There were three wins for the Irish provinces this weekend in the Guinness PRO14 as Leinster, Connacht and Ulster all recorded victories.
Munster’s 6-10 loss to the Scarlets in Llanelli will have disappointed the supporters of the southern province but as we mentioned before, Johann van Graan’s side had ample opportunity to win that game as they dominated possession and territory for long periods.
Nevertheless, Leinster secured a home semi-final thanks to their win over the Cheetahs at the RDS on Friday night while the remaining three provinces are in strong positions to reach the playoffs as explained here.
With all that in mind, we take a look at some of the best performers of the weekend from an Irish provincial perspective.
Irish Provincial XV Of The Weekend:
15. Dave Kearney (Leinster)
Dave Kearney had a good night’s work on Friday as he dealt brilliantly with the Cheetahs kicking game. The South African side consistently and regularly kicked possession away as they looked to target Kearney and his backfield colleagues but the 29-year-old was assured under the high ball.
In attack, Kearney also flourished as he carried 17 times for 138 metres while beating eight defenders in the process.
14. Robert Baloucoune (Ulster)
The Ireland Sevens star is having a breakthrough season in the 15-man code and he continued his very good form by putting in an excellent performance for Ulster in their win over the Dragons on Sunday.
He was desperately unlucky not to get on the scoresheet when he was hauled into touch by Jordan Williams just before he grounded the ball.
However, his all-round performance was brilliant especially in the build-up to John Cooney’s try. Baloucoune collected a dangerous cross-field kick from the Dragons before stepping around a would-be tackler and offloading to Louis Ludik who provided the final pass for Cooney to score.
13. Rory O’Loughlin (Leinster)
Tough to leave out Tom Farrell who put in another good performance for Connacht but Rory O’Loughlin gets the nod for lighting up the RDS with the only real piece of magic on the night.
A sweeping backline move saw O’Loughlin pick up the ball on the near touchline. The outside centre kicked the ball over the top before he showed sublime skill to kick the bouncing ball forward just enough to allow him to touch down.
Defensively, O’Loughlin was on top form as he finished the game with a 100% tackle completion rate.
12. Peter Robb (Connacht)
Another difficult decision with Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Leinster’s Conor O’Brien both impressing this weekend but the nod goes to Connacht’s Peter Robb who excelled in midfield against the Ospreys.
Robb ran a superb scything line in the opening minutes as he burst threw the Ospreys defence before laying the ball off to Kieran Marmion who passed to Robb’s centre partner Tom Farrell to score the first try of the game.
Throughout, Robb was a dangerous with ball in hand while he didn’t shy away from his defensive duties by sticking nine tackles.
11. Darren Sweetnam (Munster)
There was few positives from a Munster perspective but the performance of Dunmanway native Darren Sweetnam definitely stood out.
‘Sweets’ was dangerous in possession while also incredibly brave in the air as he showed little regard for his own welfare by putting his body on the line to win some crucial possession for Munster.
He got the better of Ioan Nicholas on more than one occasion while he was also penalised harshly by referee Mike Adamson for competing fairly in the air.
10. Kyle Godwin (Connacht)
Although Kyle Godwin will be annoyed that a blocked kick resulted in a try for the Ospreys in the first half, his performance throughout his 69-minute performance was superb.
He was excellent from the tee in difficult conditions while his territorial kicking was sublime as he continuously found space in the Ospreys backfield to expose.
Man-of-the-match on the day and completely deserved.
9. Kieran Marmion (Connacht)
11 points from Ulster’s John Cooney is difficult to ignore but Kieran Marmion was superb for Connacht on Saturday as he continues his comeback from an ankle injury.
Cooney has stepped up in Marmion’s place on the international front so it will be interesting to see if the Connacht man can edge his was back into the reckoning off the back of this performance.
Marmion helped provide quick ball to the Connacht backs while he also ran his usual excellent support lines as he made himself available for the offload time and time again once his teammates broke through the Ospreys defence.
A very good display.
1. Eric O’Sullivan (Ulster)
Eric O’Sullivan has been a revelation for Ulster this season and he continued his rise by putting in a man-of-the-match performance against the Dragons on Sunday.
Not only has he heavily contributed to Ulster’s scrum and maul revival this season but the loosehead prop continues to show his skill with ball in hand by producing deft passes time and time again.
In his school days, O’Sullivan played at number eight which may explain his increased ability with ball in hand.
On Sunday, the 23-year-old beat two defenders and carried relentlessly while he also popped up in the middle of some of Ulster’s fine attacking moves.
2. Shane Delahunt (Connacht)
Workrate is what you get with Shane Delahunt and he certainly delivered in that regard for Connacht on Saturday.
In his performance against the Ospreys, the hooker put in a mammoth defensive shift by producing 15 tackles with only one missed.
On the other side of the ball, he in the thick of it too by carrying 11 times.
3. Marty Moore (Ulster)
Marty Moore continues to improve as the season goes on and one expects it won’t be too much longer until he is back in the Ireland reckoning.
Moore was solid at the scrum on Sunday afternoon while in open play he was in double digits for both tackles and carries.
His second-half try showed how dangerous he can be from close range as he powered over for Ulster’s second try at the beginning of the second half.
4. Jean Kleyn (Munster)
Has proven to be such an important figure to the Munster cause, Jean Kleyn was in his element in the difficult conditions at Rodney Parade on Saturday.
With his serious engine, Kleyn put in a relentless 65 minute shift, carrying 13 times into heavy traffic while completing a 100% tackle completion rate.
5. Kieran Treadwell (Ulster)
A towering performance from the Ireland international as he got through a serious amount of work in difficult conditions.
Treadwell led the carrying charts among the forwards with 18 runs while he was also busy during his defensive duties by making 10 tackles.
6. Fineen Wycherley (Munster)
The West Cork native continues to impress this season but the only question among Munster supporters is where is his best position?
Wycherley lined out at blindside in his side’s narrow loss to the Scarlets where he tackled and carried relentlessly.
Despite what looked to be a finger injury as he got strapped up, Wycherley continued to post some impressive numbers as he carried 14 times and made 12 tackles.
7. Max Deegan (Leinster)
Max Deegan’s continued run at openside for Leinster is reaping dividends as he put in a man-of-the-match performance for his side on Friday night.
He put in a perfectly timed bone-crunching tackle in the second half which led to a crucial turnover while throughout the game, he put in a typically workmanlike back-row performance by posting 14 tackles and 10 carries.
8. Nick Timoney (Ulster)
Nick Timoney put in a defensive masterclass against the Dragons with 15 tackles to his name. The 23-year-old Dubliner was also successful in attack as he gained 45 metres from 13 carries, beat four defenders and produced one line break.