French sides stutter against the Celts
Cardiff Blues pulled off the shock of the weekend, as they beat Toulon, the reigning Heineken Cup champions, 19-15, and Phil Davies’ men showed a remarkable improvement from their loss to Exeter in the opening round. A late try from replacement Gareth Davies was enough to give Cardiff the win, in a game which looked as if the boot of Jonny Wilkinson would give the French side the edge. A narrow 20-16 victory for Glasgow over Exeter wrapped up results in Pool 2, but with just a single point separating the top and bottom teams in the group, there is everything left to play for in the pool. The same cannot be said for the Ospreys however, who lost 27-16 to Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens, and now sit bottom of Pool 1 with zero points. Leinster took pole position in the group with their second win of the tournament, as they emerged victorious by a score line of 19-7 against Castres.
The Scarlets were unlucky not to take their second scalp of the tournament, after they raced into a 20-10 lead at the interval against Racing Metro, but a resurgent performance from the French side in the second half was enough to earn them two points, as the sides played out an exciting 26-26 draw. Harlequins showed a marked improvement from their opening loss to the Scarlets, as they scored a late drop goal to earn a rare losing bonus point against Clermont, but with just two points from their first two games, their backs are now up against the wall to qualify from Pool 4. A tight game in Pool 3 between Saracens and Toulouse at Wembley ended in a narrow 17-16 victory for the French side, whilst Connacht kept themselves level with Saracens on points, after a comfortable 33-6 win away to Zebre.
A dominating away victory for Ulster in Montpellier was the highlight of Pools 5 and 6, and they looked very comfortable in their 25-8 win. Rory Best led a gargantuan performance from Ulster’s pack, as they thoroughly outclassed their much bigger opponents. Leicester picked up their second bonus point of the tournament during their 34-3 win against Treviso, which keeps them just two points behind Ulster, who currently top Pool 5. An under-strength Gloucester side put up a worthy fight in their 26-10 loss to Munster at Thomond Park, but the Irish province never looked in danger of losing the game, and the result keeps them just a point behind Perpignan at the top of Pool 6, after the French side outmuscled Edinburgh on their way to a 31-14 victory. Only two points separate Perpignan at the top of the group, and Gloucester at the bottom, meaning that everything is still left to play for in Pool 6.
English teams continue to dominate in the Amlin
London Irish registered a cricket score for the second week running, as they put 67 points past Lusitanos, whilst London Wasps and Bath also maintained their 100% record in the Amlin Challenge Cup, beating Bayonne and Newport respectively. Sale Sharks picked up a 29-15 victory away at Worcester, whilst Newcastle were edged out by Brive, in a close 23-16 defeat. Sale, Bath, Wasps and Irish all now top their respective groups, and continue to look a class above in Europe’s secondary competition.
Andrew Trimble scored the Try of the Week in Ulster’s impressive away win in Montpellier, as Ulster went almost the length of the pitch, and thanks to some clever support work from Tommy Bowe, Trimble was able to gallop away under the posts.
Cardiff and Ulster both recorded fantastic wins against French opposition, and although Ulster’s performance was the more impressive, not to mention in France, Cardiff Blues are the Heroes of the Week. Embarrassed by Exeter in the first half of their opening Heineken Cup fixture, the Blues bounced back remarkably at Cardiff Arms Park, and although Toulon were far from their best, the Welsh side deserve huge credit for the resilience they showed in beating the current champions. A phenomenal, all-round performance from Courtney Lawes also deserves an honourable mention.
With the 80 minute mark approaching, Racing Metro nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback against the Scarlets, but the ill-discipline of both Dimitri Szarzewski and Fabrice Estebanez contributed to putting them in a position that required a comeback, and are thusly the Villains of the Week. Szarzewski’s dismissal for an infringement at a ruck was at a push forgivable, but for Estebanez to then get involved in an off-the-ball incident just minutes later was inexcusable, and allowed Scarlets to extend their lead whilst Racing were reduced to 13 men.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images