Best of the Weekend: Heineken Cup thrillers across the board

Leinster, Munster, and Harlequins all impress, Connacht defy the odds

Leinster reinforced their title credentials with an emphatic 40-7 victory over the Northampton Saints in Pool One, and in the process, arguably put in the performance of the tournament thus far. The veteran Brian O’Driscoll was superb throughout, whilst winger Luke Fitzgerald showed good composure, and was able to capitalise on Leinster’s dominance with a hat-trick of tries. The Saints will need an immediate and dramatic return to form in Dublin next weekend, or else their Heineken Cup hopes will be dead in the water. Elsewhere, Castres narrowly edged out Ospreys, 15-9, and the French champions will be thankful for the boot of Rory Kockott, which has kept them in the hunt for qualification.

Although most eyes were on Exeter Chiefs vs Toulon in Pool Two, the performance of the Cardiff Blues in their 29-20 victory against Glasgow was one to savour for fans of the Blues, and certainly goes against what we have come to expect from both sides in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season. Fly-half Rhys Patchell will have piqued Warren Gatland’s interest with his exceptional display, and he certainly outperformed national compatriots Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland on a busy European weekend. Toulon maintained their place at the top of the pool however, as they escaped Sandy Park with a hard-fought 14-9 win, thanks in large part to the formidable breakdown work of Steffon Armitage.

Connacht defied all expectations in Pool Three, as they managed to upset European heavyweights Toulouse, 16-14, at Stade Ernest-Wallon. The win keeps Connacht well and truly alive in the group, despite the fact they have struggled in the PRO12 all season, and they will already be excited about the prospect of welcoming the French giants to Galway next weekend. Saracens were made to work hard by Zebre early on in the other game of Pool Three, but the Londoners were clinical and powerful with ball in hand, and ultimately cruised to a 39-10 win in Italy, with Chris Ashton grabbing a brace of tries in the process.

Pool Four has arguably been the most exciting from a neutral’s point of view thus far, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in round three. Harlequins, who were struggling for form during the opening rounds of the Heineken Cup, bounced back superbly, dismantling a strong Racing Metro side, 32-8, in Nantes. The game was a tale of two Nicks, with Nick Evans and Nick Easter both playing head and shoulders above their opposition, and both players grabbed tries to garnish their performances. The Scarlets were unable to replicate a similar result in France, and although they were well in the game at half time, trailing Clermont by just three points, they were overpowered in the second half, and ultimately succumbed to a 32-11 loss.

Momentum swung dramatically in the game between Leicester Tigers and Montpellier at Welford Road, but the clinical nature of the Tigers was enough to secure a thrilling 41-32 victory. Miles Benjamin continued to reward the Leicester faithful for their patience during his injury troubles with a brace of tries, whilst the return of Vereniki Goneva transformed the back line into a far more threatening unit than it has been in recent games. A winning bonus point was not enough to give Leicester the lead in Pool Five however, as Ulster managed to cross the try line seven times on their way to a 48-0 win against a hapless looking Treviso side, and the Irish province remain top of the group.

Munster stole the headlines in Pool Six, as they blew the visiting Perpignan side away, winning 36-8. Given the travails French sides often endure on the road, and the fortress that is Thomond Park, a Munster win was hardly unexpected, but to do it in this fashion will have given head coach Rod Penney much heart. Sean Dougall, Keith Earls, and the engine room duo of Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan were all excellent, although Munster will need to step up another gear if they want to leave Perpignan with a win in round four. Edinburgh struck early against Gloucester, but the English side bounced back admirably, winning 23-12 at Murrayfield, albeit without the try bonus point they desperately craved.

London Irish outclass Stade, Wasps and Bath prosper away from home

Bath, London Wasps, and London Irish all continued their 100% start to the Amlin Challenge Cup, with wins over Rugby Mogliano, Grenoble, and Stade Francais respectively, keeping them all well in control of their pools. Newcastle Falcons also won, beating Calvisano 37-15, and are now involved in a tussle with Brive for the top spot in their group, but a loss from Worcester at home to Biarritz effectively ended their European aspirations, whilst Sale’s defeat at the hands of Oyonnax embroils them in a dogfight with Biarritz for pole position in Pool One. Newport rounded off the action from the home nations in the Amlin, as they saw off the challenge of Bordeaux-Begles, winning 40-24 at Rodney Parade.

Try of the Week went to Luke Fitzgerald for his second effort against Northampton. His score set the tone for Leinster in their thoroughly impressive victory over Northampton, and a fantastic between the legs pass from the incomparable Brian O’Driscoll added gloss to the flowing team try. Miles Benjamin’s first for Leicester against Montpellier was also a strong contender, as the winger displayed his strength, speed, and footwork, with a bit of individual brilliance.

Nick Evans is the Hero of the Week for leading an inspiring Harlequins performance in Nantes. The fly half barely put a foot wrong against Racing Metro, and he looked to be back to his vintage best, as he sparked Quins’ dynamic back line, and was effective kicking from both the tee and hand. The resilience and teamwork of Connacht in their victory against Toulouse was astounding, and they’re a very unlucky runner-up.

Collective Villain of the Week this week, and it goes to the Northampton Saints. As impressive as Leinster were, Northampton were equally abject, and outside of Samu Manoa, Lee Dickson and George North, none of their players seemed to turn up on Saturday. A huge turnaround is needed if they are to get anything from Dublin next weekend.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

18 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Heineken Cup thrillers across the board

  1. I wish North had gone to a French club – getting hammered in a PRL team is going to do his confidence no good. Any French club, as long as it wasn’t Racing Metro who must have the worst cost/success ratio in the world sporting history.

    Villain Of The Week – the mate who arranged his 40th birthday party on the night of Blues v Glasgow. Villain(s) Of The Week – Saints fans booing their own team and running for the exits with 20 mins left. Fairweather glory hunters.

    1. I’ll translate “I wish George North had gone to a French club so his non-availability could have been used as an excuse for losing to Australia again” :-)

      1. Aye, that would have done it. The loss to Australia this year was tricky to follow up as we had no excuses.

    2. Purile dig there Blighty, getting hammered is hardly a common situation for the Saints. Just beaten by the better (much better) team on the day. Even Toulon get smashed occasionally (see Stade Francais).

      No, I expect he’ll be very happy playing under the former Clermont attack coach in a tough league.

      1. To make the point trevor40 made poorly; your North point was a silly one. I assumed it was in jest? But after this reply maybe not?

        If it was a serious comment, it seems bizarre. How many Welsh players have tasted H Cup success in the last 5 years? Any yet you’d be keen to remind us, it hasn’t affected them when they enter the Wales camp.

        1. Oh blimey. First, yes, def in jest. Just read my comments about the Welsh heavy Racing Metro that follow it.

          Second, when did personal fan success remove any option for commenting on the perceived weakness/strength of other teams? Will all Irish fans defer to English/Welsh/French opinions on all international rugby now because us three countries have far greater success at that level? Obviously not. Turning everything into a “well, you might think France are poor but when was the last time Llandaf North RFC won anything?” type argument doesn’t work.

          1. And as for North himself – I disagree with the original article that he was any good on Sat night. Taking the ball standing still, some dodgy panic passing. He didn’t stand out as bad, his team were well walloped, but he didn’t come across as a jewel in the mud either. Saints may, and it’s early days yet so I stress the may, find out what the Scarlets started noticing – he doesn’t have a great record at club/regional level. Is he the “new” Doc Roberts?

          2. I had assumed it was in jest, as I had for trevors comment until you replied calling him a troll; throwing my assumptions into doubt!

            I think you know full well I’m more than happy to debate any teams performances at any level.

            On your North point below; I don’t think that it will be that way. He’s been very good for them up until Saturday. One off results like that can happen, but in general Saints are in a good place, they were having a very good season, and for me, one loss (albeit an embarrassing one), doesn’t change that.

            1. I hope you are right about North – one of the luxuries/problems of being a Welsh rugby fan is that there is so much domestic rugby on tele I never really see PRL games so I only see English teams in the HC really. I’ve not seen Saints fire in the HC this year at all and especially not see North firing like he can for Wales.

              Saints were poor on Sat, they know that. However, as I said on another thread that attributed some of the blame to an out of position Pisi, it wouldn’t have mattered if Saints were on top form on Sat as I think we saw the best Leinster 80mins I’ve ever seen. Can’t think who they wouldn’t have battered with that attacking display. Makes for a mouth watering return clash – can Leinster do it again? Can Saints develop something in the week that keeps the ball out of Leinster hands? I’m hoping for some sort of massive physical battle as I think that’s the only way Saints will get into that game.

              1. I have the same issue – I don’t really get to see much of the Rabo teams other than in Europe. On that note, I thought Patchell was fantastic of Friday night. That’s the first time I’ve properly watched him – is that a performance a one off or is he that good?

                Saints have been very good in the PRL this year, but that Leinster performance was incredible. I honestly think they’d have beaten anyone on Saturday. I’d back Saints to come back next week and put in a good performance, maybe not win, but I don’t think there will be a repeat on that game.

                1. He has put in excellent performances like that before. Sometimes not so good but I put that down to experience. He’s a great new talent and I think he could be an answer to our ten conundrum.

                  Disclaimer though – lives on my road and coaches my son so I might be biased here. He’s a fantastic lad. Still coming down to coach our U12s even with his Blues commitments.

  2. How exactly do you play against Leinster when they’re as up for it as they were the other day? I know Northampton weren’t exactly having a brilliant performance, but what came out of the Leinster players that day was undeniably class.

    Leicester disappointed me. Whenever they go up against a side quickly, they die off horrendously and it becomes a real difficulty for them towards the end of a game. I was nervous last year against Treviso. Not glad to see Lamb back

    The Connaught result was somewhat unbelievable. I had been keeping an eye on the scores throughout and just waiting for Toulouse to run riot

  3. Not convinced anyone could have lived with Ireland (I mean Leinster) in that form. Saints were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and got completely blown away. I’ve said it countless times, one game doesn’t make your team good or bad, look at the trends, and to be fair to Northampton, they’ve generally been trending well.

    Going to be an interesting 6N. IMO any one of 4 could win, but I think that it will come down to the two settled teams – Wales and Ireland for the title.

    1. Ireland are hardly a settled team, and are far too inconsistent. Don’t let their magnificent club form fool you

      1. Robbo. Surely if everyone was fit you could pretty much name the Ireland test team. Same with Wales. France no one knows and England have all sorts of questions over their backline.

    2. Could be a very interesting 6N- Ireland had the best and worst performances in the Autumn but think I would back them. Sean O’brien is a one man back row at the moment, incredible player…
      Wales missing their first choice centres are possibly a little vunerable, and England just dont have the backs to really challenge. Unless Lancaster springs some surprises and gives the Nowell/Daly/Trinders a go that is.

      France the dark horses? I wouldn’t write them off, especially post lions (think a lot of the lions are looking a little burnt out)

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