It was a big weekend of domestic action across Europe as derbies were the order of the day in the Guinness PRO14, while the Premiership saw a number of England internationals return to action.
There was particular focus on how the Welsh derbies would go with the return of the World Cup semi-finalists, with both going down to the wire.
It was a similar story in Scotland where Glasgow finished strongly thanks to a big effort from their pack, while Leicester’s returning England stars could not help them past Exeter.
DAVIES HOLDS HIS NERVE
The Dragons have enjoyed an uptick in form this season, and they carried that into their derby clash with the Scarlets, edging to a 22-20 victory.
Sam Davies was the hero of the hour, slotting a drop goal with time up on the clock to seal the win and earn man of the match honours.
The fly-half, who was recalled to the Wales squad for the clash with the Barbarians, will be hoping to get more international recognition in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, with Gareth Anscombe this week facing a second surgery on his injured knee.
Davies’ Dragons teammate Ross Moriarty also impressed on his return to action, coming off the bench in the second half and finishing as the team’s top tackler with ten in just half an hour.
Meanwhile in the other Welsh derby, Cardiff Blues back-rower Shane Lewis-Hughes, also called up by Wayne Pivac last month, helped his team to a 19-16 win, and was named man of the match for his efforts.
Meanwhile in England, young Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit continued his impressive campaign, the teenager scoring two tries and setting up another as he made five clean breaks in Gloucester’s 36-3 win over Worcester on Friday night.
FAGERSON SHINES IN BROTHER’S ABSENCE
Glasgow Warriors were without Matt Fagerson in the 1872 Cup due to suspension, but his elder brother Zander ensured the family would still make a telling contribution against Edinburgh.
The 23-year-old tighthead racked up 12 tackles and eight carries for the Warriors while keeping the scrum solid in a 20-16 victory against Edinburgh.
It was his front-row colleague George Turner who got over for the winning score five minutes from time, while Ali Price made a case to be Greig Laidlaw’s successor in the No.9 jersey with the Warriors’ first try just after the hour.
Passion 💯⚡️ pic.twitter.com/bsA49zYPH2
— Ali Price (@AlistairPrice) December 22, 2019
In typical fashion, Jonny Gray was relentless in defence, making 23 tackles and missing none in a sterling defensive effort.
Elsewhere Stuart Hogg played a key role as he racked up 83 metres with ball in hand and beat five defenders in Exeter’s 31-22 win at Leicester Tigers.
And Finn Russell produced a moment of magic to set up Louis Dupichot in Racing 92’s 29-25 win in the Top 14 over Montpellier.
MAY AT THE DOUBLE
Jonny May’s return for Leicester Tigers, along with Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs and George Ford, brought the hope that they could reverse the Tigers’ early-season fortunes.
It certainly looked that way early on when May crossed twice in the first 20 minutes, making four clean breaks along the way.
7′ TRY | @J0nnyMay !!
BOOM 🔥 … the backs turn it out on wide on the end of a well executed set-piece on halfway, which sees @tveainu step his way around the Chiefs defence to find Adam Thompstone, who finds Jonny inside. [5-7]#COYT 🐯 #LEIvEXE 🏉 pic.twitter.com/QbBvaxmvLf
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) December 21, 2019
Tuilagi was similarly impactful in midfield, making 97 metres with ball in hand in total but Chiefs fought back to take the win.
Elsewhere Saracens’ young core flourished in their 47-13 win over Bristol Bears, with two tries from Max Malins and another from his former England Under-20s teammate Ben Earl.
Malins was likened to New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett by his coach Mark McCall after the game, and the pair will be hoping to catch the eye of Eddie Jones ahead of the 2020 Championship.
Finally Kyle Sinckler chipped in with a try as Harlequins came from 17 points down to see off Wasps, while on Sunday Anthony Watson made a try-scoring return for Bath as they beat London Irish 38-10.
LICATA EFFORTS IN VAIN
Zebre threw everything at Benetton in their derby meeting with No.8 Giovanni Licata particularly industrious as he racked up 25 carries in total.
Licata made 52 metres with ball in hand in a cagey encounter, but in the end it was not enough for Zebre, who went down 13-8 in Parma.
Benetton’s success was based in large part on their defence, with Zebre enjoying the majority of possession and territory.
And a trio of Azzurri internationals led the way, Braam Steyn making 26 tackles, while back-row colleague Seb Negri made 22 and centre Luca Morisi added 19.
DEEGAN MAKES HIS CASE
Licata was not the only young back-rower impressing this weekend. Leinster flanker Max Deegan, who was included in Andy Farrell’s squad this week, showed just why against Ulster on Friday night.
While fly-half Harry Byrne was named man of the match, Deegan played his part in the 54-42 success, scoring two tries and making 64 metres with ball in hand at the RDS Arena.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) December 20, 2019
Ulster’s defence was put under huge pressure, but young prop Tom O’Toole did what he could to stem the tide, making 18 tackles in all.
Meanwhile on Saturday CJ Stander was as active as ever, making 17 carries and 14 tackles in Munster’s win away to Connacht.
VAKATAWA’S RED LETTER DAY
France centre Virimi Vakatawa made his 100th appearance for Racing 92, and he certainly made an impression, scoring one try and helping Racing to a vital 29-25 win over Montpellier.
Vakatawa beat six defenders in all, and his try on the stroke of half-time proved crucial in the narrow win over their potential play-off rivals.
— Racing 92 (@racing92) December 21, 2019
Elsewhere Romain Ntamack scored eight points and set up Toulouse’s only try for Arthur Bonneval as they recorded a first away win of the season in the league, edging past Agen 13-8.