The highly-anticipated first round of the Heineken Cup took place at the weekend, and the action certainly didn’t disappoint. Here we bring you a Pool-by-Pool review of the opening matches.
The game at Franklin’s Gardens between Northampton and Munster is being billed as one of the greatest Heineken Cup pool games of all time, and this is testament to the spirit in which the game was played. Both teams looked to attack the space on the pitch, running with the ball rather than constantly kicking for territory and playing it safe.
The Saints pack were heroic in defence, led by young skipper Dylan Hartley, and they allowed Shane Geraghty to pull all the strings from fly-half in a mightily impressive performance that saw the Saints win 31-27.
Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso inflicted an incredible upset in beating French Champions Perpignan by 9 points to 8. The French side were careless and poor, and the Italians deserved their victory which left the Pool table in a slightly surprising state with Perpignan and Munster propping up the table.
On Friday night, Gloucester welcomed the Newport Gwent Dragons to Kingsholm and emerged victorious from a scrappy game in which the Dragons led for long periods. Home advantage was probably the difference between the sides in the end as Gloucester won 19-17.
Glasgow faced Biarritz in a battle of power, but the Scottish side missed a good opportunity. The French team have had a good start to the Top 14 season, but haven’t played the most exciting brand of rugby on the European stage in recent season. Their defence was strong enough to keep Glasgow at bay, and Dimitri Yachvili kicked the goals to give them a 22-18 victory.
Leicester Tigers faced the Ospreys on Sunday, and suffered an incredible run of misfortune in the build up to the match, losing half of their backline to injury and illness. The result was a Heineken Cup debut for Billy Twelvetrees, and flanker Craig Newby lining up in the centres. The Ospreys strode into the lead, but Twelvetrees led a fightback that saw the Tigers come away with a draw in a memorable match that finished 32-32.
Elsewhere, Clermont Auvergne took on Italian side Viadana, doing enough to win without every really firing. They took a try bonus point as well in a 36-18 win.
Bath travelled to Ulster on Friday night where they were frustrated by the Home side in a 26-12 defeat. Andy Beattie was red-carded for stamping in the closing stages of a game in which Bath’s only points came from the boot of Ryan Davis. Bath host Stade Francais next week and will need to find a better performance from somewhere.
The French side welcomed Edinburgh to Paris at the weekend and 50 minutes of impressive rugby was enough to put this game to bed. Sergio Parisse and James Haskell combined effectively in the back row to ensure that the result of this game was never in doubt.
Harlequins returned to Heineken Cup action after least season’s shenanigans as they travelled to Cardiff on Saturday. A few key mistakes cost them the match, despite enjoying the majority of possession, and they took nothing from the match in a 20-6 defeat.
In the south of France on Sunday, Toulouse put on a magnificent display against Sale, determined to keep the ball alive at all costs. An under-strength Sharks team could not live with the likes of Cedric Heymans, Jean-Baptiste Ellisalde, Yanick Jauzion and Vincent Clerc and all the French flair cliches were trotted out as Toulouse secured the try bonus point.
Sale scored a couple of consolation tries near the end to make the score more respectable, but Kingsley Jones was resting his big guns who will return to face Cardiff at Edgeley Park on Friday night.
Leinster v London Irish was one of the headline fixtures of the weekend, and the Exiles took an enormous scalp with a narrow victory at the RDS in Dublin. Anyone with concerns over Ryan Lamb’s temperament in high-pressure situations would have been impressed by his four penalties which were enough to win the game by 12 points to 9.
The reigning champions were stunned by the defeat and frustrated that they couldn’t cross the line despite all the pressure in the final stages. Everybody knows the importance of home games in the Heineken Cup, and Leinster now have a lot of work to do to qualify from the group.
The Scarlets overturned Brive in the other match in Pool 6, where Shaun Perry, Andy Goode and Jamie Noon featured for the French outfit, but it was Stephen Jones who controlled the game from fly-half to ensure a 24-12 victory.
Next week, Perpignan host Northampton Saints, London Irish take on the Scarlets, Leinster travel to Brive, Harlequins face Toulouse and the Ospreys welcome Clermont Auvergne in the pick of Round 2 matches.