Best of the Weekend: Tigers resurgent but All Blacks stall

An Antipodean encounter joined a typically hectic schedule of European action this weekend and there were some sensational contests to savour. Here are the best bits.

Tuilagi, Heineken Cup

All Black run ended after Bledisloe blockbuster ends in draw

Not many across the world of rugby would have begrudged New Zealand joint tenure of the record for successive Test win on the bounce and, when Dan Carter edged the world champions ahead against Australia on Saturday with his sixth successful penalty ten minutes from time, another sublime achievement seemed certain. Unfortunately for Steve Hansen’s men, Brisbane extracted an incredible level of bloody-mindedness from their opponents.

Harangued by critics and plagued by injuries, the Wallabies were inspired by the chance to derail the victory train of their nearest, dearest rivals. Led by Nathan Sharpe in his final international on home soil, the forwards were particularly uncompromising. Though Scott Higginbotham undoubtedly overstepped the mark with a nasty attack on Richie McCaw, Australia strangled their illustrious adversaries through sheer industry.

Craig Joubert’s interpretation of the breakdown once more baffled New Zealand, handing nerveless Mike Harris plentiful opportunities to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Having seen their side fight to a 12-6 half-time advantage, a raucous Suncorp crowd would have perhaps been slightly underwhelmed with a share of the spoils – it could have been worse, though. A poor pass from Piri Weepu stifled Carter’s last-gasp drop-goal attempt and the post was shaved. The southern hemisphere super-powers now have plenty to ponder before heading over our way.

Youngs and Flood fire Leicester to brilliant bonus

The Heineken Cup weekend was once beckoned in by an impressive Ulster win, albeit of an entirely different nature to the pasting of Castres at Ravenhill seven days ago. Battling atrocious conditions as well as a determined Glasgow Warriors outfit at a sodden Scoutstoun Stadium, last season’s finalists slipped to a 19-8 triumph courtesy of Chris Henry’s try and the boot of Paddy Jackson. With Northampton Saints slipping up over The Channel and Stephen Ferris raring to return ahead of the December double-header against the East Midlanders, Ulster’s emotional quest to go one better is gathering momentum.

More resurgent than reliable, Leicester Tigers also outlined their title credentials, although locked at 19-19 after 65 minutes of their match against Ospreys at Welford Road, there was a genuine possibility of Richard Cockerill’s men crashing to an ignominious exit. What followed was relentless and – no doubt to Stuart Lancaster’s delight – orchestrated prominently by the much-maligned partnership of Ben Youngs and Toby Flood.

First, Flood picked off a pass from Dan Biggar before showing surprising pace to glide home from 60 metres. Then, a wobbly punt from Thomas Waldrom found its way to prince of opportunism Youngs via Matt Smith and the exceptional Steve Mafi. Scenting a potentially crucial five-pointer, Tigers launched an all-out assault. Sealing a personal double to a huge roar, Manu Tuilagi secured the double on the stroke of full time. Though Treviso challenged Toulouse gamely, Leicester will target ten points from their two-part Italian job in a couple of months.

A polished first-half showing in a rousing atmosphere vindicated Saracens’ decision to take their ‘home’ clash with Racing Metro to the King Baudouin Stadium in Heysel, tries from Chris Wyles, Steve Borthwick and the excellent Will Fraser laying sturdy foundations for a 30-13 result. Mark McCall’s campaign now awaits its acid test – home and away fixtures against Munster, who compounded Edinburgh’s misery by thrashing the Scots 33-0.

Elsewhere, French heavyweights Toulon and Biarritz flexed their considerable muscles to beat Cardiff and Zebre, while Harelquins came from behind to hijack Connacht with Danny Care again outstanding in bagging a brace of scores to instigate a 30-22 win on the road. Unfortunately, Sale could not quite repeat that effort in Montpellier, but a brave defeat – not to mention more creative class from Danny Cipriani – is something to be proud of.

Following something of a false-start in the face of intrepid Exeter a week ago, the Heineken holders returned to something closer to normality by dismissing Scarlets in Llanelli. Jonny Sexton’s sweet drop-goal and a cross-kick for Isa Nacewa’s wriggling finish were the highlights, although Joe Schmidt urged further improvement at the final whistle. That will be necessary too, as Clermont Auvergne are looking ominous. They tore into the Chiefs at Sandy Park, crossing six times on the way to a 46-12 win.

London Welsh open European account as London Irish run riot

The Amlin Challenge avalanche of points continued apace as there were more mismatches this weekend. A pair of tries for Christian Wade saw Wasps to a thrashing of Rugby Mogliano, while Perpignan put 90 on Bizkaia Gernika. London’s Exiles also enjoyed themselves – Irish coasting past Mont de Marsan and Welsh hanging on to beat I Cavalieri Prato 32-31. There was good news for the West Country too, as Gloucester and Bath took the spoils against Bordeaux and Agen respectively.

Form is temporary, class is permanent. Such a cliché can get tiresome. Still, there is something satisfying about witnessing proof of the old adage. Ben Youngs managed just that on Sunday afternoon at Welford Road, silencing some critics and coasting to Player of the Weekend in the process. One break from a line-out in the second half was gloriously reminiscent of his electric score for England at Sydney in 2010 and his try shortly afterwards gave Leicester the impetus they needed to push on for what could be a pivotal five-pointer. With Danny Care also on fire, Stuart Lancaster must be purring.

First Quade Cooper, now Scott Higginbotham – Richie McCaw has evidently become a magnet for Aussie cheap-shots. This time, at the bottom of a ruck, the Queensland Red aimed a knee and a head-butt to the All Black skipper’s head. There will be a ban forthcoming, but Villain of the Week is fine for now

The summer is getting closer all the time and debates over Lions places are, happily, fair game. Standing out in a crowd of utterly stellar names at the Arms Park, Leigh Halfpenny maintained a strong case for inclusion. His score from a well-worked set-piece after just two minutes was a fine exhibition of finishing and grabs Try of the Weekend.

By Charlie Morgan – @CharlieFelix

15 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Tigers resurgent but All Blacks stall

  1. What a weekend! Although I am still struggling to understand how Ospreys imploded like that. They have (again) made qualification so much more tricky. I honestly thought they had soaked up everything Leicester could throw at them and would break clear in the last few minutes.
    Sarries looked good as did Clemont but I’d like to well done to to Cardiff Blues. They so nearly pulled the rabbit out of the hat. When you consider the criticism they have taken (rightly so), they came out fighting and often found space around the outside of Toulon.
    Finally and maybe because of the way we lost, but Ben Youngs as player of the weekend? Really? I thought Flood played terrifically well as did Steve Mafi, but Youngs? Personally I didn’t think it that good a performance, certainly no where near as good as Care has played recently and if he can keep away from the sauce, the wags and control his bodily functions whilst in public, I am sure he will start for England this autumn

    1. Rich, I agree about the Blues. I was proud of the boys – people were licking their lips at the thought of being able to tuck in with glee to an 80 point headline but the Blues fronted up, pushing Toulon hard enough for them to need to rely on Jonny again for the match. Also refreshing to yet again see Sheridan found out given his recent resurgence in the English media (especially his long time advocate Stephen Jones). Seriously, my nan could out scrummage Scott Andrews so hopefully this finally puts the final nail into the ludicrous idea of Sheridan joining the Lions.

      Ospreys … pffft. Steve Tandy reads page 3 of the dummies guide to coaching and implements his pre-planned 60 minute substitutions with no appreciation of what is happening on the pitch. He takes off a potential MOTM in Fotuali and replaces him with the cack handed preening orange one that is Rhys Webb who was directly culpable for the last two Leics tries. Shocking implosion. I’d have Tandy up for mug of the weekend if it wasn’t for the Castres coach who nearly handed victory back to Northampton by doing the exact same 60 minute substitution job lot disaster.

      1. Jenkins hardly looked like a Lion candidate either! Seemed to me that when Hayman and Sheridan came on they were too slow on the Set and beaten to the hit. I don’t think Sheridan for the Lions is a preposterous idea, not many Aussie tightheads would be too pleased to see him given a plane ticket.

      2. I also think its pretty mad that people are suggesting Sheridan as a Lions Prop. However if hes keeping Jenkins out of the 1st 15 he must be doing something right. This selection is doing Wales some serious damage. I always had Jenkins as a starter for the lions so this really mixes things up.

    2. Ben Youngs had a decent game but in general he’s nowhere as good as Danny Care – his passing is pretty average, and he still faffs around too much at the base or runs sideways with the ball before passing it.

      Danny Care has to start in the Autumn ints, and then I don’t really see the benefit of having Youngs on the bench – he doesn’t really offer anything different.

  2. Its excellent to see both Youngs and Care in good form. When you add Dickson, Simpson, the other Dickson etc. England suddenly look very strong in that position!

    Also, the Sheridan debate is interesting. I would be surprised if he went on the Lions tour. But at the same time, I can not see how Jenkins can go (certainly not as first choice), if he can not get in the Toulon side over him.

    I am sure the likes of Corbs, Marler, Healy are all very pleased to see whats happening down in Toulon. Whoever starts for the Lions needs to be in form, and there is certainly enough quality in every position so that nobody will play unless they are playing regularly (and well) for their clubs.

  3. A bit condemming of Youngs by Matt there, agreed he has stuggled for form until now, but he definitely deserves a bench spot at the very least as I believe he has the potential to become worldclass – easy to forget he’s only 23. But Care has to start for me this Autumn.

  4. Ozzies put the boot in when Wales came to Australia.Wales pleading on interpretation an struggled.Yet the Ozzie Media caned the 6 nation champs.I felt for Wales, they were the better side with no clear under standing of rule interpetation.3 nill,yet they deserved better treatment.Once again OZ using that old tactic of talking to the refs,Same applied on saturday Joubert was clealy influenced.Yet its all subtle an denied, only theres no denying McCaw was highlighted.Kearns even insisting McCaw deserves to be eye gouged, Palu was invited to the rugby club, an Kearns was at it again before the game.McCaws a cheat.Its a bandwagon thats been pulled along for years.Like domestice violence reports in New Zealand after every World Cup,no relivence, just a good old slap in the face.from the start of the 2011Wc to the end of this season Australia have continued the barrage of insults.I believe the NZRU should tell them to pi$$ off,they havent won the Bedisloe for 10 years an are now stooping to grubby tactics not only on the field but off it too, specially officals an their media. Im over Australia.I hope you guys thrash the daylights out of them, an if Hooper or Pocock are on the wrong side Headbutt an knee them, because apparently in OZ its justified.All the best.see you guys in 2015.

    1. Am I reading this correctly? Is an All Blacks fan complaining about other teams cheating and influencing the ref? Pot/Kettle?

      I’m with you on deploring any suggestion of targeting McCaw for gouging, but when the cheating b keeps lying on the wrong side of the ruck then the ref needs this brought to his attention which I am afraid needs to be done the old fashioned way, stand all over him.

    2. You kiwis crack me up!

      But seriously, in New Zealand, it’s not considered domestic violence if you own the sheep, right?

  5. I seem to remember that the AB’s always justified a bit of head dancing if the head happened to be on the wrong side of the ruck!

    However I think that the game has probably moved on a bit, and can’t agree higginbotham’s actions.

    Interesting thought – how many rule changes have been introduced as a result of AB “cheating” over the years? Player getting up from the ruck on the wrong side and “accidentally” impeding the attacking scrum half while holding his arms in the air, anyone! Obstruction in midfield? The AB’s have always been one step ahead of the rule makers (and most international teams) in this respect.

    1. God you guys crack us up. It appears in over 120 years we have “cheated” our way to almost an 80% win rate. Never mind the better players, better structures, better domestic competitions, and the fact the black jersey means more to a man than playing for the poms. I guess we willhave to “cheat” for another 120.

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