After another brilliant round of the Heineken Cup, Ben Coles sits down to look at the best, and worst bits, from Round 2. Here we go…
Magnificent Edinburgh complete the Heineken Cup’s greatest ever comeback
With Sky electing to show the Scarlets trip to Northampton and Cardiff Blues hosting London Irish, one match was more or less forgotten about on Friday night. But then the score from Murrayfield started trickling in. Mainly, that Racing Métro had opened up an impressive lead over the hosts Edinburgh, 20-44 with 53 minutes gone on the clock. Game over? How wrong we were.
Jonathan Wisniewski would add another three points for Racing to leave them on an impressive total of 47 points and 5 tries away from home, but Edinburgh blew them away. Four tries from Netani Talei, Tom Brown, Roddy Grant and lastly from Tim Visser brought Edinburgh back to the brink of victory, before captain Greig Laidlaw curled a superb conversion to give them an unbelievable lead. There was still time for Racing fly-half Juan Martín Hernández to attempt a drop-goal, but it was nowhere near. What a comeback from Edinburgh, but your heart bleeds a little for Racing. Perhaps a draw would have been fair, but Edinburgh’s hunger was extra special. 11 tries, 95 points. Game of the season? We won’t see another like it.
Scarlets and Blues set to progress as Saints are left stunned
Welsh momentum from the Rugby World Cup really has carried on through into this year’s Heineken Cup tournament. It was no coincidence that some of the standout performers in New Zealand shone for their provinces against Northampton and London Irish on Friday night. Northampton would have expected to bounce back comfortably after their harrowing injury-time loss to Munster last week, but this infectious, attacking brand of rugby that the youthful Scarlets produce lead to an astonishing result.
They capitalised on every single opportunity, be it George Pisi’s calamitous knock-on or the bounce of the ball. When Ryan Lamb’s penalty cannoned off the post late on and Chris Ashton spilled a simple pass, a poor performance became a nightmare. George North’s pace and Rhys Priestland’s finish meant that the Scarlets picked up an unexpected bonus point away from home, and leaves Northampton staring into the abyss. They may have two bonus points from their two losses, but to come back from this given the quality of the teams in their group seems impossible.
Cardiff are also two wins from two after seeing off London Irish in Cardiff, though they had a numerical advantage for 60 minutes after Steve Shingler was sent off for the visiting side. Sam Warburton crippled Irish at the breakdown throughout in an exceptional performance, whilst scrum-half Lloyd Williams scored what proved to be a sensational winning try in the second half, bursting off the base of a ruck down the blindside and showing off his pace.
Leicester, Bath and Leinster win at home whilst O’Gara and Quins do it again
The Tigers finally picked up a first home win of the season in a brutal encounter with Irish opponents Ulster on Saturday evening. Some immense physicality in defence by both sides left the ground shaking, Dan Tuohy on Tom Croft springs to mind, but Leicester dominated in the scrum, winning multiple penalties for Toby Flood to slot over. Ian Humphreys inconsistent work with the boot cost Ulster, who had Stephen Ferris back to his best in the loose, but Leicester scored the only try of the game after a well worked grubber from Toby Flood was pounced on by Matt Smith.
Stephen Donald enjoyed an impressive home debut for Bath on Sunday, picking up the man of the match award. His assist for Olly Woodburn’s opening score was excellent, a precise looped pass out to the right leaving Woodburn with an unopposed run-in. He also produced a length of the field sprint to set-up the second try, and a first, for David Flatman. Earlier in the day in Pool 3, Leinster clinically dispatched Glasgow, picking up a bonus point before half-time, with impressive young centre Eoin O’Malley bagging a brace. The champions are looking good so far ahead of their double header with Bath in December.
Meanwhile, Ronan O’Gara did it again for Munster down in Toulouse against Castres. Déjà vu is a wonderful thing in rugby, and at 24-24, once Munster got into the right position, there was only one outcome. Two weeks in a row is unbelievable luck, and you sense the Red Army may have had their fair share by now. Their double header with the Scarlets next month is the most attractive of all the fixtures.
Finally, Harlequins continued their best start to a season ever by going 12 from 12 against Gloucester at Kingsholm. Despite Gloucester enjoying plenty of possession and their exciting young talents Jonny May, Henry Trinder and Charlie Sharples gaining plenty of yards, their handling was atrocious at the right moments, and Quins simply plugged away with Nick Evans boot and good running from Nick Easter and Jordan Turner-Hall seeing them score three tries. How long can they keep this amazing run going?
Try of the Weekend goes to Takudzwa Ngwenya of Biarritz. This guy really is a one off. Combining superbly with his back three partners Iain Balshaw and Dane Haylett-Petty, Ngwenya took the ball on the switch and simply scorched away from around 70 metres out. Contender for Try of the Season.
This week’s Hero has to be that man Ronan O’Gara. Two match-winning drop goals in a week must be an unprecedented accomplishment, but ROG made it look easy. Without them, Munster would be sitting on 3 points rather 8 in Pool 1. Credit must go to Matthew Morgan of the Ospreys as well for his nerveless late kick which levelled the scores at 26-26 against Treviso.
Villain of the week had a few contenders, including Mike McCarthy of Connacht and Steve Shingler of London Irish for reckless tackles. But the award goes to Benoît August for his melodramatic reaction to a push from one of Saracens forwards. It won Biarritz an important penalty with Sarries metres from their line, but that kind of reaction has no place in the game. Shameful.
What were your highlights from this weekend’s matches?
by Ben Coles