Best of the Weekend: Leicester and Munster steal wins at the death

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Leicester and Munster snatch dramatic wins in France

Even before Northampton’s drubbing at Franklin’s Gardens last week, all eyes were going to be on the return fixture at the Aviva Stadium, and the Saints showed remarkable fortitude to bounce back from their disappointment, and beat Leinster 18-9, keeping their slim hopes of qualification alive. Northampton’s pack helped erase memories of their embarrassing performance last week with a very good outing in Dublin, with Samu Manoa, Callum Clark, and Courtney Lawes impressing particularly, but it was Jamie Elliot’s late breakaway try that finally secured victory, and denied Leinster a losing bonus point. Dan Biggar kicked the Ospreys to a 21-12 victory against Castres in the other fixture in Pool One, but unfortunately for the Welsh side, it was not enough to save them from an early exit from the European competition.

Exeter Chiefs put in a valiant effort against Toulon at the Stade Mayol on Saturday, but the superstar cast of the French side ultimately proved too much for the side from Devon, as they fell to a 32-30 defeat. Virtuoso performances from Steffon Armitage and Juan Smith helped Toulon maintain their control of Pool Two, but Luke Arscott deserves recognition for his outing, as he beat 11 defenders, made 191 metres, and was a consistent threat to the Toulon defence. Cardiff kept up their excellent recent form in the Heineken Cup, beating Glasgow 9-7 at Scotstoun, and have proffered themselves as one of the dark horses of this year’s tournament.

Normal service was resumed in Pool Three this round, as Toulouse rectified their surprising defeat a week before, beating Connacht 37-9 at the Sportsground. Tries from Maxime Medard (2), Christopher Tolofua, Louis Picamoles, and Gael Fickou earned Toulouse the bonus point, and perhaps offered onlookers a sneak peek at the rapidly approaching Six Nations, as the French side look set for a winner-takes-all clash with Saracens in January. The aforementioned Londoners also picked up a win, scoring nine tries, and dispatching Zebre with consummate ease, 64-3 at Allianz Park.

Harlequins boosted their opportunities of making the knockout rounds with a comprehensive 17-3 victory over the free-spending Racing Metro at the Twickenham Stoop, and will now look forward to the prospect of mouth-watering tie with Clermont, as both teams seek to take control of Pool Four. Charlie Walker and Nick Easter were key to Quins’ dominance, but both were arguably outshone by Luke Wallace, who made a game-high 14 tackles, as well as being a constant thorn in Racing’s side at the breakdown. Despite Harlequins’ heroics, Clermont remained top of the pool, thanks to a superb second half dismantling of the Scarlets, and they grabbed a bonus point on their way to a 31-12 victory at Parc y Scarlets.

A dramatic 15-14 win for Leicester Tigers away in Montpellier sets up a highly anticipated match with Ulster to decide the winner of the group, although chances are that one of the sides to take a best runners up spot could well come from Pool Five. The game was tied at 0-0 at halftime, albeit perhaps the most compelling 40 minutes of scoreless rugby you’re ever likely to see, but second half tries from Tom Youngs and Vereniki Goneva were enough to give the Tigers a priceless away victory, and keep them hot on the heels of Ulster at the top of the pool. The Irish province added further misery to Treviso’s campaign, comfortably beating the Italian side 35-3, in extremely foggy conditions at Stadio Comunale di Monigo.

A frustrating 16-10 loss at home for Gloucester to Edinburgh pretty much put pay to any doubts over who will finish top of Pool Six, especially after Munster stole a dramatic 18-17 win away in Perpignan on Saturday. The game seemed lost for Munster thanks to a 78th minute try from Tommaso Benvenuti, but a fantastic bit of skill and finishing from JJ Hanrahan earned Munster the most sensational of late victories.

Bath and Wasps well in control in the Amlin

A 63-0 victory for Bath over Mogliano, and a 32-12 win for London Wasps against Grenoble, ensured that both sides top their pools with four wins from four, whilst the other English sides remain locked in tight battles to qualify from their groups. London Irish slipped to a 32-14 defeat against Stade Francais, and are now tied on points with the French side in Pool Five, whilst a 25-10 victory for Newcastle away to Calvisano keeps them level on points in their group with Brive. Worcester were again unable to record a win against Biarritz in Pool One, falling to a 33-25 defeat, but an impressive 53-14 victory for Sale Sharks against Oyonnax kept them a point ahead of Biarritz in the hunt for qualification for the knockout rounds.

Excellent execution, perfect composure, and a dazzling step were all required for JJ Hanrahan’s late score against Perpignan, and for those reasons, along with the fact it sealed one of the most dramatic wins in the Heineken Cup this season, it’s the Try of the Week.

The current laws surrounding forward passes are this week’s Villain of the Week. The TMO awarded David Smith a a try in the Toulon vs Exeter game, and under the current rules which look at the direction of the hands, he was probably right to, especially when you take into account Matt Giteau, the passer, was tackled immediately after he made the pass, which made it look far more forward than it was. The pass did clearly go forward however, so surely it’s time to look at these rules, and re-evaluate whether or not this law needs to be changed.

Toulon were far from their vintage best during their 32-20 win over Exeter, but their openside flanker, Steffon Armitage, certainly was, and is the very deserving Hero of the Week. Armitage won a number of turnovers for his side, as well as slowing down Exeter’s ball successfully and legally, and also made a big impact as a ball carrier. If there was one French-based player you would wish that Stuart Lancaster would make an exception for, it is certainly Armitage.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

14 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Leicester and Munster steal wins at the death

  1. Ashton’s finish for his try against Zebre was fantastic. Showing great pace and vision to burn off several defenders and splash over. I know it was only Zebre, but Sarries were a man down at the time.

  2. Two names that English rugby fans have grown to dislike, Ashton and Cipriani, were both brilliant this weekend. Against weak opposition, yes, but still superb.

    The Saints match made my weekend, absolutely compelling. Hartley in particular was brilliant, so physical and really led from the front.

    1. Chabal should get villain of the week for his vicious assault.

      Bit harsh to tar all the Leinster fans with the same brush, sure there was an element no (no doubt the one’s who think that any team of the week without Healy & O’Brien is WRONG and anyone who can’t see it doesn’t know what they are talking about …. and the one’s who think hanging would have been too good for Gatland), but it is a minority. Thought Saints kept their composure really well when maul after maul was stopped with blue shirts on the ground.

    2. bit harsh on the Leinster crowd. There was 47k at the match, a few hundred booing, while bloody annoying is hardly a stain on the rest of us. Think a lot of the boo’s were for Hartley when he left the field (panto villian that he is) and not for the kicker. Thought the ‘villian’ played magnificantly and led from the front all day. Saints were the better side and fully deserving of their win. These back to back games are incredible really. Cant wait to read Austin Healy’s ‘reasons’ why Northampton are at a disadvantage to Pro 12 teams ….. oooh wait, they won. Austin?

        1. I watched the game on TV again yesterday. If there were 100s booing out of 47K then they must be the loudest fans in Ireland. And it was clear that the booing coincided with more than 1 kick.

    3. Agreed Robbo – I have been in the company of numerous pompous Irish rugby fans who boo you if you so much as cough when a kicker is warming up – seems they only respect the kickers when they are happy with the way the game is going.

      I personally don’t go for the silence and don’t have a problem with making a load of noise. People are not quiet at line outs and other one-man-doing-a-bit-of-skill-restart bits of rugby so the silence at kicks mystifies me. But I do dislike the pompous double standard of only doing it when you’re happy with the penalty/try decision.

      1. “they” – I’m guilty of generalising there. Apologies. Obviously not all fans are fools, but there was definitely a sizeable contingent of them in that crowd.

        Amazing match, best out of the last 2 weeks for a neutral (for a fan I am ecstatic with the Blues wins). To turn around a drubbing like that by simply physically and through force of will dragging yourself out of the hole. Very, very impressive. Manu Samoa will be on the plane to Toulon/Racing as we speak. Did he get MOTM? If he didn’t then that would be insane.

      2. To be fair, the majority of Leinster fans I was with were very pissed off at how others were acting and even apologised to Northampton fans sitting near them, although I must say as much as I hate it there are a lot of Irish fans who don’t see it’s just a game at the end of the day, as an Ulsterman the number of fans who will find an excuse for every loss is a bit frustrating, but there are a lot of good Irish fans too, there’s good and bad in every group!

    4. Nothing new there then Robbo. In my experience the Irish are invariably the worst behaved crowd at Twickenham and in the bars in New Zealand during the last RWC the Irish fans were frequently obscene, nationalistic and most unsporting. Of course not all Irish fans are ‘poor’ nor are all others invariably good but the irish seem to take pride in it.

    5. Nothing new there then Robbo. In my experience the Irish are invariably the worst behaved crowd at Twickenham and in the bars in New Zealand during the last RWC the Irish fans were frequently obscene, nationalistic and most unsporting. Of course not all Irish fans are ‘poor’ nor are all others invariably good but the irish seem to take pride in it.

  3. I think the villain of the week should be Zebre. Getting beat that badly doesn’t add credibility to their inclusion in the Heineken Cup. If anything, I would think the Italian teams would target these games to show that they belong.

    Or, Treviso. That was a bad loss for them.

  4. doesnt look like ray and brighty will be coming to Ireland for their holliers any time soon then. Ooh dear, what a shame!

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