Two outstanding semi-finals in the Heineken Cup lead the way this weekend. Here are the best bits:
Majestic Leinster hold firm to make yet another final
Shoulder to shoulder. It’s a phrase more associated with Ireland’s men in green, yet in the closing minutes of Sunday’s Heineken Cup semi-final, it was the boys in blue who held firm against Clermont’s frenzied attack in the dying moments. Leinster’s second half performance was exceptional, their scrum recovering from a creaking finish before half-time as Brock James’ accuracy went wayward.
Inspired by the magnificent Rob Kearney, Cian Healy’s early try in the second half swung the momentum back in Leinster’s favour. Kearney then added an astonishing drop goal from 40 metres out to stun the partisan French crowd. With the champions starting to dominate the kicking game, the result looked set, until Clermont unleashed an almighty charge from inside their own half, marshalling their way forward through phase after phase, before Wesley Fofana crashed over the line. France’s new star celebrated, only for TMO Geoff Warren to rule that he had knocked it on. From the resulting scrum, Clermont won a penalty and charged once more, but to no avail. The glory was Leinster’s, in a game that will live long in the memory.
Pienaar is King at the Aviva as Ulster conquer brave Edinburgh
17 points from the prolific boot of Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar sent the men from Belfast to their second Heineken Cup final, after defeating Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium. Jim Thompson’s 79th minute try came all too late for the Scottish side, who were left wondering what might have been after Ross Ford dropped a difficult pass with the try line beckoning.
In what could prove to be an invaluable parting gift, Pedrie Wannenburg’s try proved the difference before the interval. There were initial fears as to how Ulster would fare in the scrums given John Afoa’s suspension, yet his replacement Declan Fitzpatrick was in outstanding form, tearing apart Allan Jacobsen and giving his side the platform they needed. Perhaps daunted by the occasion, too many times Edinburgh were found wanting when it came to the final pass. They will be hurting, but should take heart from a remarkable European campaign.
Classic Wilkinson sees Toulon pip Stade to meet Biarritz in the final
A familiar sight but no less remarkable, Jonny Wilkinson’s late drop goal sent Toulon to their second Amlin Challenge Cup final in three years. Closer than expected, another excellent try for Steffon Armitage got the hosts underway, but it was Stade who led 19-11 at the interval. Wilkinson put Toulon back ahead with a series of penalty kicks, before Morgan Turinui’s try levelled the scored at 29-29, setting the stage for Wilkinson’s moment of glory. Toulon will meet Biarritz in the final after they nilled a poor Brive side in a washout at the Parc des Sports Aguiléra.
Crusaders triumph in Sydney whilst the Chiefs stay top
A rare Sunday morning Super Rugby match saw the Crusaders continue their good run of form with a win over the Waratahs in Sydney, scoring four tries including a superb double for the mohicaned Robbie Fruean. The match also saw the return of Richie McCaw from injury, giving his side an extra boost as they make a charge for the top of the New Zealand conference. To do so however they will have to get past the Chiefs, who defeated the Hurricanes to continue their stay at the top of the Super Rugby log. There were also wins for the Reds, Cheetahs, Stormers and Brumbies.
Try of the Weekend goes to Cian Healy. Quick-thinking from Richardt Strauss, Kearney’s break and Healy’s smart positioning all combining perfectly.
The Hero has to be Wilkinson. Hard to think of anyone else that you would want to win you a game in that position.
Finally for his melodrama, Lionel Faure wins the Villain award for his star turn on the end of a Leo Cullen finger. It wasn’t quite on Didier Drogba’s level, but as Patrick Khachfe tweeted us; “A small part of rugby dies a little when a prop dives like that.”
by Ben Coles