A fine weekend of action from around the globe saw Leinster and Biarritz both lift silverware. Here are the best bits:
Leinster ascend above the rest by hammering brave Ulster
It was a performance that perhaps no team in the world could have coped with. Leinster retained their Heineken Cup crown at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, becoming only the second side ever to do so after Leicester Tigers in 2000 and 2001. Toulouse may have won the competition once more than their Irish rivals, but no side has shown such consistency over such a short period of time, with Leinster winning the trophy three times and going out in the semi-finals once over the last four years.
As for the game itself, Ulster started with more ambition and width on the ball than many had predicted, looking to catch out the deep Leinster defence waiting for kicks by spreading it to the wings. But the champions defence was too powerful and Ulster’s attack too inconsistent, failing to make significant ground. When Leinster finally got their hands on the ball however, Ulster had no answers for the genius of Brian O’Driscoll. Despite having keyhole surgery only 9 days ago, O’Driscoll’s mind and body were sharp enough to guide Leinster through their third final. His handling lead to a crucial Sean O’Brien break in the build-up to the champions’ second try.
After the penalty try was given early in the second half to move Leinster 24-9 ahead, the game looked as good as done. But a couple of decisions worked in Ulster’s favour – replacing the ineffective Paddy Jackson with Ian Humphreys and Dan Tuohy’s try in the right-hand corner. At 24-14 the momentum felt as though it had swung, only for Ulster to instantly concede a kickable penalty, before Sexton then landed another on top of that after Stefan Terblanche was sin-binned for a reckless tackle. That was that, with Heinke Van Der Merwe and Sean Cronin both adding the gloss. When the margin on the scoreboard takes you by surprise, you know you are watching one of the game’s great sides. It was an enormous victory. It looked effortless.
Yachvili’s boot holds firm in disappointing encounter at The Stoop
In what thankfully did not prove to be an accurate warm-up for the next day’s Heineken Cup final, Biarritz defeated Toulon 21-18 on Friday night to win the Amlin Challenge Cup and book their spot in next season’s Heineken Cup. In a game that was ruled more by the whistle of Wayne Barnes than by ambitious attacking play, Yachvili and Jonny Wilkinson duelled with the boot. Ultimately, Wilkinson’s two missed shots at goal cost his side their first European trophy, condemning Wilkinson to a fifth final defeat in this competition. Toulon will be back – they still have the playoffs next week against Racing Métro – but the wait for success goes on.
Classic performance from the Crusaders as the Highlanders topple the Bulls
It only got worse for the Blues after a nine try hammering in Christchurch on Saturday morning. Seven-time Super Rugby champions the Crusaders produced a vintage performance – exceptionally clinical and ruthless against their fellow Kiwi opposition. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter looked in fine form, whilst Luke Romano also impressed for the home side. Lachie Munro’s brace might have put a tint of gloss on the scoreline, but the nightmare has only got worse for Pat Lam.
Elsewhere the Bulls went down for their first loss on tour against the Highlanders, Jarrad Hoeata getting the decisive try, whilst there were also wins for the Reds, Stormers, Sharks, Rebels and Brumbies.
Try of the Weekend goes to Chris Feauai-Sautia on debut for the Reds (worryingly he’s only 18):
Hard to pick out an individual Hero, but Rory Best was truly admirable in defeat. The speed of which he went over to congratulate the Leinster bench after leaving the field was a touch of class.
Carl Hayman is this week’s Villain for his appalling tackle that saw him sent to the bin.
by Ben Coles