Best of the Weekend: Munster majestic, Toulon terrific


Munster majestic, Toulon terrific

Munster were in majestic form as they dispatched four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse, overpowering and outplaying the French side right from the off at Thomond Park, and racking up an impressive 47-23 score line. The Irish province were excellent throughout, scoring six tries, but Toulouse failed to turn up, and only seemingly came alive in two brief spells, both of which resulted in tries, the first through Hosea Gear and the second Joe Tekori. Outside of their two tries, Toulouse were extremely disappointing, and a case can be made that the final score line perhaps even flattered them somewhat, as early Munster indiscipline allowed Toulouse to keep in touch for the first 40, despite certainly not being at the races.

Clermont’s unbeaten streak at home was extended to 75 games as they held on to beat the Leicester Tigers 22-16 at Stade Marcel Michelin, but the English side deserve praise for coming very close to ending Clermont’s historic run. The home side raced into a 16-0 lead and looked ready to cut loose, but the Tigers showed an abundance of resilience and determination to drag themselves back into the game. A Jordan Crane try at the end of the first half, as well as a virtuoso display from fly-half Owen Williams, gave Leicester hope, and although they were within a converted try of recording a monumental victory, they couldn’t quite pierce the impressive Clermont defence in the dying minutes.

Drama and controversy reigned at Ravenhill, but it was Saracens who took the spoils back to London, beating Ulster 17-15 in a tense encounter in Belfast. Ulster were shorn of fullback Jared Payne in the fourth minute, as the New Zealander saw red for dangerous play on Alex Goode. An uncharacteristic lack of accuracy from the boot of Owen Farrell allowed Ulster to keep their noses ahead for much of the match, but ultimately Saracens’ one man advantage told, and tries from Chris Ashton (two) and Mouritz Botha were enough to give Saracens a narrow advantage going into the final minutes. Trailing by just two points, Ulster strung together 35 phases in Saracens’ half, but the Londoners well-drilled defence held firm, and denied the province the most memorable of victories.

The Heineken Cup rugby was wrapped up for the week at Stade Mayol, where a rampant and destructive Toulon side saw off Leinster, 29-14, and booked themselves a semi-final with Munster in Marseille. It was a similar story to the Munster vs Toulouse game from the previous day, with the home side playing powerfully and with real intent, whilst the visiting side simply failed to turn up. The Toulon pack acquitted themselves superbly, with Danie Russouw, Craig Burden and Steffon Armitage particularly impressing, whilst Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell looked dangerous whenever the ball was fired out to the backline. Leinster, meanwhile, looked out of their element, as they missed tackle after tackle, and when they did get their hands on the ball, they were simply unable to implement their usually effective attacking game.

Harlequins cruise whilst Wasps impress

Harlequins had potentially the most difficult task of the six remaining English clubs in the Amlin Challenge Cup, facing a daunting trip to Stade Jean Bouin to take on Stade Francais, but the Londoners were able to cruise to a 29-6 victory, as the Parisians rested some of their key players. Mike Brown and Tim Molenaar both crossed the line for Quins, whilst Nick Evans added 17 points with the boot, with the ever-reliable Morne Steyn only able to offer up two penalties in return for Stade. Quins will now meet the Northampton Saints in the semi-finals, as the Saints booked their place in the next round with a comfortable 28-14 victory over the Sale Sharks, with both teams resting a number of regular starters.

A dynamic performance from the back row trio of Sam Jones, James Haskell and Nathan Hughes helped London Wasps to an impressive 36-24 victory over Gloucester at Adams Park. Credit should be given to both teams for fielding full-strength XVs, but on the day Wasps were the more powerful and clinical of the two sides. Wasps will have home advantage once more in the semi-finals, where they will meet Bath, after the West Country outfit secured their place in the next round by sauntering to a 39-7 victory over an outclassed Brive side.

Chiefs stun Cheetahs with extraordinary comeback

The Chiefs, fresh from a remarkable comeback in Pretoria to earn a draw with the Bulls last week, were at their clinical best, as they managed to turn a 34-10 halftime deficit to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, into an almost unbelievable 43-all draw. A first half brace for Sarel Pretorius and further tries from Ryno Benjamin and Boom Prinsloo gave the Cheetahs a commanding 24 point lead at halftime, with the Chiefs only able to offer up a single try through scrum half Augustine Pulu in response.

For all the Cheetahs’ set piece and territorial dominance in the first half however, it would ultimately not prove enough, as the Chiefs put on one of the best second half performances you’re ever likely to see.

Elsewhere in Super Rugby, Western Force impressed mightily beating the Reds 32-29 in Brisbane, moving themselves into a position to be a genuine contender for the playoffs this season, whilst the Crusaders resurrected their own slim chances, beating the Lions 28-7 in Johannesburg. The Stormers woes continued however, as they lost 22-11 to the Waratahs in Cape Town, even with the free-scoring Israel Folau sidelined through injury, whilst the Highlanders edged out the Rebels in a high octane 33-30 encounter in Dunedin.

It wasn’t a vintage weekend for superb tries in either hemisphere, but Jordan Crane’s score against Clermont did enough to earn Try of the Week. A superb cross-field kick from Owen Williams found Jamie Gibson, who passed to Blaine Scully on the overlap, before the winger drew the last defender and offloaded to Crane.

Jared Payne is this week’s Villain of the Week, although it comes with a caveat. There was clearly no malicious intent from Payne, and though some may argue that a red card was harsh, Payne’s recklessness put Alex Goode in a dangerous situation. It was a mixture of enthusiasm and poor timing from the Ulster fullback, but that being said, Goode was lucky not to have suffered a serious injury as a result. Payne does deserves credit however for being one of the first over to Goode to make sure he was ok following the Saracen’s return to the team bench.

Western Force are the Heroes of the Week, as they recorded their fourth win in a row, a new franchise record, by beating the Reds at Suncorp Stadium. The Perth-based outfit have impressed everyone this season, having gone from perennial cellar dwellers to a potential playoff team in just one short year. Ulster’s fantastic effort with just 14 men also deserves an honourable mention.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

37 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Munster majestic, Toulon terrific

  1. Sad for a game to be determined by an early red card, but what Payne did is an example of the kind of tackle that the game is trying to stamp out. As Brian Moore says in the Telegraph:

    “A chasing player is solely in charge of deciding how he goes after the ball. He can keep his eyes on the ball and jump for it; he can watch it and glance at any player likely to contest it and wait for that player to catch it and then flatten him; what he cannot do is put himself in a position where he does neither and is not in a position to avoid taking out a jumping catcher.”

    Intentional or not, the rules say it was probably a red. So he had to go.

    Despite that Ulster nearly won it, and would have deserved it if they had.

    1. Would they? I only watched the highlights but three tries to nil away from home is a pretty solid win for me.
      Add in the 35 phases defending a 2 point lead without conceding a penalty or territory for a drop goal and it seems pretty conclusive that Sarries were the better side.

  2. I was seriously wrong with my prediction for the Munster game, they really impressed me but I think Toulon will have too much for them, especially in France.

    Can’t see Saracens beating Clermont either. They were really quite poor in my opinion against Ulster. Perhaps I’m not giving Ulster enough credit, as they put in a huge performance with only 14 men. Saracens really struggle to deal with teams that kick. Connaught identified this in the pool stages and they struggled then, things don’t really seem to have improved since.

    1. I too was very wrong with my view of Munster.

      Have to say though that Clermont are not the same side on the road. I believe I am right in saying that they have only won twice away in the Top14 this year, and one of those was Biarritz. There has to be a mental element to this, which may well be their undoing at Twickenham.

  3. Great weekend of rugby.

    As much as Ulsters heart was impressive, Saracens three tries to none showed their dominance in my opinion.

    The Toulon score massively flatters Leinster, who never looked like getting close to winning that game. Munster were fantastic though.

    Leicester were good, but again, there was no real point in the game where I thought the result would ever be anything but a Clermont victory.

    Very happy with how Wasps played last night. Haskell was absolutely brilliant. Big hits, powerful at the breakdown, good carrying. If Wasps can get a top class 10 and tight head, I honestly believe they can challenge the top 4. Unfortunately, despite a host of good signings for next season, I haven’t heard any players coming in for those two positions!

  4. Bastareaud finally turns up and hence Toulon roll over Leinster. Fantastic game to watch. If they can keep that going then the title is theirs.

    Would like to congratulate Ponty on a great away win at the Pirates in the B&I cup.

    1. Oh, and Steffon Armitage is clearly the best English backrow player around. It shows remarkable commitment from the RFU to keep him outside the English setup. Completely showed up the Leinster backrow. I did see Rob Andrews in the crowd – I guess just there as a fan rather than on any English watching duty?

      1. Armitage was quite incredible wasn’t he?

        It strikes me though, having watched him a few times this season, that he is a very effective ball carrier as well, which is something he never really was when he played over here.

        A different sort of player, but one who could in my opinion fit any of the three back-row positions for England.

      2. Agree that he looked very good, but not that he’s the best back row England have.

        More to the point though, completely agree that it is a big call from SL to continue to ignore him. Would say though, I absolutely and completely agree with him.

        England have to stay strong on this, for the benefit of the English league and future of English rugby, I believe the England team should play their rugby in England. If Armitage really wanted to play for England, he could easily play for and English side. He knows the rules, so he essentially choosing Toulon over the England side. For me, anyone who can not put their country before their wallet, shouldn’t be near the side anyway.

        Also, it is easy to forget that the English back row won the head to head in all of our 6 nations matches, and also our AIs. If we were getting battered in the back row against the top sides, then the Armitage conversations might be entertained, but it’s the complete opposite of that, so we are ok!

        1. Make 1 exception and in a few years time we’ll be making 15 exceptions, it can’t be a shades of grey rule.

          I do have a bit of sympathy for Armitage as he only made the move after it seemed he was surplus to requirements. I wondered if it was possible to have a quid pro quo conversation with him before the SA tour along the lines of “if we give you a go and it works out will you commit to coming back to the prem when your contract is up?” However given he’s subsequently extended his contract I think we are well beyond that now.

        2. who could armitage move to? Saracens, Saints, Leicester, Bath and Quins all have pretty settled back rows, with either good English players (Fraser, Vunipola, Wood, Robshaw, Croft etc) or excellent foreign players (Louw, Burger, Salvi, Manoa). And if he goes to a different club, there’s no guarantee he would hit the form necessary to warrant his inclusion. Also I believe the Armitage’s spent their teenage years in France, so you could argue he’s not only in it for the money, although it is probably a major factor.

          1. If he is as good as as people as suggesting he is, surely he will still be wanted by these big clubs?

            I don’t think him finding a club would be an issue, it would be him wanting to find a club.

            He obviously doesn’t, and therefore he can not play for England. It’s as much his decision as it is SLs.

            1. I agree with England’s stance on this, agree with exceptions being the start of an issue. I disagree that he wouldn’t make England better, I think he would.

              On the point of “anyone who can not put their country before their wallet, shouldn’t be near the side anyway” I have more sympathy with him than that. Careers are short. By all accounts, and please let me know if I’m wrong, the Armitage boys have had a working class upbringing. I don’t get the impression they have family money, business links or a top end education to fall back on outside rugby. Toulon could be paying him 100K+ or more than any English club would consider. That’s half a million quid. It’s tough to question someone’s patriotism, which it sort of sounded like you were, when there is that much future security for them and their family on the line. That’s life changing money for most people.

              I still think England are doing the right thing, but I wouldn’t put it as simply as Wallet Before Country. Apologies Jacob if that’s not what you meant – that’s what it sounded like to me and having seen Halfpenny etc. get some similar grief in Wales I don’t think it’s warranted.

              1. I do agree that he would improve England, he is a very good player. But “he is the best back row England have”, and “make England better” are two different things.

                To be fair I was making the suggested you assumed, which on reflection was harsh. I think it is a difficult one. For one thing, we have no idea what the numbers are, and that is what is important here. If it is huge amounts, over the course of a career I can see the reasoning. I do find it hard to imagine it being that bigger gap, when you consider the extra money EPS players get, and the extra sponsorship the England players (top one’s anyway) get when they are playing for England.

                I may be wrong but I can’t the gap being as big as you suggest. Marketing yourself to English fans if you are a top player should be an easy enough job!

                I also think Halfpenny is slightly different, as he’ll still play for Wales, just as much as he will do if he was playing in Cardiff. Armitage directly rules himself out of playing for England by playing there, which is quite different.

                The patriotism debate is a difficult one, and money can blur any line, but I still feel as though getting the opportunity to represent your country should come first.

                1. Or putting it another way, it’s a completely different situation to Flood. A current international calling time on his career one year before a home world cup. That’s a money before country decision.

                  Moving when you aren’t at international, at a time when overseas players were still being selected, is not money before country.

                2. One other point to consider with both of the Armitages (isn’t Guy also contracted to Toulon and loaned back to L Irish?) is that they grew up in the south of France. In fact I believe that Delon played at some age group level FOR France, so whilst the money is obviously part of the attraction for them – and I do not blame them one jot for this – they both have an emotional link to that part of the world as well.

                  Also, I do wonder whether Steffon would have developed in quite the same way had he stayed in England. French clubs are very size oriented in their forwards. Far more so than England, so Steffon being as short as he is will have developed in order to match his Top 14 opponents.

              2. He can’t be accused of wallet before country as he wasn’t in the EPS when he moved. Subsequently playing better than all of his England EPS peers at domestic and European level doesn’t change the situation he was in when he made his original decision.

                Why would he now give it all up? Look at him out there, loving it, adored by passionate fans, well paid, playing with all time greats for the European champs in a decent climate. Why would you chuck all that in to come back to England to compete against Lancaster’s first and second choice captains for a place?

                1. Matt, isn’t the Flood situation more complicated? To my mind Flood showed the one flaw in the system – if the only thing keeping you at home is playing for England then you need pretty strong assurances that you will play. Flood didn’t get that – it looked like he was now 2nd choice behind Farrel and possibly would find Ford et all in front of him, almost def after world cup. So he could stay, pass up a chance to make 1/3rd of a mil with probable appearances as subs and little chance of playing in the business end matches of the WC, or he could leave and bank the money. I think he took the right chance personally – he was dropping down the pecking order. It’s why Cockerill urged Lancaster to make a statement about it, because he knew that with the uncertain nature of it all then Flood was err on the side of leaving.

                  I’m not saying he should be guaranteed international rugby, nobody should, just saying that the flip side of using Eng rep to encourage players to stay home is that they’ll probably leave then they see those Eng chances fading, esp. when committing to their last or last but one big contract.

                2. I don’t think it’s a flaw in the system as such, but an expected consequence that when players fall down the pecking order internationally they focus on building their pension pots (lots of ex ABs in Europe who moved as soon as they fell down to being fringe players). I didn’t see that’s where Flood’s career was though.

                  I can’t recall a match day squad, where Flood was fit, that he did not feature in under Lancaster. He wasn’t always first choice but did have a run of games as a starter in 2012 and clearly part of the England plans going to 2015 and I was very surprised he ruled himself out of that. It is a short career and very few players are making enough to give themselves lifelong financial security so I’m not passing any judgement on a player in their late 20s maximising their income. The sour note for me is that he de-selected himself towards the latter stages of the RWC cycle having consumed many of the precious caps available. It would be great to hear Flood’s side of the story though, e.g. did he feel he was the victim of any nepotism or favouritism within the camp or why he didn’t feel a critical part of the set up.

                  Cockerill moaning about his guys not starting is a side show, he’s had a good moan about the Youngs brother not being selected as well. Given 2 of the best England prospects have had to move on to get a chance I don’t see he’s got a leg to stand on in the what’s good for England debate. His attempts to influence it and even suggest that players should be given assurances to stay were counter productive. Asking Lancaster (and I presume suggesting to Flood that he should receive it) for something he was never going to commit to was an own goal.

  5. Of interest elsewhere – I stumbled upon the Bath/Brive game yesterday, and saw Gavin Henson deservedly gain MotM. He was quite excellent, playing the way he played maybe 5 years ago. Not sure he is anywhere near another red shirt, but it was good to see him playing like this again.

    Second point of interest was Eastmond coming on to Fly-Half, when Ford was retired. He showed some good touches but unfortunately was a little hindered by Bath also bringing on a scrum-half who appeared unable to pass with any accuracy.

    1. Blub, every good Henson performance makes me wince a little as it reminds me of the amazing potential that has been p*****, literally sometimes, up the wall. He could have been an utter legend as it is he’s more famous for being a missed opportunity. Such a shame when you see players with 1/10th of his natural talent who’d kill themselves for a sniff of the chances he had.

  6. Well so much for my predictions of Ulster winning the cup and Toulouse having the best chance of an away win through suffocating Munster in the forwards …..

    Thought Billy Vunipola was magnificent, especially to go a full 80 in a game he was only 50:50 for. Ashton’s first try was a quality finish, annoying that England stuck with him for so long when out of form as this makes a re-inclusion less likely.

    They must be putting Bastaraud’s lunch by the opposition posts and not giving him any breakfast. Looks a completely different player to the first 4 rounds of the 6N. Armitage looking far better for shedding a few pounds …. if Bath want to buy another expensive player out of an existing contract please look no further!

  7. For a third week in a row, Glasgow’s march on the Pro12 playoff is ignored in the round up….

    Unconvincing 29-10 win over Treviso, but third win on the bounce has pulled us to 4 points behind ulster in third (and 7 behind Munater in second), with a game in hand and to play both Ulster and Munster in the next two weeks.

    1. That’s because no-one cares about the Pro12.

      The Irish provinces focus on the Heineken Cup and often rest players in the Pro12. There is no promotion/relegation and no qualification slots for Europe up for grabs.

      The Welsh are in disarray and the Scots generally hopeless. I don’t doubt that there have been some entertaining games and some decent rugby played but as there’s nothing at stake it all seems a little flat when the full time whistle blows.

      I watch the Premiership, Top14, Super Rugby, NPC Championship, Curry Cup and World 7s but can’t be bothered with the Pro12.

      It’s a non-competition.

      1. Completely disagree with you Buzz. I have no emotional connection to the Pro12, but I do think your perception of it is way off.

        The Scottish are not hopeless for one – Edinburgh are competitive, and Glasgow sit third.

        The Irish, whilst resting players, still put out good sides with good matches.

        The Welsh, whilst hopeless off the field, still have very good players on it.

        I also disagree with the notion that no relegation makes the league boring (I may be the only Englishman in that regard), but look at Super Rugby? No relegation there. Also, the Premiership this year has essentially had no relegation since Worcester have been down since about December. This Premiership season has not been less entertaining because of that.

        1. Agree with Jacob – also would add that this notion that Irish rest their players any more than Top 14 or English is BS. They also rest players as well as they are under the same limitations on how many games international players can play.

          I don’t care about the English league. That’s nothing to do with the quality of it – I don’t care because all of my time is taken up with following my team and the league(s) they are in. I don’t watch southern hemi basketball rugby for the same reason. I couldn’t get excited about a relegation/promotion scrap that had nothing to do with me, no matter how thrilling.

          It’s odd that you rubbish the pro 12 for having no relegation yet love the Super Rugby…

        2. Look at the results for the Scottish sides in Europe – that proves they’re rubbish.

          Super Rugby doesn’t need relegation to spice it up. It’s an end in itself. It’s what the teams in it aspire to win.

          The Pro12 is just a place for teams to tread water while waiting for something better to come along. I saw a stat recently where the starting XVs for Leinster, Ulster and Munster on a Heineken Cup weekend were compared to their starting XVs in the previous weekend’s Pro12. Of the 45 players who started in the HC only 10 had started the previous week in the Pro12.

          Says it all……

          1. That would be no different for the top English sides. They have huge squads as well, and particularly Saracens, could have a second string side still in the top half if they wanted to.

            The Scottish sides have had a team in the Semis just two years ago, hardly embarrassing. And even this year, Glasgow have proved to be a match for the top sides.

            Clearly the Pro12 has it’s faults, as does every league, but I’m not sure why you dislike it quite so much.

          2. Yeah, let’s get rid of all the rubbish sides. Exeter – played 6, won 2, same as Glasgow forPpete’s sake. How dare they be in it. Racing Metro, played 6 won 1. Montpellier, played 6 won 2, Perpigna, played 6 won 1. But no, you’re right, the Pro 12 has the monopoly on losses in the HC. Buzz, you have a lot of the common prejudices about the Pro 12 – rested teams, rubbish teams, non-competitive (a lot of us disagree that a league needs something external riding on it e.g. qual or relegation to be exciting – I can see it’s your preference, but that’s subjective, not an in arguable truth) rugby, etc. We’d all rather be watching Newcastle play Gloucs or Worcester play Wasps week in week out …

      2. “no qualification slots for Europe up for grabs”

        Also, keep up. There are slots up for grabs now. Glasgow and Edin are scrapping for one right now…

  8. Well my preseason prediction of Sarries for the HC remains alive – just! Not sure how many lives they have left, but they are in the knockouts and anything can happen on the day!

    Well glos got a mention this week but probably didn’t deserve one. Kvesic slowly playing himself off the tour to nz at this rate. Stop giving away penalties! Is it ND that is making glos less than the sum of its parts or is it just being bullied up front. Seems to be a combination of the two sadly.

  9. Regds S. Armitage, can’t break those rules to protect English rugger… can you? Esp not with all those ‘foreigners’, keeping out the home growns, already in the Premiership.

    Tho I prev argued that SA was the best 7 (I know he played 8) in, er… not in, English rugger, what do I know? Perhaps that plane trip over to Blighty IS too far afterall.

  10. Never been a fan of Leicester, but pleased for Crane that he got his try.

    Had prev thought that he, Haskell & Rees (b4 injury) would have made up an English b row. Gd balance for me, but… things don’t always work out I guess.

  11. Munster did look good, albeit at home & Toulose ain’t the team they were.

    Toulon look pretty hard to beat, but I like Clermont. SJ of the S Times opined that Leicester went down gloriously… but they lost! So wot glory there?

    Leinster should’ve kept J Schmidt?

    Saracens? Unlucky for Ulster in getting red, esp so early, as they were stretched in ‘D’ & I had to endure more of ‘Splashdown’s’ tedium.

  12. Brighty

    ‘I don’t watch southern hemi basketball rugby’.

    Neither do yr coaches by the looks of things, which maybe that accounts for yr team’s rankings & record v the SH?

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