United Rugby Championship wrap: Leinster fight, South African smiles and Welsh worries in round nine

United Rugby Championship: Split with Libbok, Moodie and Ringrose Credit: Alamy
United Rugby Championship: Split with Libbok, Moodie and Ringrose Credit: Alamy

With the dust settled on round nine of the United Rugby Championship, Planet Rugby looks at the best from the action that included stunning performances from several title contenders.

Talking points

Good weekend for South African sides: The four teams from the Rainbow Nation came away with comfortable wins, all against Welsh opposition. The Bulls led the charge with a resounding 45-9 victory over Cardiff at Loftus Versfeld in a stunning team performance that Jake White will be looking to build on ahead of this week’s Champions Cup fixtures.

The Stormers played a beautiful 60 minutes of rugby, scoring some stunning tries before leaving the door open for a late Dragons surge, with the game ending 34-26 in favour of the Cape outfit.

Elsewhere, the Sharks returned to winning ways with a 25-10 win over the Ospreys in their first game under Neil Powell’s tutelage, while the Lions showed their class in the sweltering heat to come away with a 32-15 win over Scarlets in a solid showing.

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Trouble for Welsh and Italian sides: Teams from both Wales and Italy all failed to win this weekend, with some big scores being put on Cardiff, Benetton and Zebre Parma in particular.

The results leave Wales with only Cardiff in the top eight at the halfway stage, with the remaining teams joining the Italian sides at the foot of the table. It looks ominous, particularly for the Welsh, who have problems from top to bottom whilst the Italians are learning and growing, but this is a reminder of how far the top eight is ahead in terms of quality and, most importantly, consistency.

Munster show grit: Graham Rowntree’s reign at the Irish province had not started as smoothly as he would have liked, but the Englishman’s influence on the team has begun to take shape. Munster enjoyed a confidence boost during the Test window with an impressive victory against South Africa ‘A’ and looked to have kicked on from that.

The province were trailing to Edinburgh after two early tries from the Scots but showed great character to stay in the game and ultimately come away with a lovely 38-17 win.

Darcy Graham cannot stop scoring: The Scottish wing has been absolutely electric this season for both club and country and continues to score most games he features in. The same applied this weekend as the diminutive wing snatched an interception try in a losing cause for Edinburgh.

The Scot leads the try-scoring charts with eight after nine games and is two ahead of his nearest challengers. Can anyone catch the elusive star?

Team performance of the round

Leinster did not have it their own way against fierce rivals Ulster as the experienced Cian Healy was given his marching orders for dangerous play in the 20th minute, opening the door for the visitors who obliged and stretched their lead out to 19 points at a stage.

However, Leinster showed their championship quality and put together a sensational comeback to not only catch up to Ulster but surpass them and claim a 38-29 victory.

The performances across the board were fantastic, and the character shown by Leinster was very impressive. The result will send shockwaves through the competition as Ulster looked to have the second spot nailed on and ultimately should have closed out the game.

Simple learnings from this epic clash – never ever count Leinster out.

Player of the round

There was a strong temptation to award Manie Libbok the player of the round after his outstanding showing for the Stormers, but Leinster skipper Garry Ringrose is preferred.

The Irishman put in a captain’s performance and was key to a memorable comeback, scoring two well-taken tries at vital times throughout the clash as Leinster flexed their muscles yet again in the United Rugby Championship.

Young player of the round

Canan Moodie will likely receive this title reasonably often, as it is easy to forget that the Springbok star has only recently turned 20. However, on the field, the speedster looks so composed and assured, with an excellent understanding of his role and how to influence the game.

The wing scored two tries with three clean breaks and 78 metres made whilst playing splendidly in tandem with the electric Kurt-Lee Arendse. The duo are absolutely venomous and could cause problems throughout the remainder of the season.

Try of the round

It is a try that has been on repeat since the moment it was scored. Stormers’ superstar Libbok showed off his running power with a fantastic solo effort against the Dragons on Saturday.

With the scrum feed on halfway, the ball was played out to Libbok, who spotted the rush defence and cut twice, slaloming through the defensive line before making easy work of the final defender. What a try by a player who is oozing confidence at the moment.

Team of the week

15 Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls)
14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh)
13 Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
12 Marius Louw (Lions)
11 Canan Moodie (Bulls)
10 Manie Libbok (Stormers)
9 Craig Casey (Munster)
8 Emmanuel Tshituka (Lions)
7 Marcus Rea (Ulster)
6 Marco van Staden (Bulls)
5 Niall Murray (Connacht)
4 Jean Kleyn (Munster)
3 Finlay Bealham (Connacht)
2 Johnny Matthews (Glasgow Warriors)
1 Andrew Porter (Leinster)

READ MORE: Who’s hot and who’s not: Munster and Leinster comebacks, Super Rugby Pacific deal boost, injury blows and Welsh regions’ sobering weekend

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