Best of the Weekend: Amlin and Heineken Cup finals

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)

14 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Amlin and Heineken Cup finals

  1. it was andrew conway who collected the kick and offloaded for leinsters 2nd try not mad dog

  2. Didn’t see much of the HC final but saw most of the Amlin. Leinster were very worthy winners, but I have to say that Stade played with a great deal of invention, but just found Leinster’s defence too all-enveloping. You couldn’t argue either, that when Leinster got hold of the ball they were very clinical.

    I have to say though, that I am puzzled to see how Leinster’s third try was allowed, as surely Nacewa was tackled, held, and should have released the ball (even if his knees were only on the ground for a second or so).

    1. if stade had played with great invention they would have turned all their possession into points,they had very little invention, they had no plan B when plan A wasn’t working

  3. I’m with Brian Moore on Armitage and I’d put him down for something else of the week too .The Clermont first try was also better their winger having to do something else other than poke his tongue out and wave and generally fanny about .

  4. poor write-up yet again. making the ‘system’ villain of the week is only not soar if a team from your country wins. only the french really have a licence to complain.

    villain of the week is sivivatu, surprisingly, who fumbled a knock on for advantage for toulon which armitage took. sivivatu lare threw the bal out of pkau ina dangerous position at the end of the game, ruining any chance clermont had of taking the title.

    you could say the french are heroes of the week for contesting an all-french final as ireland did last year or u could give it to jonny wilkinson for his dependable and steady boot in big games as european player of the year 2013.

    1. Mitchell, the 3 teams Alex has mentioned played 18 and won 1 in this year’s HC. That one win was against Sale, who weren’t capable of beating an egg at that point in the season.

      Note also that the best runners up spots both came from pools with one of these teams in. So sides like Leinster may also have some grievance with the ramifications of the current system.

      Personally I would go for the top 50% of each country’s representatives in their domestic leagues plus something along the lines of HC winners + Amlin winners + LV winners + a couple of wildcards, say the top 2 HC performers from this year that haven’t re-qualified for next year (this would have got Edinburgh back in to this year’s comp).

      …. Armitage would have been my villain of the week though.

  5. matt. just so we’re clear. i think u know very well why i phrased my response the way i did. it’s the snide, insinuating manner in which u say that only english and french teams should be disappointed that crappy zebre get an automatic place, and putting words in the mouths of the french. they can speak for themselves and they do. irish teams have proven they desserve their right to be upset by zebres presence too. they have won 7 european cups now. its the same as your tired old argument that irish teams can rest more for european games. there are woeful and i mean woeful (just read up on the group stage of the heineken cup this year) teams in the top 14 and aviva that are at the level of zebre too. why dont u get back in the game and win some european silverware. maybe then u can move onto the next thing on your whinging agenda..

    simple fact is that no matter what irish teams have to do to qualify (league position, previous wins) irish teams would have still qualified for the heineken and they would still have won.

    it’s of no consequence whether they have to chew up italian or french fodder in the pools. if u still have dislexia with facts i cant help u.

    1. I’m not suggesting the Irish success has anything to do with not having to pre-qualify, rest players or anything else. They were successful because they have been the best side. Nor have I knowingly/intentionally made a snide comment or insinuated this is some Anglo/French issue.

      I just can’t see how being included in the HC actually benefits a side that clearly isn’t good enough to compete at that level. It devalues the competition when a strong side like Quins can have an almost guaranteed 10 points from getting lucky and be drawn against Zebre.

      I think as a starting point if the top 50% of each countries’ clubs/regions/provinces to into the top tier competition and the bottom 50% go into second tier competition it would be an improvement. Think having Scottish and Italian representation in the Amlin would also broaden the appeal of that competition. It was great to see how Leinster embraced it as something they really wanted to win as soon as that was all they had to play for.

    2. Mitchell – how’s that massive chip on your shoulder doing?
      No-one has questioned the right for the four Irish provinces to be in the HC next year, nor mentioned anything about Irish teams being allowed to rest their players at times during the season – until you brought it up.
      The original article cites Zebre, Edinburgh and Cardiff as those teams potentially undeserving of auto HC qualification this season and mentions English and French grumbles because they are the only two nations with teams who have to qualify each season.

  6. On the HC final – i’m glad Toulon won. Not that i usually hold grudges but i still haven’t forgiven Rougerie for taking Greening to civil court for a mis-placed hand-off so i’ll generally support anyone that plays them! It gets tougher to hold that grudge as they play some excellent rugby and Rougerie’s chip-gather and offload was sublime! Fofana also looks like he’s in a different league when he hits a line but Toulon did well to stifle him through most of the game.
    D. Armitage will make no friends by doing what he does. I’m all for a little flair every now and then but not taking the p*ss out of your opposition (especially when the game is in the balance!).

  7. I’m calling bullshit on the ‘Villain of the week’ being the selection process. It was clearly Armitage, try or no try (why can’t he have both awards? especially since one lead to the other.)

    There IS unfair over-representation for certain unions. It does need to be more equal. England and France get to have a minimum of 6 (or 7 depending) teams each in the HCup every year! A competition with 24 teams from 6 different nations and more than half of them come from just two countries? They are correct that is totally unfair. Poor old Italy and Scotland only ever have two teams each allowed in any given year (suspiciously in Scotland’s case they always send the same two teams…). Ireland and Wales only get a minimum of 3 teams each, it’s a wonder Ireland ever get to win the competition with the numbers so heavily stacked up against them! So bravo to England and France for standing up and saying enough is enough.

    So here’s what I propose, two teams and two teams only from each country. That’s twelve in total making for a much shorter competition which will suit the French and their Top14 Schedule. English unions won’t complain because we’re CONSTANTLY being hit over the head with the idea that fairness is all they ever wanted and you can’t get fairer than that.

    1. The problem is not with the number of countries from each country, it is with the fact that teams like Zebre compete in it.

      The HC is meant to be the best of the best in Europe, are you telling me that Zebre are that? It isn’t just them, Cardiff look a poor side, and a few others. There should be a qualification process for everyone, not just the English and French teams.

    2. I agree with the fact that Delon Armitage deserved to win the ‘villain of the week” award. What he did during the H Cup final is an insult to the spirit of the game of Rugby and it certainly does not promote the fair-play values that our game means to promote.
      I believe that he should be suspended for ungentlemanly behaviour. We do not need players like Delon Armitage in the game of Rubgy, I would even say that we do not want players like him. What a poor example this gives to young Rugby players.
      He was booed during the Top 14 semi final and the final every time that he had the ball. Good for him. I think that he is not done with it for a long time…

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