see his side go one better this season after finishing as runners-up to the Stormers last time around.

Marcell Coetzee took only three minutes to score the game’s first try, which was then added to by Cornal Hendricks midway through the opening period.

The Lions fought back from 15-3 down to level at 15-15 with the help of tries from Francke Horn and Marius Louw but the boot of Chris Smith re-established a Bulls cushion.

Smith kicked 14 points in total and Jan-Hendrik Wessels’ try from a driving maul eight minutes from time made sure of the win, with fellow replacement Morne Steyn adding the extras.

Ospreys rescue late draw with Scarlets in thriller

Jack Walsh held his nerve to convert a last-minute try from Rhys Davies and earn the Ospreys a 23-23 draw in a pulsating derby against the Scarlets in Llanelli.

The Ospreys looked set for victory when they led 13-6 before the Scarlets took the box seat to go 23-16 in front.

However, a last-minute yellow card for Sione Kalamafoni let the Ospreys off the hook, with debutant Walsh kicking the crucial conversion having stepped off the bench.

Sam Costelow scored 18 points for the Scarlets with a try, three penalties and two conversions, while Johnny Williams was also on the try-scoring sheet.

Gareth Anscombe scored 16 points for the Ospreys, contributing a try, a conversion and three penalties.

Ulster too good for Connacht in Irish derby

Ulster opened their United Rugby Championship season with a convincing 36-10 bonus-point victory over Irish rivals Connacht at Ravenhill in Belfast.

Dan McFarland’s side scored five tries, with man-of-the-match Tom Stewart claiming their second on his senior debut in a game Ulster controlled throughout after building a 14-3 half-time lead.

Veteran Luke Marshall opened the scoring and after Stewart’s effort, Nathan Doak got over in the second half as did Stewart Moore and Callum Reid.

Doak kicked four conversions and a penalty for a personal haul of 16 points.

Connacht managed a solitary try from Caolin Blade in the second half, with their only other points coming from a Conor Fitzgerald penalty and David Hawkshaw conversion.

Edinburgh dominate dreadful Dragons

Darcy Graham scored an impressive double as Edinburgh recovered from a slow start to record an emphatic 44-6 victory over Dragons.

Mike Blair’s side ran in seven tries in 35 minutes to kick off the United Rugby Championship season in style at the DAM Health Stadium in the Scottish capital.

Ben Vellacott, Glen Young, Damien Hoyland, Blair Kinghorn and Chris Dean also crossed as Edinburgh subjected Dai Flanagan to a painful debut as Dragons head coach. Mark Bennett also kicked nine points for the home team.

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