With the majority of the Northern Hemisphere’s elite side taking a break this week, all attention turned to those teams left in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup. The semi-finals of both competitions ensured that there was plenty of rugby action on this second Bank Holiday weekend.
Leinster get revenge over Toulouse
In the game of the weekend, 2009 Heineken Cup champions Leinster faced their adversaries from last year Toulouse, who had put paid to their hopes of defending their title when they defeated the Irish side in the semi-final. But led by their irrepressible captain Brian O’Driscoll, Leinster accentuated their improvements with a thrilling victory in a match that was underpinned by a resilient pack performance.
The match had begun badly for Leinster. When an innocuous David Skrela penalty bounced off the post, rather than the Leinster defence lapping up possession, Toulouse centre Florian Fitz was the beneficiary as he gathered under the nose of Brian O’Driscoll to touch down for the first try. Fly half Skrela duly added the extras. But as they have done before, the Leinstermen hit back. Jonathan Sexton’s metronomic boot combined with a Jamie Heaslip try, in which he showcased some extendable arms more reminiscent of Inspector Gadget, brought Leinster the lead at half time despite the sin binning of Brian O’Driscoll after a ruck infringement close to the Leinster try line.
As the match resumed, Toulouse took advantage of the man advantage when Louis Picamoles crossed after a five-metre scrum, but Leinster hit back with gusto and the returning O’Driscoll crossed for Leinster’s second and his 30th Heineken Cup try. Despite some late Toulouse pressure, Leinster held on to their lead, greatly aided by a heroic man of the match performance from number 8 Jamie Heaslip.
Saints impress in Milton Keynes
From one Irish number 8 to another, Roger Wilson did his best to eclipse Heaslip’s performance as Northampton comprehensively beat a surprisingly poor Perpignan team. The Saints are renowned for their dominant pack, although the superiority achieved over Perpignan was unexpected. Fly half Stephen Myler looked shaky at times, but Jon Clarke and the rampaging Ben Foden were constant dangers to Perpignan and both helped themselves to tries. A second half touch-down off the back of the driving maul restored some pride for Perpignan’s battered forwards, but it was little consolation as they bowed out meekly.
Quins conquer Thomond Park
In what was undoubtedly the performance of the weekend, Limerick-born Conor O’Shea masterminded a Harlequins victory over Munster at Thomond Park, achieving a feat that has eluded many fine sides in recent times. Harlequins clearly caught Munster cold, and despite a Nick Easter red card they held on for what was only the second European loss Munster have been inflicted at Thomond Park. ‘Quins now move on to the final where they will face Stade Francais, who had triumphed over Clermont Auvergne just one night previous.
Falcons grab vital bonus point
Newcastle may have fallen to a 14-11 defeat at home to Bath in their rearranged match, but Luke Fielden’s late try ensured that they left the game with a vital bonus point that keeps them one place above bottom club Leeds. With Leeds set to battle Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens and Newcastle heading to the Rec to resume pleasantries with Bath, each point holds huge weight, and Leeds’ inferior points difference means that they must take at least two points to give themselves a chance of safety.
However, the future of the Premiership’s bottom club will depend on the victor of the match between Worcester and the Cornish Pirates, who booked places in The Championship final after victories over Bedford and London Welsh respectively. While a Worcester win would assure them promotion, the Pirates do not satisfy the Premiership’s entry criteria of a 10,000 capacity ground. Thus, should they beat Worcester in the final then they would be crowned champions but with the caveat of staying put in the same league. In doing so they would grant the Premiership’s bottom club a reprieve.
I’m a sucker for tries off first phase ball, and Luke Morahan’s effort for the Reds against the Hurricanes wins try of the weekend. Off the lineout the ball was shipped to Quade Cooper who elegantly laid it inside to the onrushing Morahan who went on to beat three would-be tacklers to score.
This week’s hero will go to Jamie Heaslip, who put in a performance against Toulouse that fully deserved his man of the match award. The main flash-points were his try and second half try-saving turnover, but he was a colossus across the pitch throughout the match.
Villain of the week is tough, with a few flying arms this weekend not going amiss. But with the farcical Championship play-offs approaching their conclusion, I’ll award this to the RFU. I don’t disagree that checks should be in place to assure sustainability, but that 3 of the 4 clubs competing in the Championship play-offs were not eligible for elevation to the Premiership is quite damning. This is probably another article in itself.
Citing Report: Sean O’Brien has been one of the outstanding performers in this year’s Heineken Cup, but he could be watching the final on the side-lines after a back-hand hit on Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga. Most rugby players will have been there, the player tugging you back as you head for the ball-carrier, but unfortunately for O’Brien his outburst of passion could mean that he risks sanctioning:
Those were my highlights, what were yours? And do you think Sean O’Brien could risk a punishment for his backhander on Nyanga?