In the penultimate weekend of Pro 12 domestic action, Glasgow Warriors travelled to Italy looking to secure their playoff place, whilst Edinburgh travelled to Wales with little to play for ahead of their Heineken cup semi final next weekend.
Benetton Treviso 8 –13 Glasgow Warriors
In a nervy performance, returning World Cup star DTH Van der Merwe was the hero for Glasgow as the Canadian came off the bench to secure yet unlikely victory which all but seals the Warriors’ playoff spot.
In torrential conditions in Northern Italy, it was the home side who raced into a 5-0 lead after a try by winger Brendan Williams, stand-off Kris Burton narrowly missing the tricky conversion.
Glasgow hit back through a penalty from Duncan Weir although both sides were reduced to 14 men after numerous warnings for violent conduct fell on deaf ears as captain Al Kellock and Treviso’s Edoardo Gori were sent to cool down for 10 minutes after yet another off-the-ball scrap.
The rain eased in the second half although Glasgow struggled to gain any territory and were camped in their own half for much of the second period.
A stunning break from Stuart Hogg almost led to a try but the Warriors had to settle for another penalty from Weir before he was replaced by Ruaridh Jackson. Kris Burton landed another penalty at the other end shortly after setting up a nail-biting climax to a scrappy encounter.
A Jackson penalty effort rebounded off the posts and the clearance kick fell for substitute Van der Merve who was making his first appearance of the season. The Canadian then showed a neat turn of pace to fend of three tacklers and power his way over the line to secure the vital win. Jackson added the conversion meaning the Warriors now need only a point from their remaining match with Connacht to be sure of a playoff place.
Cardiff Blues 38 –13 Edinburgh Rugby
In a meaningless match for both sides, Cardiff Blues finally ended their miserable run with an emphatic win over a second-string Edinburgh at Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday.
Winger Alex Cuthbert, whose future at the region remains uncertain, scored a hat trick after Lloyd Williams had opened the scoring as the Blues said farewell to 12 players from their squad in their final home match of the season.
Edinburgh had their focus firmly on next weekend’s huge Heineken semi final, but to their credit, their fringe players looked to put their hand up for selection with the likes of Harry Leonard and Roddy Grant impressing.
The visitor’s only first half points came from Phil Godman’s penalty and they had to wait until the end of the match for their next score, a well-taken try from replacement stand-off Leonard which he also converted.
Luke Hamilton and Josh Navidi also crossed for the Blues in the second half making it a fitting farewell to their departing squad members and also Martyn Williams who is retiring.
Ulster 8 – 16 Leinster
Ulster’s Pro 12 playoff hopes came to an end on Friday night as provincial rivals Leinster secured another impressive victory having already secured a home semi final.
An early try from back-rower Kevin McGlaughlin and eight points from stand-off Johnny Sexton had the visitors ahead early on as Ulster seemed to struggle in the wet conditions.They hit back through Johann Muller whilst Ruan Pienaar slotted a long-range penalty to keep them in the game at half time.
A second half drop-goal from Sexton increased the Leinster lead and Ulster knew that a defeat by more than seven points would end their playoff hopes, and despite their late surge, they could not get near the Leinster line and they will now have to lift themselves for their Heineken cup semi final against Edinburgh in Dublin next Saturday.
Scarlets 20 – 20 Munster
In south west Wales, the Scarlets knew that a win over Munster would move them into the playoff spots overnight whilst a defeat would almost surely end their challenge for this year.
In a thrilling contest, both sides came out battling but it was Munster, who have all but secured a top four finish, who lead after two tries from Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo after Sean Lamont had given the Welsh side an early lead with a fantastic try.
At 7-17, the home fans must have thought it was all over, but credit to the Scarlets who’s never-say-die attitude has won them many fans over the past few seasons, as they battled back through a try from back-rower Aaron Shingler before stand-off Rhys Priestland drew the sides level after Ian Keatley had booted another Munster penalty to make it 20-20.
Despite a dramatic finish which ran way into overtime, neither side could land the fatal blow and a draw will suit the Irish province far more than it will the Scarlets as it means they will need a 5 point victory next weekend and hope that Glasgow lose their remaining two matches to have any hope of qualifying.
Ospreys 31 – 12 Newport-Gwent Dragons
In what was billed as Shane Williams’ last-ever home match for the Ospreys, the legendary winger may have helped his side on their way to an unlikely home semi-final thanks to his dramatic late try and conversion.
The Dragons put up more of a fight than many had expected but four penalties from centre Lewis Robbling were all they had to show for their efforts despite some fine defending close to their line.
Ospreys were in the mood to celebrate and often ran the ball from their own 22 in an effort to raise the noise levels in a packed Liberty Stadium.
A try from stalwart Ryan Jones and a penalty try helped them on their way to a bonus-point victory before a lengthy spell of possession late in the second half led to another penalty try before Williams’ spectacular finish, which he was also allowed the honour of converting, ensured a bonus point victory and with a trip to struggling Aironi next week, second place is well within their reach.
Connacht 19-16 Aironi
Aironi have never won a Pro 12 match on the road and in their final attempt before their licence is revoked, almost managed an unlikely win at the Sportsground in Galway, but it was not to be.
Aironi led 16-3 at halftime thanks to a try from Quintin Geldenhuys and the boot of Luciano Orquera, but the Irish Province raised their game in their final home match of the season, and fought back to 16-16 through a try from replacement prop Rodney Ah You before a frantic final 10 minutes saw them clinch victory through a monstrous penalty effort from stand-off Matthew Jarvis.
The final round of matches will all be played at 7:30pm BST on Saturday May 5th:
Glasgow Warriors v Connacht
Edinburgh Rugby v Treviso
Scarlets v Cardiff Blues
Aironi v Ospreys
Munster v Ulster
Newport-Gwent Dragons v Leinster
You can follow Finlay Morrison on Twitter @FinMorrison