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