Best of the Weekend: Munster overpower Leinster as Leicester come up Short
A fascinating weekend of rugby drew the curtain on the two domestic leagues, while those Down Under served up yet another treat of exhilarating running rugby. With a sprinkling of the ever-entertaining Barbarians, who brought their talents to Twickenham, this was a great weekend of rugby.
Brits’ master-class leads Saracens to glory
If ever there was a hooker’s rulebook – what a fascinating read that would be – then Schalk Brits just continues to rip it up, page by page. As Saracens powered past a poor Leicester team Brits was in imperious form and rightly took all the plaudits from Barnes & co. as he won the man of the match award. His assist for Saracens’ first try, committing three would-be Leicester tacklers, was the highlight in a match where his stats of defenders beaten, metres ran, offloads and tackles were without parallel.
James Short’s first half effort was the sole try of the match but Sarries were forced to call upon all their reserves, along with some nerveless kicking from Owen Farrell, to see off the challenge of Leicester and claim their first ever Premiership title. As Leicester went through a mammoth thirty-three phases in seeking a match-winning try, the Saracens defence was more than up to the challenge of halting the onslaught. Brits’ performance was magnificent, but Farrell’s faultless kicking – racking up six from six – and Short’s excellent finish in the left corner were both deciding factors in the outcome.
Leicester entered their ninth Premiership final as slight favourites, but it was Saracens making inroads into Leicester territory as they flummoxed the Tigers with a breathless start. Some skulduggery at the break down from scrum half Ben Youngs led to a yellow card for the England player and young Farrell kicked the resulting penalty. It was perhaps seen a sign of things to come, but when Youngs re-joined the action the score was at 3-3 after a Toby Flood penalty had drawn Leicester level.
In truth what followed was a period of nervy rugby with Short’s try a rare moment of magic. Leicester, clearly missing centre Manu Tuilagi, looked blunt in attack and had to resort to good old-fashioned power in the pack to keep up with Saracens, who looked the more fluent. As the game reached its latter stages with Leicester desperately fighting for a try, Saracens brilliant defence held strong and brought glory for Mark McCall’s men.
Dominant Munster triumph over Leinster
In the second final of the day, Munster confirmed their supremacy in this year’s Magners League with a powerful victory over the Heineken Cup winners Leinster. Tries from Doug Howlett, Keith Earls and a late penalty try saw Munster home in a match that, until the last twenty minutes, could have feasibly gone either way.
Fielding an unchanged side from that which dispatched the Ospreys two weeks previous, Munster’s Doug Howlett opened the scoring with a try after good work from Lifeimi Mafi. Ronan O’Gara added the extras before a Jonny Sexton penalty ensured that Munster’s lead was only four points as they reached half time.
Two Sexton penalties gave Leinster the lead for the first time until Earls’ try off an excellent O’Gara cross-field kick handed back the initiative to Munster. A period of tense rugby followed with little between the teams, though Munster’s pack was clearly the stronger force and it was ultimately in the pack where the game was won.
With minutes left on the clock and only a three point lead, Paul O’Connell elected to take the scrum with three points from a penalty virtually assured should he have looked to O’Gara to bisect the posts. But a resulting penalty try vindicated the decision of the second row, and emphasised the superiority enjoyed by the Munster pack. Leinster desperately sought a consolation try, but two trips to the television match official proved fruitless as Munster comfortably held on for victory.
Young England team fall to Barbarians
After an impressive start against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday, a youthful England side fell to a 32-38 defeat. Tries from Henry Trinder, Ugo Monye and James Simpson-Daniel helped England race into a 24-12 lead before the break. However four unanswered tries from the Barbarians regained the initiative for the away side. An effort from Tom Johnson briefly reclaimed the lead again for England before a late Tim Visser try ensured that the Barbarians’ great tradition was upheld with victory.
It was a patchy performance from England although they were largely populated by players who will form part of the Saxons squad. Strong performances from David Paice, captain Luke Narraway and try-scorer Johnson will boost their England credentials but the likes of Mike Brown and Simpson-Daniel enjoyed mixed afternoons that will not have necessarily boosted their chances.
Cooper triumphs over Carter in battle of playmakers
A late Quade Cooper penalty sent the Queensland Reds fans into raptures as they claimed victory over the Crusaders in an intriguing match that swung back and forth throughout. With three rounds remaining the Reds have moved four points clear at the top of the overall standings.
Cooper’s kicking was not perfect, and Dan Carter arguably enjoyed the better game however it was the Reds who ruled supreme. Two well-taken tries from Ben Tapuai and Will Genia, along with the Cooper strike, were enough to take a 17-16 victory as they close in on a home semi-final.
Elsewhere there were strong wins for the Stormers and the Bulls, while the Lions’ fantastic comeback to beat the Highlanders was one of the performances of the weekend. Quade Cooper and Dan Carter was billed as the Hollywood battle of the 10s this weekend, although Patrick Lambie, Elton Jantjies and Aaron Cruden all put in performances of exceptional quality as Northern Hemisphere fans could only look on in envy.
In France Toulouse will face Montepellier in next week’s final as they overcome Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro respectively. A Jone Qovu Naliko try looked to have stolen victory for Racing, but a late penalty from Martin Bustos Moyana claimed a one point victory for Montepellier. Toulouse’s victory was relatively more comfortable as they triumphed 29-6 over Clermont.
Try of the weekend goes to JP Pietersen of the Sharks. Pietersen picked up turnover ball well inside his own half before stepping inside Lachie Turner and out-stripping the cover to score in the corner. The try can be viewed here.
It’s that man Schalk Brits again for my hero of the week. Narrowly edging out fly half Owen Farrell, Brits put in another performance that is simply not befitting of your average hooker. He recently claimed that he has had zero contact with the Springbok management and while the Boks may be well stocked in this area, I’m surprised that he is still yet to be sounded out.
Open-side flanker Michael Rhodes of the Lions takes villain of the weekend for a horrible, almost suplex-like ruck clear-out around the neck of Siale Piutau. The clear-out sparked a skirmish among players from both sides, which can be seen here.
Those were my highlights of the weekend – what were yours? Let us know below.
by Tom James.