Leinster cruise to easy victory against Stade
The weekend was kicked off in spectacular fashion on Friday night when Leinster collected their fourth European trophy in just five years, as they picked up the Amlin Challenge Cup at a canter against Stade Francais. Although Stade enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they could not live with the precision or efficiency of their Irish counterparts, who cruised to a 34-13 victory.
Leinster’s first try came from Ian Madigan, with the youngster collecting an offload from the man whose shoes he will need to fill next season, Jonathan Sexton, and raced off over the try line. Madigan then turned provider for Leinster’s next try, collecting a cross-field kick from Isaac Boss, and offloaded out of the tackle to the arriving Sean Cronin, with the hooker then barging his way over for try number two. Leinster’s third followed the same script, but with a different cast, Sexton making a precise cross-field kick for Nacewa to collect, and this time Rob Kearney was ready and waiting to take the offload and dive over the try line. Insult was then added to injury late in the game, as replacement Cian Healy powered his way over from close range, and added gloss to a fantastic performance from Leinster, which will certainly have had Warren Gatland licking his lips.
Whilst Leinster were imperious with ball in hand, their defence was also powerful and resolute. They made over double the tackles that Stade did, thanks in large parts to the possession which Stade enjoyed throughout the game, and were rarely troubled by Stade when they had ball in hand, arguably only being exposed during the build-up to the Jeremy Sinzelle try. A special mention should also go out to Sergio Parisse, with the talismanic player performing exceptionally despite his side being outclassed in almost every department.
Toulon emerge victorious in all-French affair
A day later and Jonny Wilkinson was picking up his first Heineken Cup winner’s medal as he led Toulon to nail-biting 16-15 victory over Clermont in Dublin. Clermont looked to have the upper hand for the majority of the game, but a second half try for Toulon changed the momentum of the game and was enough to secure the club the first Heineken Cup trophy in their history.
Clermont certainly had the better of the first half, but were unable to capitalise on the chances they were creating, and ultimately went into the interval with the score tied at 3-3. The best chance of the half fell to Brock James who, after receiving the ball on the wing, kicked ahead, and although he managed to outpace Chris Masoe to the ball, he couldn’t quite beat the ball to the dead-ball line.
Things soon changed in the second half, however, when Clermont finally managed to pierce the seemingly impregnable Toulon defence, as winger Napalioni Nalaga powered down the sideline and managed to finish in the corner, despite being under pressure from Delon Armitage. Wilkinson narrowed their lead briefly with a penalty, before Aurélien Rougerie collected a chip kick from James, and held off a defender before offloading to the supporting James, who then ran in under the posts.
Just when it looked as if Clermont were about to open the floodgates, Toulon reversed the momentum, first through a Wilkinson penalty, and then an Armitage try following a superb turnover by Lobbe. Wilkinson dutifully stepped up, successfully kicking the conversion, and giving Toulon a 16-15 lead with 15 minutes left to play. Despite coming close at the end, including having a drop goal attempt charged down, Clermont were unable to get back on the scoreboard, and Toulon were left to lift the trophy.
Given the context within the game, Delon Armitage is awarded Try of the Week, fighting off competition from Rob Kearney and Sean Cronin’s efforts for Leinster. His wave to the chasing James may have been ill-advised, but a Heineken Cup final winning score is hard to ignore. There was also fantastic work at the breakdown from Lobbe in the build-up to the try, and his turnover was arguably just as impressive as any sidestep or broken tackle.
Hero of the Week may come as a surprise to many, but it belongs to Sergio Parisse. His team may have been comfortably beaten, but the Italian captain was almost faultless in his performance, never giving up on the game even when Leinster moved out of reach of the French side, and encompassing everything you would look for in a prototype rugby player.
The Heineken Cup qualification system is the Villain of the Week, which will see the likes of Zebre, Edinburgh and Cardiff qualify for next year’s competition, despite the three sides picking up just 15 wins between them this year (out of a possible 66). A vindication, if there is any, of both the English and French clubs’ disillusions with the current competition.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)