The Heineken Cup returned to our lives this weekend, and did not disappoint, with plenty of tight games, one or two upsets and some last-minute drama.
Sadly, I missed more games than I’d have liked – I’m still in brownie-point deficit with my wife following the Rugby World Cup, and wall-to-wall rugby wasn’t on the agenda on Saturday apparently. A text exchange with a friend sums it up:
‘Are you watching Leinster v Montpellier? End-to-end stuff and Montpellier have just scored an incredible breakaway try.’
‘No. Shopping for curtains. Don’t want to talk about it.’
The beauty of Sky Plus helped me catch up on Sunday, but I confess to not seeing every match.
Munster’s last-gasp victory over Northampton
It’s the Heineken Cup and Munster won at Thomond Park. Not a great surprise, but against the Saints on Saturday evening, they were second best for most of the match, but still came away with 4 points.
With Northampton leading by a point, Munster ran through 41 phases – 35 of them made them no ground whatsoever – until Ronan O’Gara was in range for a dropped goal, which he shot dead straight through the posts despite the swirling wind. It was as if the wind had stopped temporarily, with the elements also on Munster’s side.
Some will argue that referee Nigel Owens was leaning slightly towards Munster, particularly at the scrum where the home side were struggling, but it was classic Munster to emerge with a 23-21 win.
This game had everything that is so great about the Heineken Cup. It was played at a ferocious pace, with Northampton particularly keen to put width on the ball. Defences were shudderingly strong, and the passion and commitment displayed by both sides left you wondering how England had got it so wrong in New Zealand.
Richie Gray wins it for Glasgow
There was another thrilling climax at Firhill, where Richie Gray scored in the last minute to ensure a win over Bath.
New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup hero, Stephen Donald, had given Bath the lead, and as the clock ticked over into injury time, Duncan Weir’s drop-goal attempt was charged down, with the bounce falling kindly to the giant Scottish lock to score under the posts.
We enjoyed Weir’s assessment of the game afterwards, saying of Gray’s try: ‘It was unfortunate but the ball does bounce anywhere and it has shown that and it bounced to Richie.’
Edinburgh make it a Scottish clean sweep at London Irish
What a weekend for the Scots, with Edinburgh’s victory away at London Irish raising plenty of eyebrows on Saturday afternoon.
Winning away from home is what marks out the top teams in European Rugby, and Edinburgh have given themselves an incredible start to their qualification campaign with victory at the Madejski.
It could arguably have been more comfortable if Geoff Cross and Tim ‘Scottish next year’ Visser hadn’t had a try ruled out by the TMO – Cross touched down just short, but it appeared that Visser had done the rest, only to be denied.
It didn’t matter too much though, since they came back for a penalty for a Shontayne Hape shoulder charge, and Greig Laidlaw slotted the points which proved enough for the 20-19 win.
Cardiff, Ospreys and Ulster also win
There were other notable victories for Welsh sides Cardiff and Ospreys against Racing Metro and Biarritz respectively, whilst Ulster overcame a tough Clermont Auvergne challenge at Ravenhill.
Gloucester fell agonisingly short in Toulouse, but as they showed by kicking the ball out in the final play, they’ll be satisfied with a losing bonus point, and will take on the French at Kingsholm and try to deny them a point of their own.
Ronan O’Gara has to take home the Hero of the weekend award. That build-up and drop-goal were something special. Take a look (via RugbyDump):
Villain of the week goes (slightly harshly) to Northampton’s Russian winger Vasily Artemyev, who knocked on a simple restart that Callum Clark instinctively grasped to concede a penalty and 3 points, and then fumbled a sitter of a try after Chris Ashton had raced up the touchline.
I’d like your nominations for Try of the Weekend, please. I haven’t seen the highlights show yet, and there must be some other cracking tries that I’ve not had the pleasure of watching. Let me know what you think.
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