Best of the Weekend: Brilliant Ulster and Leinster progress to final

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 AguilĂ©ra.

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

11 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Brilliant Ulster and Leinster progress to final

  1. Seemed more like a fist than a finger – but I agree that players shouldn’t dive like that.

    Leinster were lucky not to to get anyone binned during that game and Barnes let them off with warnings in the face of repeated cynical play around the breakdown. You get the feeling that Clermont would have edged it against 14 guys.

    As Maggie Alphonsi said, if only Fofana had smaller biceps then that would have been a try…

  2. 2 great semi finals, with both losing sides feeling slightly aggrieved. I feel Clermont probably should have benefitted from 10 minutes against 14 men after Cullen’s swat (which I agree was more a full hand than a finger) but Faure’s fall was disgraceful. I also feel O’Gara was lucky to stay on for a second cynical professional “foot in” in the second half.

    The goal-line defence was solid towards the end, but cynical in its construction. Most of the slowing down of ball in those last fifteen phases was illegal, and Barnes chose to overlook it. I was critical at the time on Twitter, which is something I don’t like to do, but any goodwill towards Barnesin the Auvergne area which was created by the non-forward pass in the 2007 RWC QF has been eroded I fear.

    2 great semis in keeping with the tournament’s standing as the best club tournament in the World.

    1. Do you really thinks its better than the super 14? The atmosphere is probably better at most games its true. Also there is something quite special about the gallacticos/international feel to it all. But in terms of standard i think its still some way off the southern hemisphere. What is it you prefer?

      1. Well part of me thinks the Super 15 (glad to see I’m not the only one making daft errors this morning) is more of a regional tournament than a club tournament. If I were to class it as a club tournament, then it would probably shade it.

        I am frequently astounded by the athleticism of the Super 15 players, but when I look at stats such as line breaks, part of me thinks that there is a difference in intensity in the European Cup and the Super 15.

        There’s only one way to find out though, and that is bring the two together somehow on occasions, but that is a long way away.

        1. In my opinion HC is better. The brevity of the tournament compared with the long slog of the S15 leads to almost every game being played at near-international levels of intensity. For reference, see the Munster/Saints game in round 1, which felt like a grand final. Having been present at the final in Cardiff last season, I’d say it was one of the best games of rugby I have ever seen, including internationals.

          The problem with arguing which is better is that it is always subjective – I prefer Heineken Cup rugby because it is to my tastes. Equally I support a Heineken Cup team, so it will always mean more to me than S15 which I view as a neutral.

          That said I’d quite willingly put money on Leinster against any of the Super 15 sides. Surely the best club side in the world at the moment.

          1. Two different styles of play, both very different. The breakdown is competed for more fiercly in Europe. In super rugby most teams stand off at the breakdown as their emphasis us on speed and attacking rugby, rather than solid defence and a good kicking game. I would think that Leinster would be on the wrong end of results against any of the top 3 super rugby teams. I don’t think Leinster could live with the pace of a super rugby game.
            Leinster are starting to adopt a more attacking style as seen in super rugby, but I don’t see them beating the southern teams at their own game.

          2. Leinster are the only team that would have a hope against a Super 15 team. They’re the _only_ HC team that’s almost exclusively coached by SH coaches and they play a fast attacking style like in the S15.

  3. Leinster are a good team but they wouldnt stand a chance against the top Super Sides. The pure pace and ferocity of the games in Super rugby would just be too much .HC is a gruelling fight for every yard and the breakdowns are bitterly contested whereas Super Rugby is more attacking and speed like James said .I just dont see Leinster putting up with the Crusaders in full flight or even worse the Chiefs .and their scincillating tries from all over the place .

    I even doubt any HC team would unlock the Stormers defence or survive the power of the bulls

    1. Do you think Leinster are that stupid that they would play the Super Rugby teams at their own game…….? Too much ‘street smarts’ there. Give them some respect – a match between them and any Super team would be scintillating and probably much closer than you think.

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