5 things we learned from URC Round 1

The inaugural United Rugby Championship delivered a thrilling opening weekend of action.

There were wins for PRO14 champions Leinster, Rainbow Cup winners Benetton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Munster, Ospreys, Ulster and the Emirates Lions.

Here, we take a look at five things we learned from round one.

Leinster still the team to beat

If there was any doubt Leinster are title favourites, that was banished inside 80 one-sided minutes at the Aviva Stadium.

Currie Cup champions the Vodacom Bulls were swept aside 31-3 as Leinster wasted no time in making a powerful URC statement.

Leinster had won the last four PRO14 titles and it showed as Leo Cullen’s side established a 17-3 interval lead before securing a bonus-point victory in the second half.

The Bulls had plundered 183 points in six Rainbow Cup SA matches but did not make it over the whitewash.

Bulls coach Jake White said: “They are the benchmark. The team that beats them will win the championship.”

Cardiff’s fly-half headache

Cardiff overcame a double blow to register an Arms Park win over Connacht.

The 33-21 victory was a welcome start for the rebranded region but Wales fly-half pair Rhys Priestland and Jarrod Evans succumbed to injury inside 21 minutes.

Priestland failed to return to the field after an HIA and Evans departed a few moments later following incidents that could have repercussions for country as well as club.

Scrum-half Lloyd Williams did a sterling job to fill in at 10 for just under an hour and replacement Tomos Williams took over kicking duties.

Cardiff coach Dai Young said: “To lose two 10s is really difficult and to get over the hurdles that were chucked our way was really commendable.”

Zebo back with a bang

It took Simon Zebo just five minutes to mark his Munster return with a try as the Irish province cruised to a 42-17 win over the Cell C Sharks at Thomond Park.

The 31-year-old wing is Munster’s all-time record try-scorer and showed he had lost none of his finishing flair following a spell with Racing 92 in France.

Zebo took his tally to 61 tries in 145 appearances with the opener as he made the most of a Munster breakaway to scorch down the touchline.

He then rounded off a fine team display with Munster’s sixth try a minute from time on a night when the crowds returned to Thomond Park in full voice for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Benetton reinforce Rainbow Cup win

Some eyebrows were raised when Benetton thrashed the Bulls in June to lift the Rainbow Cup.

After all, this was a team that had finished bottom of the Guinness PRO14 with 15 defeats and one Covid cancellation.

But Benetton showed that cup success was no fluke by beginning life under former Italy captain Marco Bortolami with an impressive 22-18 home win over the DHL Stormers in Treviso.

There was plenty of character too as, trailing 18-7 early in the second half, Benetton produced a fantastic fightback to put league points on the board.

Teenager Tommaso Menoncello claimed the crucial score with 10 minutes left and Benetton next head to Edinburgh seeking to build on their opening-day success.

URC makes big impression

With teams welcoming fans back into the stadiums, more than 400 points were accumulated across the eight matches and there was an average of more than six tries per game.

Ireland’s provinces made a strong statement with winning trio Leinster, Munster and Ulster scoring a combined total of 108 points.

The first derby of the season threw up a thriller in Wales as the Ospreys edged out the Dragons 27-23 at Rodney Parade.

Centre Michael Collins marked himself out as one to watch with a try double and returning Wales outside-half Gareth Anscombe got the Ospreys over the line.

The four South African teams managed only one win between them and will be looking to do better in the second round of action this weekend

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