Best of the Weekend: Heineken Cup thrills and spills

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

Ronan O'Gara

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.

Follow me on Twitter @Hutch_James

15 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Heineken Cup thrills and spills

    1. Yes, and I love how Dewi Morris is turning into Brian Moore on the subject.

      Several dubious decisions at scrum time from Owens, even though Saints were clearly the dominant pack.

  1. Not that I’m biased but try of the weekend should go to David Strettle for Sarries vs Treviso. A lovely back pass from Brits found Strettle racing in off his wing at a great angle to fool the visitors defence, and ease over the line for his try.

  2. ulsters humphreys try made by adam darcy , or else the northampton aston try. toulouses try to win the game was pure class. the newbies connacht’s try by duffy lovely skip ball great quality rugby on display!

  3. Quins v Connacht was a great game with Connacht really stepping up for the occasion. They scored a couple of great tries and their number 13 was superb all game, always looking dangerous

    For Quins, Easter played well (he always seems to make 3 or 4 yards to get his team on the front foot, no matter how many people are trying to tackle him) as did Robshaw,

    But the best player on display was Joe Marler – he was everywhere on the pitch, making tackles and carrying the ball. He has a suprising amount of speed and good hands for a prop as well. He reminded me a bit of Owen Franks and I will be very suprised if he doesn’t become an England regular before long

    1. I agree, I thought Marler was excellent and ought to be in the England reckoning for the Six Nations. Plenty of Quins players putting their hands up for International honours.

      I was impressed with Connacht, and wouldn’t be that surprised if they turned over Toulouse next weekend.

        1. I believe that he has a lot to learn – he is still young after all – but he is no Tim Payne when it comes to the scrummage

  4. Having now watched that Munster video, Northampton seemed to be very unlucky.

    There were a number of free kicks/penalities that the ref should have given, including one blatant crossing towards the start of the sequence

    Fair play to O’Gara and Munster though, as you can only play to the whistle. Must be gutting to defend for 40 phases, pushing the oppostion backwards most of the time, only to see O’Gara slotting a dg from 30 odd metres out

    Any lip readers care to tell us what O’Gara was saying to Ashton at the end?

  5. Try of weekend must be Ben Morgan for Scarlets if not for the marvellous flowing continuity but the audacious flick back from touchline in own 22 that started it

  6. Try of the weekend for me was the Richie Gray one for Glasgow…but I might be biased :-)
    Stuart Hogg’s first try for the Warriors was good, Bath were caught napping, and Hoggy found himself in miles of space. But after Dunc’s kick was charged down, Gray came out of nowhere. He said he was going to go out with a bang….

  7. What an awesome weekend of rugby! I’m also glad to see all the Welsh sides off to a good start. The Blues in particular are looking strong and hopefully this weekend’s home game will do them favours.

  8. all ROG has to do now is cure is inveterate gambling addiction and hell be playing 10 for the lions in 2013


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