Lots to talk about from Round 4 of this season’s Heineken Cup, as the quarter-final lineup begins to take shape.
Leinster demolish Bath in a 7 try thrashing
Don’t be fooled by Bath’s 27 points. Leinster had this sown up early on, scoring a bonus point try in the 40th minute before half-time. By the time Rhys Ruddock crossed for the sixth try on 60 minutes to open up a 43-6 lead, the foot undoubtedly came off the gas. It might seem harsh, as Bath kept plugging away and did score three tries, but the Leinster relaxed with the withdrawal of Johnny Sexton and Leo Cullen. It was a masterclass in clinical finishing, exploiting the space rather than the man, with some exceptional handling and playmaking from Sexton and Reddan.
In fact, Reddan’s brilliant flick round the back for Rob Kearney’s opening score was a sign of things to come. It seems wrong to single out individual performances, but Luke Fitzgerald truly looked back to his best on the wing, finishing brilliantly and working well in the build-up to Sexton’s try. His fellow wing Isa Nacewa, one of the best players in Europe over the last three seasons, was again excellent. Much like Toulouse, the quality of Leinster’s side is beyond that of a Heineken Cup side. If Bruce Craig is serious about getting Bath back to the big time, then the template by which Leinster operate in terms of playing personnel and style should be followed.
Glory for Harlequins in Toulouse enhances credibility
After the way in which Toulouse took Harlequins apart last season, a bit of doubt creeped in as to how far this side could go. George Robson candidly spoke to us on Wednesday about the need for Harlequins to compete physically at the same level as their French counterparts. Having sampled last week just how hard they needed to work, Quins upped the intensity from the start this time round, taking every single opportunity available.
Brilliantly marshalled by Nick Evans, who edged the battle of the Kiwi 10s this time round against Luke McAlister, Mike Brown pounced on a grubber kick behind the defence for the opening score. Brown’s try gave Quins the confidence they needed to win this game. His score at the end, latching on to a brilliant offload from Nick Easter, almost sealed the win. When Brian Smith was prompted about Brown playing for England a few years ago, he simply laughed. Now it is difficult to see him not being included come the Six Nations.
Credit though must be shared all round. Tom Williams produced a sensational cameo from the bench late in the second half, creating the error that lead to Brown’s second score. Matt Hopper upped his game dramatically after struggling with the pace last Friday, including one brilliant break and some excellent defence. Danny Care, Nick Easter and Robson all worked tirelessly as well. Harlequins now lie one point behind Toulouse in Pool 6.
Leicester complete revenge over Clermont, Munster hold out the Scarlets
A big result from the Tigers at Welford Road means that Pool 4 is once more exceptionally close to call, after Ulster’s expected bonus point win at home to Aironi. Tries from Manu Tuilagi and Julian Salvi, plus Toby Flood discovering his kicking boots in the second half, meant that despite Clermont being extremely clinical with drop goals from Morgan Parra and David Skrela, they were able to finish on top.
Munster took a firm grip of Pool 1 after defeating the Scarlets for the second week in a row at Thomond Park, thanks to James Coughlan’s try and the boot of Ronan O’Gara. They now sit five points clear of the Welsh side in Pool 1, and look set to progress as one of the top seeds, which is almost laughable given how dramatic their campaign has been with the last minute wins against Northampton and Castres.
It was also an excellent weekend for Scotland’s two sides Glasgow and Edinburgh, who both picking up big results. Edinburgh won the second of their home matches so far this year, defeating Cardiff thanks to the boot of captain Greig Laidlaw and another Tim Visser try. Glasgow grabbed an impressive draw away to Heineken Cup newcomers Montpellier in France, with Rory Lamont grabbing a try for his new club following his switch from Toulon. Montpellier scrum-half Benôit Paillaugue had a chance to win the game late on, but missed the winning kick.
Try of the Weekend goes to Johnny Sexton of Leinster. Part of an all-round excellent performance from the young Irishman, Sexton was in the right place to support Luke Fitzgerald, after the winger made a superb break down the left.
Hero of the weekend is without doubt Nick Evans. A nerveless kicking display from Harlequins superstar fly-half saw him slot over two crucial penalties late on, opening up a 7 point lead that Toulouse could not catch up. He finished with 16 points.
Villain of the weekend is Benôit Paillaeuge for his late penalty miss against Glasgow, meaning that Montpellier drew at home for the second time this season in the Heineken Cup.
by Ben Coles