Best of the Weekend: High-profile upsets open up Heineken Cup

Another enthralling set of Heineken Cup fixtures set us on the way to Christmas in style. The only shame is that we have to wait until January 11 for the next instalment. Here is your regular run-down.

Ospreys Toulouse

Biarritz ward off brave Connacht as Ospreys upset Toulouse

The odds of a Connacht double over Biarritz would have been utterly astronomical before the beginning of this tournament, but as a day-long deluge of rain soaked the Parc des Sports Aguilera, the playing field became more level. However, in a weekend of upsets, the Basque men prevailed to record an important 17-0 win. Although the hosts’ attack was severely blunted by the horrendous conditions and waterlogged surface, Dan Parks was never given a chance to control matters. On the same night at Murrayfield, Racing Metro muscled out Edinburgh to make last season’s semi-final seem like an extremely distant memory.

Pool two – widely renowned at this year’s group of death – again threw up a couple of intriguing ties. Firstly, defying the woe that has infiltrated Welsh rugby, Ospreys took advantage on an out-of-sorts Toulouse at the Liberty Stadium. A sharp finish from livewire wing Eli Walker, exceptional throughout, proved enough to split the sides as Ryan Jones and Justin Tipuric nullified the rampaging Louis Picamoles.

Vincent Clerc’s horrendous error in the final play of the game with the line at his mercy summed up a bad day for the Frenchmen and, as it meant a losing bonus point slipped away. That could also prove vital shake-up, with Leicester Tigers navigating some baffling Alain Rolland-isms on the way to snatching a 14-13 triumph at Treviso.

Chiefs seal Scarlets double, champions defeated in Dublin

One day Exeter might progress past the perception of plucky underdogs. Until that time comes though, each of their successes is met with widespread glee. The latest one of those, a 30-20 beating of the Scarlets at Sandy Park, was one of the better coups, even for this exceptionally spirited bunch. Llanelli crossed the Severn Bridge with a heap of internationals and gave it their all, yet scores from Ian Whitten, Simon Allcott and James Scaysbrook sent them packing.

Elsewhere in that perilous pool, Leinster did their best London bus impression – going down to a second defeat in a week on the back of 17 unbeaten European assignments. The precocious Wesley Fofana was brilliant for Clermont and snatched his team’s only try, while Morgan Parra’s boot did the rest as the Dubliners were forced into numerous scrum and ruck offences. Shane Jennings and Fergus McFadden went over in the last quarter to salvage a consolation point, but the holders are on the brink.

There was more Irish frustration in Belfast, Ulster ousted by a fantastic backs-to-the-wall effort from Northampton. In a game that may be rued later for a nasty knee injury to Lion-in-waiting Tommy Bowe, the East Midlanders edged home 10-9, all of their points in the opening 20 minutes. A last-ditch tackle from Jamie Elliott was instrumental in that, and the Saints now have a faint sniff. The same cannot be said for Glasgow, though. Despite so nearly toppling complacent Castres yesterday, the Scots were overturned at the last.

Saturday’s final couple of matches featured mixed British fortunes. Harlequins enjoyed themselves against Zebre, piling up seven more tries against the travelling Italians. However, despite a score after four minutes for skipper Sam Warburton, the courageous Cardiff Blues went down 34-21 in Montpellier.

Saracens wreak revenge on Munster, Sale and Irish handed hidings

Munster’s visit to Vicarage Road was never going to be a try-fest, but a pair of evenly matched outfits still managed to produce a very entertaining spectacle. Ronan O’Gara was unlucky to be on the losing side following a virtuoso display of pinpoint punting, but Will Fraser and George Kruis were relentless around the park and deservedly brought the Fez-Heads to victory. A brutal case of Sunday blues befell Sale though, the Stockport side continuing to slide by being totally dismantled at Toulon. Both Armitage brothers got on the scoresheet as floodgates opened embarrassingly in the second half – 62-0 the final result. Ouch.

The Amlin Challenge was once again a platform for Gloucester to progress, London Irish the victims of a 47-3 mauling. To round off, Worcester could not quite complete a double over Perpignan and Joe Launchbury was the second half super sub as London Wasps beat Bayonne 30-16. Dragons finished the weekend by breezing past Mogliano.

Any member of the Saracens back row could have bagged Hero of the Weekend, and Gloucester’s Shane Monahan can count himself unlucky after a four-try afternoon. But the manner in which Morgan Parra ran the game for Clermont wins out. The diminutive scrum half was in Wayne Barnes’ ear all match. A veritable Napoleon.

Alain’s Rolland’s officiating probably merited Villain of the Weekend condemnation, a bizarre penalty try for Treviso leaving some apoplectic and all at least puzzled. Then Castres’ Ibrahim Diarra aimed a spiteful, savage stamp onto Moray Low’s face. Game, set and match.

Leicester Tigers’ Italian job was notable for two penalty tries, but the length-of-the field effort that started proceedings gets Try of the Weekend. Passing through Anthony Allen’s hands twice and including a gorgeous break from Matthew Tait, Adam Thompstone’s score lit up a dank, muddy day.

By Charlie Morgan

Follow Charlie on Twitter — @Charlie Felix

 

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22 comments on “Best of the Weekend: High-profile upsets open up Heineken Cup

  1. Fair summary. Tremendous effort from Saints, best performance of the weekend IMO after being fairly well dismantled last weekend. Ospreys, Toulon, Clermont and Glos coming a close second for performances.

    But WHY oh WHY do you have to refer to all French SH’s as Napoleon! Grrrrrr. Is he fat, no. Did he lose in Belgium, no. Did he suffer a shocking reverse in Russia, no…..

  2. Clermont look like strong favourites now with Leinster looking like Ireland i.e. nowhere near as good without BOD.

    The Ospreys were excellent – I have to say that to balance all of the “Toulouse lost that game, the Os didn’t win it” rubbish I have had to read. Much like Eng v NZ, Os won by stopping Toulouse at source and having a back (Tuilagi for Eng, Walker for the Os) who was having the game of his life. Their pack were magnificent, despite the other ignorant ref of the weekend, George Clancy, trying his best to give Toulouse forward dominance for the last 10.

    I was so glad to see Sarries win. Munster were trying to be belligerent – cheap shots, etc. but these days they don’t have the skill to back it up – their over excitable but under skilled scrum half is the epitome of this – he’s like a useless Mike Phillips (yes, the irony in that is intentional). The sight of O’Gara giving a dig to a Sarries forward as he left the pitch at half time, then looking sheepishly over his shoulder to see if the big boy was coming after him, was galling. A cowardly act by a cowardly player.

    • It was also nice to see O’Gara stuck on his arse a few times. I love the Munster fans, but it was nice to see them sitting very still and quiet and the end of the game. Sarries defence in the second half was again immense.

      • Did you go to the Match?
        Munster fans were struck dumb by the constant battering of ‘Saracens Uber alles’ played at disco volumes over the speaker system throughout the match, not their sides loss to what was a better side. Every time the clock was stopped the anthem blasted out. I dont know if this is the Saracens way, I have never seen it at a Heineken match. The announcer only gave home team scores and scorers which is a minor point but I thought was very unsporting. I felt that the club was trying to create problems between the rival supporters. If they continue like this they will need to separate fans.
        I think most Munster supporters were glad to get away, happy that they would never return, and looking forward to their next match.

    • I have always been of the opinion that the winning team is the one that has the most points at the end of the game – hopefully everyone agrees with this. It may be that the team did not play as well, but that they took their point scoring chances when they came, it might have been because they were lucky, but to a certain extent you make your own luck. This is why the Ospreys won – they had more points. Have to agree with Brighty on that although would disagree that only one English player had the game of his life against NZ, I think about half of them did!

    • Well some irish rugby slagging again from our confused Welsh friend. There is no team more belligerent than the Ospreys but hey thats ok. And of course the Football style booing of kickers in Welsh grounds is quite alright. Look this season i think and would in fact like to see an Anglo -French final in Dublin and would i hope bring them both back in to the fold. irish teams have limited resources and thus will struggle on given years in the hein cup. But there is no chance of a Welsh winner any time soon which is actually a pity as they need 1 or 2 hein cups to consolidate the pro game there. We are not all begrudgers you see pal unlike somepeople. And let’s have a real debate about o’gara rather than making it personal. I believe in fact that he should have moved on this season as he cannot play that more expansive style that Munster are right now unsuccessfully trying to play.

    • Why are ye Welsh always whingeing about the referee after a match. It’s sounding more like the soccer morons when ye go on like this, it never bloody ends win or lose. The Ospreys are a decent side and had a good win but have yet to prove themselves away from home in big heino matches. Un like the Irish sides who really have nothing to prove to anybody at the moment. So keep your feet on the ground pal ok can they win away in a q final or semi- . But please this constant ref bashing is always coming from the Welsh recently not the much maligned English or French and I know that many people in the game are sick of this carryon. Constantly blaming the ref win or lose.Why won’t ye first of all address the in built nasty sportsmanship both on and off the field in Wales. THIS IS NOT BLOODY SOCCER PAL

      • Johne, I am welsh but I do not represent Wales. Can’t you separate the two? When I say something it is my personal view, not the view of “the welsh”.

        The original article also criticised the referee, not just “the welsh” person. Your recent comments on this blog mentioned the ref as crucial in two of the last welsh international wins over Irish sides.

        I gave a specific example of why I was delighted to see O’Gara on the losing side, his cheap shot and then running away.

        Keep my feet on the ground? Please point out to me where in anything I side I suggested the Os will go on from this and win anything. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t. But you just go ahead and follow your deluded paranoid fantasies.

        The Irish fans booed the kicker at the Sarries match – I was surprised to see it but then it is so much harder to be magnanimous when you are losing.

  3. Nice to see a mention to Will Fraser and George Kruis there. I was at the game, and both players were immense. And Kruis is playing out of position. Normally a lock, he is merely standing in at six due to so many injuries. Kelly Brown did a great job of balancing the back row from the number 8 position, and all three made a real nuisance of themselves.

    • He is English, and a very big guy. 6’6″ and about 18st, but is very mobile around the pitch. Usually plays lock, but has stepped in to the six role like he was meant to be there. He’s played for England U20′s.

      • Similar type of player to both Launchbury and Lawes, in that they are locks that are very mobile and can therefore play 6. Will be interesting to see him development.

  4. Jacob, I rather think that this will become the norm with young locks who grow up through age group rugby and academies as big athletes, and only really nail down back or second row as they progress into their 20′s.

    I must admit that, given his name and his club, I wasn’t expecting to discover that he was English.

    • You might well be right Blub, some of the athletes coming through are very impressive! I hope it continues as it makes the game very good to watch!

  5. Surely Jamie Elliot of Saints should be hero of the weekend after his two superb try saving tackles, and his hit on Nick Williams, who is 6 stone heavier!

    • Is this the young Northampton winger? If so, he definitely deserves it. Tackles on both Gilroy and Bowe when they looked destined to go over were amazing.

      Fairly gutted as an ulster fan but can’t help but respect Northampton’s effort.

      Brighty- I wouldn’t write off Leinster too soon. MAny have done so to their illl before

  6. Can’t look past Clermont at the minute. It’s been a while since Leinster were beat in the H cup and longer still since they were beaten twice in a row. Difficulty for Leinster now is they’re in second place on 10 points. They are the second worst second place at the minute which means that they’re relying on wins against a Scarlets side who are operating well in the Rabo and an Exeter side that are on reasonable form in the Heineken. More to the point, they’ll probably need bonus points and Sandy Park is a surprisingly difficult place to visit. You rarely lose two games and go through in the H cup.

    I personally see the likely 2nd place qualifiers to be Leicester/Toulouse and Montpellier. Leinster’s best chance is on Leicester losing their remaining games, which is a possiblity but would you want to bet on it.

    • I’m not so sure about Montpellier given that their next game is away to Sale. Sale will be smarting and trying hard for a face saving win? Anyway, even 5 pts away only takes Montpellier to 18 and I can’t see them getting anything against Toulon.

      Ospreys best score will probably to be 18 points (win against Leics at home, 5 pts against Treviso away) so that won’t be enough.

      So I think it’ll be Ulster/Northampton who go through and Racing Metro.

      I agree about Clermont. Back to back against the champs is as big a statement as you can make. I’d love to see a Clermont v Toulon final as they’ve looked the best teams in the tournament this year.

      • Don’t know how much Premiership you’ve been watching, but Sale have been smarting all season and done very little about it thus far. I’d almost even put that down as a bonus point for Montpellier. Mont aren’t in bad form and could take a bonus point from Toulon, but I don’t see Leinster making more than 18 at the minute.

        The Ulster group is interesting. Northampton are good, but Castres are tough and Glasgow aren’t exactly pushovers. They were beaten twice by Castres last year. Racing have Saracens in France, then Munster in Thomond Park.The Sarries game is a maybe, but turning over Munster at home is always a big ask (shame about their dreadful away record).

        I tend to feel that on form and injury list at the minute, Leicester ought to beat Ospreys. It’s a huge shock that Toulouse didn’t. I’d hope they’d win at home to Toulouse as well, buta bonus point and a win ought to give them a happy 19

        That said, there’s just so much that could change before the end of the groups

  7. Fair comment about Sale but I just look at the team sheet and think, they can’t be that bad, can they?

    I didn’t see the O’s win as a “huge” shock. Against the odds yes, but no more than Saints against Ulster for me. Toulouse don’t have a good record in Wales and I fear that Wales poor autumn and Cardiff’s collapse has rubbed off onto the perception of the other regions in a lot of peoples minds. When fully fit the Os are a good team – best scrum half in the world at the mo, a few world class players (Jones, Tipuric) and some great young lads (Biggar, Walker). The Os didn’t sneak it against Toulouse, they were good value for the win. They were also well on top for the first half (and more) of the game in Leics so I fancy them to finish the job this time – but it’ll be tight.

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