Heineken Cup Round 1: what have we learned?

The Heineken Cup is now underway, and what a weekend it has been. There’s always such excitement and expectation heading into the first round of European competition, and it certainly didn’t let us down.

Northampton topped our pre-tournament poll to see which team people thought would win the competition, whilst Toulouse, Munster and Leicester were also fancied, but how do things stand now?

Saints and Toulouse were among the bookies favourites as well as the fans, but there were very nearly two upsets here, and both only had narrow home victories. Northampton were pushed all the way at Franklins Gardens by an unfancied Castres team, and they looked slightly less than convincing in their four-point win.

Then on Sunday, whilst the weather was a mitigating factor, Toulouse also failed to live up to their billing. They couldn’t cross Wasps’ line for a try, but David Skrela’s boot was just enough to keep their noses in front. Perhaps if the weather improves, they’ll be throwing it around and scoring at will, but on this evidence, the jury is out as to whether they can go all the way.

Leicester Tigers also had a lucky escape in Italy, where they sneaked past Benetton Treviso after a very late try from Alesana Tuilagi, and perhaps they won’t be such clear favourites in their next game. Toby Flood is on the verge of returning to ease their fly-half worries, and an away victory should not be underestimated in the Heineken Cup, but are they title contenders?

For me, the Clermont v Saracens result does not tell the whole story – the visitors had a great chance to cause an upset there, but the home side did just enough to keep them out and score late to deliver a flattering scoreline. Clermont didn’t justify their billing as third favourites for the title, and will need to improve when they visit Racing Metro next week. Sarries face Leinster at Wembley in Round 2, and ought to take heart from how close they came to a win, despite not even claiming the losing bonus point.

Bath will be kicking themselves tonight for not kicking themselves to victory over Biarritz (see what I did there?). Olly Barkley was in the pocket for a late winning dropped goal, but Michael Claassens decided to spin it wide looking for the try – a knock on inevitably ensued and they lost the game. Barkley said afterwards that he wasn’t sure why he didn’t get the ball, but if you watch the reply, he set off to the right before Claassens gave the wide pass, so he must have known what was going on. Sir Geech won’t be happy, that’s for sure, but they’ve got a good opportunity to rectify things against Aironi next week.

The headline fixture was certainly Munster versus London Irish, who played out a gripping game at the Madejski Stadium. No doubt this will feature in Ben Coles’ Best of the Weekend column on Monday morning, so I’ll not steal his thunder, apart from saying that these two sides look like contenders.

What are your thoughts on the first round of games? Did the action live up to expectations?

2 thoughts on “Heineken Cup Round 1: what have we learned?

  1. Bath, once again lacking any kind of game management or brains, total inability to win ugly, trying the fancy stuff instead of the pragmatic. The top European teams would have gone for a drop goal at the end and won the game. Same old rubbish, same old failings from Bath :-( Gutted.

  2. I’m finding it difficult to stick with my initial prediction of Northampton. They were simply appalling against Castres – ok, so if they’d kicked their points they’d have cantered in, but they didn’t. It needed a strong tactical decision to bring on Myler early when it was obvious that Reihana couldn’t hit a barn door and Geraghty couldn’t kick.
    However, best for these things to happen early, and that they managed to scrape the win is a testament to their mental strength.
    I didn’t think any of the top teams looked too dangerous, except perhaps for Clermont. Their 15-point win over Saracens doesn’t reflect the closeness of the game, but they played very solidly, and it was a fantastic Sarries performance to stay in the game against them. However, as with all French teams, let’s see them on the road first.

    Still the Saints.

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