Scarlets and Edinburgh upset the odds in opening round of the Heineken Cup
The Heineken Cup returned this week, possibly for the last time, and the competition certainly lived up to expectations, providing high quality rugby, victories for underdogs, and competitive affairs throughout. The only, non-Italian, exception to this competitive trend, was the game between Exeter Chiefs and Cardiff Blues at Sandy Park. Arguably the game of Pools 1 and 2, the Chiefs beat the Blues 44-29, but had been up 36-3 at half time, and only a resurgent second half performance from Cardiff, as well as two yellow cards for Exeter, gave the score line any sense of respectability. Exeter number eight Dave Ewers put in a man of the match performance, something which will only help further his international ambitions in the upcoming months, and apart from allowing Cardiff to earn a bonus point with four second half tries, it was a successful day at the office for the Chiefs. Pool 1 saw victories for both Leinster (19-9 away to the Ospreys) and Castres (19-13 at home to Northampton Saints), whilst Pool 2’s action was rounded up in the south of France, as Glasgow, similarly to Cardiff, picked up a bonus point for four tries, but still slipped to a heavy 51-28 defeat to Toulon.
The highlight of Pools 3 and 4 was the highly impressive performance from the Scarlets at The Stoop, where they thoroughly outplayed Harlequins in a 33-26 victory, and the home side were lucky to pick up the losing bonus point. The game was really a tale of three Williams, as Scott, Jordan, and Liam were all superb for the visitors, and each was integral to the Scarlets’ victory. Scott Williams was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, and capped his performance with a try, whilst Jordan Williams scored a superb solo try at a time when the game was in the balance, and Liam Williams helped seal the victory with superb defensive work at the end, when Quins were pushing hard to try and tie the game. Toulouse cantered to victory in Pool 3, dispatching Zebre with ease (38-5), and although Saracens were made to work hard by Connacht in Galway, they returned home with a 23-17 win. The weekend’s rugby was wrapped up at the Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir as Racing Metro put in an efficient defensive performance, and triumphed 13-9 over Clermont.
Murrayfield was the host of the other major upset in the Heineken Cup’s opening round, as a Greig Laidlaw-inspired Edinburgh side battled to a 29-23 win over European heavyweights Munster. The scrum half was certainly the difference between the two sides, although tries from Matt Scott and Tim Visser were also required to help Edinburgh, who are currently bottom of the RaboDirect Pro12, emerge victorious against the Irish province. The other game in Pool 6 saw Gloucester mount a successful comeback against Perpignan at Kingsholm, winning 27-22 thanks to a late try from Jonny May, whilst Leicester were able to salvage a losing bonus point from their trip to Belfast, as they lost 22-16 to Ulster in Pool 5. The other game from Pool 5 saw Montpellier comfortably beat Treviso, 27-10, capping off a generally good weekend for the French sides, and one to forget for the Italians.
Home nations prosper in the Amlin
The home nations enjoyed a fantastic start to their campaigns in the Amlin Challenge Cup, with all sides apart from Worcester picking up victories. Worcester were held to a very respectable draw by in-form French side Oyonnax, and Newcastle Falcons came close to having egg on their faces in Romania, but a late penalty from Tom Catterick secured a 13-12 victory against Bucuresti, and saved the Falcons from their very own Transylvanian nightmare. Bath stuttered to a 15-6 victory over Bordeaux-Begles, whilst Newport and London Irish both showed their class, as both sides broke the 50 point barrier in their dismantling of Mogliano and Cavalieri Prato respectively. The best performances from the Amlin belonged to Sale Sharks and London Wasps however, as the Sharks put on a mightily impressive display in their 33-10 victory at home to Biarritz, and Wasps came close to breaking the scoreboard, as they demolished Viadana 90-17 in Italy.
Young Jordan Williams of the Scarlets scored the Try of the Week, as he used a combination of speed and power to bounce off of two Harlequins defenders, before beating the last man with an exquisite step, and racing away for the try.
Plenty of nominations for the Hero of the Week, but the ultimate winner is Greig Laidlaw. The scrum half put Edinburgh on his back, and carried them to victory against Munster. It was a truly fine performance from a player who looks to be hitting his stride just in time for the Autumn Internationals. Phil Davies’ half time team talk to the Blues, and the Scarlets’ trio of Williams also deserve honourable mentions.
On such a fine weekend of rugby, the only Villain of the Week could be the fact that we may be enjoying this competition for the very last time. That being said, Cardiff’s first half performance against Exeter came very close to stealing the accolade.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images