URC: Leigh Halfpenny kicks Scarlets to victory, Connacht defeat youthful Sharks, Leinster edge Ospreys

Leigh Halfpenny scored 13 points to help Scarlets to a shock 28-22 United Rugby Championship (URC) victory over Cardiff at the Arms Park on Saturday, while Connacht defeated a youthful Sharks side and Leinster edged Ospreys. Credit: Alamy
Leigh Halfpenny scored 13 points to help Scarlets to a shock 28-22 United Rugby Championship (URC) victory over Cardiff at the Arms Park on Saturday, while Connacht defeated a youthful Sharks side and Leinster edged Ospreys. Credit: Alamy

Leigh Halfpenny scored 13 points to help Scarlets to a shock 28-22 United Rugby Championship (URC) victory over Cardiff at the Arms Park on Saturday, while Connacht defeated a youthful Sharks side and Leinster edged Ospreys.

Scrum-half Dane Blacker, winger Johnny McNicholl and centre Jonathan Davies all scored in the first half, with Halfpenny adding a conversion to the second and third try to guide the visitors to a 19-10 lead.

Cardiff opened the scoring through a Jarrod Evans penalty in the third minute and finished the first half strongly as Taulupe Faletau forced his way over the line, Evans adding the extras.

Halfpenny added a penalty early in the second half to extend Scarlets’ lead, but Cardiff hit back through a Rhys Carre try after Steff Thomas was yellow carded. The Scarlets full-back added another penalty shortly afterwards.

Josh Adams’ 63rd-minute try brought Cardiff right back into the game, but Scarlets managed to keep them at bay as Halfpenny knocked over his third penalty in the 71st minute.

Scarlets back row Aaron Shingler was yellow carded just before the clock ticked over the 80-minute mark for standing on Ellis Jenkins’ hand, but Ken Owens would come to the rescue with a turnover to seal the 22-28 URC win.

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A penalty from Evans gave Cardiff an early lead, but within a minute, Scarlets had responded with the opening try.

Cardiff lost possession at the restart for their opponents to win a penalty, which Blacker took quickly to be over the line in a flash. Halfpenny converted, so his side led 7-3 at the end of an evenly-contested first quarter.

The hosts suffered a blow when their lock, Lopeti Timani, was yellow-carded for a high tackle, and the visitors were soon able to capitalise with some excellent ball-retention creating the space for McNicholl to outflank the cover defence and score.

Cardiff’s misery continued when they lost Liam Williams and Rey Lee-Lo to injury, with Rhys Priestland and Mason Grady coming on to replace them.

Almost immediately, the home side fell further behind when more skilful passing sent McNicholl racing away down the right flank. The wing kicked ahead, and when the ball bounced unfavourably for Cardiff, Davies was on hand to touch down.

Timani returned from the sin-bin in side to see his side reduce the arrears when Faletau forced his way over from a five-metre scrum with a conversion from Evans, leaving Cardiff trailing 19-10 at the interval.

Four minutes after the restart, Halfpenny kicked a penalty, but his side suffered a setback when their prop, Thomas, was yellow-carded for a high shot on Thomas Young.

Cardiff immediately took advantage when Carre drove over from close-range, but Halfpenny succeeded with a second to leave the hosts chasing the game.

Their injury woes continued when Young hobbled off, but they still set up a tense finish when Adams collected an excellent cross-field kick from Ben Thomas to score.

However, Halfpenny took his tally to 13 points with his third penalty to give Scarlets only their third league victory of the URC season.

Connacht have too much bite for Sharks

Three first-half tries laid the foundations for Connacht’s much-needed 24-12 URC win over the Sharks at the Sportsground.

Young centre Cathal Forde crossed twice in a player-of-the-match performance, with Conor Oliver and Tiernan O’Halloran also claiming tries to give the hosts a 19-0 half-time lead.

Squad rotation saw the Sharks retain only three starters from their 47-20 victory over the Bulls, while their director of rugby Neil Powell stayed behind in Durban in order to prepare for the Champions Cup next week.

Forde’s 55th-minute effort sealed Connacht’s bonus point in wet and windy conditions before the youthful Sharks halved the deficit through Rohan Janse van Rensburg and replacement Dian Bleuler.

The strong wind made for an error-strewn start, obstruction by Josh Murphy at a lineout robbing Connacht of their first real opportunity, but they made no mistake midway through the first half.

A Kieran Marmion break led to a penalty, and from the lineout, a surging maul saw flanker Oliver ground the ball in the left corner.

The post denied Jack Carty’s conversion, but he was on target when adding the extras to Forde’s first of the evening, the 21-year-old being the beneficiary of Tom Farrell’s gobbling up of a Mack Hansen kick over the top.

Turnovers cost the Sharks in their attempts to respond, and full-back O’Halloran got on the scoresheet with a crisply-executed move just before the interval.

Turning into the wind, Connacht came through Shane Delahunt’s sin-binning unscathed. Indeed, only a Farrell knock-on ruled out what would have been a tremendous team try finished off by Carty.

The bonus point was secured when Forde blocked down a Nevaldo Fleurs kick to widen the gap to 24 points. Centre Van Rensburg got the Sharks on the board on the hour mark, bursting through a gap for replacement Lionel Cronje to make it a seven-pointer.

Kerron van Vuuren, another of the South Africans’ bench players, had a quick-fire try ruled out for Grant Williams being offside from a charge-down.

Bleuler did burrow over for some late consolation, but it was too little, too late from the Joey Mongalo-coached side.

Leinster see off spirited Ospreys performance

Ospreys pushed leaders Leinster all the way, but two late tries saw the Dubliners maintain their unbeaten record in this compelling URC clash at the Swansea.com Stadium, which ended 24-19.

The home side led for 63 minutes before late Leinster tries by full-back Hugo Keenan and wing Jimmy O’Brien ended hopes of a victory for the Welsh side.

Wing Keelan Giles had crossed for a first-half try, and the boot of makeshift wing Cai Evans had put the Ospreys 16-10 ahead until Leinster finally struck in the last quarter to make it 12 wins on the trot in the URC.

Evans’ 73rd-minute penalty salvaged a bonus point for the home side, and they pushed the URC’s dominant force for most of the game with a resolute defensive display and an impressive scrum.

The home side were without the likes of Wales quartet of Rhys Webb, Alex Cuthbert, Jac Morgan and Adam Beard but had the experience of British and Irish Lions Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric to call on.

Tipuric, in particular, produced a captain’s performance and sent a timely reminder to returning Wales coach Warren Gatland of his ability as a player and a leader.

The Ospreys were forced into a late change with playmaker Owen Williams withdrawing due to sickness, and he was replaced by Jack Walsh in the 10 shirt.

To add to those woes, wing Mat Protheroe was forced off with an arm injury early on to be replaced by Wales centre Joe Hawkins, but it was the Ospreys pack that forced the issue early on, demolishing the visitors’ scrum.

Wing Evans landed an early penalty before the Ospreys scored the game’s first try after Morgan Morris burst free from a scrum, and Reuben Morgan Williams set Giles free to race in from 20 metres for the try.

Evans converted to make the score 10-0 before Leinster replied with a Harry Byrne penalty, and hooker Dan Sheehan crossed out wide after a period of sustained pressure by the visitors to make it 10-10 at half-time.

After the break, Evans slotted over two penalties before Keenan and O’Brien crossed for tries in the last 15 minutes to finally break the home side’s spirit in Swansea.

Evans landed a fourth penalty to clinch a vital bonus point.

Up next

The URC teams are back in action in the Champions and Challenge Cup next weekend when the Sharks host Bordeaux in Durban, while Leinster visit Kingsholm to tackle Gloucester.

Ospreys are at home with Montpellier visiting, while the Scarlets host the Cheetahs and Cardiff welcome Newcastle Falcons to Arms Park.

READ MORE: Benetton continue fine form with narrow win over Ulster while Edinburgh beat Zebre to end losing streak

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