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Connacht's nightmare day and more talking points from a hectic Pro12 Saturday

Scarlets were the big winners in the chase for Champions Cup places.

Connacht fall a long way short

PAT LAM’S SIDE set out at the start of this week to cause a shock against the league leaders. To do that, they would have needed to be ferocious in defence and clinical in attack.

They were neither.

Ronan Loughney dejected Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Glasgow did the damage before half-time, consistently raiding through gaps left around the fringes. Once a Gregor Townsend player is running in open field, they rarely lack the skills to find the pass needed to the supporting runner.

Dan McFarland’s set-pieces were faring well throughout, but time and again Connacht’s phaseplay let them down with ball after ball hitting either the turf or the wrong ball-carrying option.

Murphy’s law

Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Westerners today. Rather than take hold of a vital win that would breathe new life in to their push for Champions Cup qualification, they slumped to a fifth straight defeat without so much as a losing bonus point as consolation.

Robbie Henshaw dejected Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The loss was compounded by news from Cardiff late in the afternoon: Scarlets, who started the day level on points with the western province, scored four tries in a 10 -29 win over the Dragons. Suddenly, the team sneaking up behind Connacht have a full five point-breathing space.

Scarlets will hope to close out the season in sixth with games against Cardiff and Treviso to come. Connacht can get back in the hunt against Zebre next time out, but finishing up against Ospreys will always be a tough fixture to go looking for points from.

Welcome back, Donnacha Ryan!

Munster almost managed to beat Treviso in their sleep in Cork today. The tally of four tries to three says enough about positives and negatives of the game itself, but in the pack there was a real boost to the province and indeed the country.

Donnacha Ryan after the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

After a nightmare year with a toe injury, Donnacha Ryan started a game. A blood sub and a late replacement limited him to just over an hour, but in that period, the Tipp man was effective around the park and a valuable experienced head at set-piece.

After so long out, fitness is still an issue. Just as we seen with Chris Henry, he will get better and sharper with every minute he plays. So hopefully Munster will get all four games available to them to give Ryan every chance to play his way into Joe Schmidt’s summer plans.

Judgement day works

The Welsh Rugby Union recorded an attendance of 52,762 in the Millennium Stadium, a new Pro12 record. While such figures should always be taken with a chunk of salt, by all accounts the much-trumpeted ‘Judgment day III’ was a successful venture.

Scott Williams scores his side's second try Source: Craig Thomas/INPHO

To the unfamiliar, JD3 was the staging of two Welsh derbies under one roof. Cardiff faced the Ospreys while the Dragons faced Scarlets and the attendance was a solid 30,000 more than the combined gates for the games played on the opening days of 2015.

Could it work in Ireland? Would it be worthwhile bringing all four provinces to the Aviva Stadium to treat supporters to two big games in one sitting? Surely it’s worth a go to find out.

The top four stay the course

They’re up there for a reason. The league’s top four teams all won this weekend with only Ulster (against fifth placed Leinster) were unable to tag a bonus point on victory.

table now

It means that with two games to go four points separate the top four positions. We may know the teams in the playoffs and the venue for the final, but the semi-final venues are still very much up for grabs.

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Given that Ospreys and Munster have games to come against teams in mid-table, it appears that Ulster and Glasgow have the toughest remaining fixtures. The leaders travel to meet Ospreys before hosting Ulster, and the northern province meet Munster in what promises to be another big event in Ravenhill two weeks from today.

Round 20 results:

Edinburgh 37 Zebre 0

Ulster 26 Leinster 10

Connacht 13 Glasgow 31

Munster 30 Treviso 19

Cardiff 23 Ospreys 31

Dragons 10 Scarlets 29

Composure key to Ulster’s quick turnaround against Leinster — Rory Best

CJ Stander withstood some brutal punishment from all angles today

Curtain closing on Leinster’s season and more talking points from Ravenhill

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Sean Farrell

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