Leinster defence holds in Wembley spectacle
A total of 45,892 supporters witnessed one of the finest defensive displays seen so far this season as Leinster hung on for a crucial away win in Group 2. With the game set at 23-25 going into the final minute, Saracens hammered away at the Dubliners’ defence but to no avail, racking up a near 30 phases. Their effort was exceptional, but wasn’t enough. It now means that after defeat away at Clermont last weekend, qualification from their group looks pretty much impossible. For Leinster, their two opening performances have shown that they believe they can be champions again. Their back row unit of O’Brien, Jennings and Heaslip, was awesome.
Leicester dominate the Scarlets in the second half
Despite a tight first half, Leicester came out after half time and ripped the Welsh side apart. The Scarlets produced a score of pure brilliance at the start of the game from Morgan Stoddart, continuing on from their impressive performance against Perpignan the week before. But Leicester’s power was too intense; Stuart Barnes rightly described Alesana Tuilagi as a human missile and the rest of his team mates were not far behind. They scored 33 unanswered points in the second half, including three tries in 10 minutes, dictated by the brilliant Ben Youngs. Thomas “The Tank” Waldrom had arguably his best performance so far in a Tigers shirt, whilst his back row colleague Tom Croft scored a brace to impress the watching England management. It was unrelenting, and a warning that after some stuttering performances the Tigers may be hitting some top form.
Munster rampage past Toulon at Thomond Park
Another of the tournament’s great sides bounced back from their defeat last weekend at the Madejski Stadium. Jean-Phillipe Genevois shocked the hosts when he crashed over early on, but from then it was all Munster. Ronan O’Gara pulled the strings brilliantly at 10, but the Munster pack deserves a lot of credit, especially man of the match Mick O’Driscoll. Jonny Wilkinson’s influence when he came onto the pitch was obvious, his long drop-goal a great strike. But Munster simply had too much upfront, putting in an awesome performance of raw power.
Super Shane has everyone purring
Even London Irish coach Toby Booth bowed down to the brilliance of Shane Williams as the Ospreys won 27-16 on Friday night, crucially preventing the Exiles from picking up a bonus point. The winger’s second half score, a brilliant chip and chase which saw him leave Ryan Lamb eating the turf, is another strong contender for try of the season. The Welsh team were without doubt the better side on the night, their international experience showing as they played the smarter rugby, and it means that they sit in second place behind Munster in the “pool of death”.
Northampton battle back to win at Murrayfield
A strong fight-back from Northampton from 24-16 down against Edinburgh saw them claim an important away win at Murrayfield. Edinburgh were excellent in the first half, running freely and producing three great attacking tries, but James Downey’s try sparked the Saints comeback, and they showed real grit and determination to get a win in a stadium where other teams have struggled in the past few seasons.
Try of the weekend had a number of contenders, Shane Williams’ exceptional effort has already been mentioned above. But the award goes to Doug Howlett of Munster. O’Gara marshalled Munster brilliantly all afternoon, and his cross kick for Howlett in the right hand corner was beautifully weighted, with the highest All Black try scorer of all time showing his class. With two defenders in his path, Howlett brilliantly evaded them to touch down under huge pressure. A finish of the highest calibre.
This weekend’s Hero is Johnny Sexton of Leinster. It’s easy to forget just how young the Ireland fly-half actually is (he’s 25), given his temperament and how well he plays on the big stage. He scored all of Leinster’s points at Wembley on Saturday evening; his goal-kicking in particular was outstanding, even the red posts couldn’t put him off. With Ronan O’Gara also putting in a brilliant performance, Declan Kidney has an interesting selection decision to make ahead of the Autumn Internationals.
The Villain of the weekend is the EPS agreement, which deprived Northampton and London Irish of their first choice full backs for their away matches over the last weekend. Whilst Grieg Tonks impressed for Saints at full back on debut, the threat of Ben Foden would have added to what was a very entertaining game. Delon Armitage’s absence resulted in makeshift full back Topsy Ojo struggling under the high balls from Biggar, Hook and Byrne against the Ospreys. The concept of the agreement is a good one, but whether it should really apply to teams during Heineken Cup weekends is up for debate.
By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)