The Heineken Cup served up a Christmas treat this weekend, with a host of upsets, tight contests, and a star-at-the-top-of-the-tree debut for a certain Kiwi, reports John White.
The pick of the games was the Perpignan v Leicester game. The game’s billing was dominated by the debut of New Zealand’s favourite son, Dan Carter and the star fly-half kicked off his European club sojourn by schooling Toby Flood in his side’s 26-20 win kicking 16 points in the process.
The second game of this group of death saw the Ospreys beat Trevsio…again. Not a wholly unexpected result, however, the main significance of their 36-16 win was that the group of death is now perilously open.
Another group that has been redefined as a result of the weekend’s results is the Blues/Gloucester pool. Cardiff’s second win in a row over Biarritz (this time away from the confines of the Arms Park) kept their unbeaten lead at the top of Pool Six intact whilst Gloucester’s 48-5 win over Calvisano keeps up their hopes of qualifying for the quarter finals.
The shock of the weekend came at Montauban as the French minnows shocked Sale in a 16-12 victory at home. The only try of the game came from Vilimoni Delasau with four penalities from the boot of Charlie Hodgson the only consolation for Sale.
In the same group, a compelling tie between Munster and Clermont was initially marred by ugly scenes between Paul O’Connell and James Cudmore, with the latter being shown the red card on the 19th minute. However, despite the one man disadvantage, Clermont went into the last 10 minute spell of the game with a 13-11 lead. Munster’s battling spirit then conjured two late tries from winger-cum-prop Marcus Horan and fly-half Ronan O’Gara – a try which took him past the 1,000 Heineken Cup points mark, and also denied Clermont a losing bonus point. However, more importantly, the win puts the holders back on target for advancement into the quarter finals.
Elsewhere, there was an “ugly win” for Quins at home to Stade which puts the Londoners in the driving seat in their group, whilst leaving French side in a mess. Harlequins had to wait until the end of the game though, as a late dropped goal from Kiwi fly half Nick Evans secured a 19-17 win at the Stoop.
The second game in Pool 4 was a draw between Ulster and the Scarlets at the Parc y Scarlets. Ulster led 13-3 at the break but the Scarlets fought back to draw and end any remote hopes the Irish province had of making the knockout stage – leaving Matt Williams “frustrated”.
The Pool 5 game against Bath and Glasgow was yet another cracker, however, Bath managed a more comfortable victory over the Scots – by 25-19. The partisan Scottish crowd were silenced by a try in each half by giant winger Matt Banahan.
In the other game in the group, last season’s beaten finalists Toulouse took another step towards this season’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals with victory at Rodney Parade. The French club followed up their 26-7 win in the first of their back-to-back encounters with triumph on Welsh soil. The visitors’ tries came from Maxime Medard (two) and Cedric Heymans with Frederick Michalak and David Skrela’s boots doing the rest.
The final games of the round came in Pool 2. Wasps were boosted by a stellar performance from their fly-half…Dave Walder. Walder scored all of Wasps’ 19 points in their 19-11 win over Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Leinster surrendered their 100% record in the Heineken Cup despite scoring the only two tries of their Pool Two encounter at Stade Pierre Antoine, losing 18-15 at Castres thanks to six penalites from the boot of Legardere.
A compelling weekend of European rugby, the Heineken Cup has yet again left us wanting for more, and looking forward to the next round in the middle of January.