The rugby season got into full flow at the weekend as the Guinness Pro14 kicked off. Defending Champions Leinster were the first of the Irish provinces to take to the field this season as they took on Cardiff in the Welsh capital. In a very tight & entertaining match, Leinster came away with a bonus point win, as a try in the 77th minute helped them to a 33-32 victory.
Rhys Ruddock captained the side whilst exciting prospect Caelan Doris got his first start for Leinster, putting in a solid shift at No 8 for 66 minutes. James Tracy scored a try in the 26th minute during his 51 minutes on the park with Ross Molony producing a hardworking display at second row for the full game.
Fergus McFadden probably wasn't expecting to to be involved so early, but was called into action just nine minutes into the game & slotted a penalty in the 32nd minute. Andrew Porter boosted Leinster's pack as he came on for the final 30 minutes of the match and secured a vital turnover late on.
Munster had a resounding win over the Cheetahs, with Darren Sweetnam in blistering form. In a game where he got to showcase all of his skills, he was deservedly named Man of the Match, & finished the game with a try after setting up another. Dan Goggin started at outside centre, but shipped a heavy blow which saw him going off for a HIA, & he was permanently replaced on 59 minutes. Brian Scott was a front row replacement in the 62nd minute & helped Munster finish 38-0 winners. Darren O’Sheacame on as a replacement in the second row.
Ulster beat the 2017 Champions & last year's finalists the Scarlets in a close game at Ravenhill. A last minute penalty saw Ulster claim a 15-13 victory, helped in no small part by another barnstorming performance by Nick Timoney. On for the whole game, Nick's huge defensive effort saw him hold up & prevent two try scoring opportunities by the visitors.
A third very close game saw Connacht go down 26-27 to Glasgow in Galway. An entertaining match with plenty of running rugby saw Matt Healy involved in several exciting & incisive runs during the match. Craig Ronaldson came on in the 62nd minute, but was unable to help Connacht to the win.
Across the water, Dave Jonhston has settled in well at Ealing Trailfinders & had an accomplished performance against London Irish with some probing kicks & exciting breaks.
Jerry Sexton played the full 80 minutes for the Jersey Reds as they visited Coventry, coming away with a losing bonus point & Mark Flanagan had a busy 57 minutes for the Bedford Blues in their 27-21 away win over Nottingham.
Tadgh McElroy made a big impact for Saracens Storm coming off the bench and scoring two tries.
Willie Ryan's Doncaster Knights left Penzance with a losing bonus point in their 24-31 loss to the Cornish Pirates where Willie played the full game at Number 8.
And over in France, Dave Ryan had 56 minutes of action for Agen in their 25-23 home win over Perpignan.
Joy Neville was in charge of the Under-19's inter-provincial as Connacht's future stars took on Leinster at Galwegians. Leinster finished with a comprehensive 31-7 win.
2018 will be a year to remember for Arthur Lanigan O'Keeffe as in addition to his gold & bronze medals at the World Cup, he is now ranked second in the world in the UIPM rankings.
Finally, Dave McIntyre was commentating for Sky's coverage of the 2018 All-Ireland Football Final where Dublin ran out 2-17 to 1-14 winners over Tyrone