Everyone was clapping Leinster at the weekend
The second round of the Heineken Cup had a lot to live up to…and it certainly justified its billing. A weekend which saw the big guns finally flex their muscles and the minnows wish they hadn’t turned up, was nothing more than a weekend of pure viewing pleasure for the fans.
The game of the round came at a roaring Millennium Stadium as Cardiff travelled the short distance from the Arms Park to host Premiership hot shots Gloucester. On paper it was a Gloucester win but in reality, Cardiff delivered a superb performance to condemn Gloucester to third place in the table. Teenage Wales U20 international Leigh Halfpenny bagged a first half brace, with Gareth Thomas and Nicky Robinson also touching down for the Blues. However, despite tries from Iain Balshaw and Olly Barkley and the inspired (?) substitution of Ryan Lamb for Lesley Vainikolo, Cardiff hung on to claim a bonus point victory by 37-24.
Another game to savour over the weekend was that between Leinster and Wasps at the RDS. Again, on paper, Wasps should have been favourites here, especially with their talisman Daniel Cipriani restored to the number 10 shirt. However, Leinster were the only team in the game, and, on this performance, will definitely be in the competition at the business end of proceedings.
Leinster’s pack dominated their Wasps equivalents in a “men versus boys” display of savagery at the break down and in defence, with Jamie Heaslip typifying the hosts’ hunger. Two tries from a resurgent Brian O’Driscoll, as well as further touch downs for the livewire Luke Fitzgerald (a previously heralded Rugby Blog player to watch), Rocky Elsom, the superb Felipe Contepomi, and Rob Kearney, all condemned Wasps to an overwhelming 41-11 defeat. Leinster were frankly on a different rugby planet to Wasps, and, in truth could have scored at least 3 more tries. Not encouraging signs for Sean Edwards’ hairline…
Another Irish side on rampant form was Munster, who banished their disappointing performance against Montauban to claim a well-deserved win against Sale at Edgeley Park. Munster’s pack, led by the colossal Paul O’Connell, was imperious at the breakdown, but they’ll be very worried about how easily the Sale pack dominated them in the scrum.
However, with ball in hand the Munster backs (particularly the young tyro that is Keith Earls – watch out for him in the Autumn internationals for Ireland) had the edge over Sale, who missed the influence of Charlie Hodgson at 10. In the end, Munster ran out the winners at 24-16 and will have banished the demons from their round one debacle.
Despite the successes of Munster and Leinster, it wasn’t a clean sweep for the Irish sides this weekend as Ulster travelled away to Harlequins and came away less than second best in a 42-21 defeat. Ulster have been somewhat inconsistent this season, and their case was not helped by the fact that they turned up at The Stoop only 45 minutes prior to kick-off.
However, their lack of preparation was not apparent as they stormed into the lead within a matter of minutes with a well taken try from Timoci Nagusa. However, that was about as good as it got for Ulster, as Quins took over the reins and romped home for a bonus point victory.
The rest of the round witnessed predictable victories for the established big names of European rugby. Stade Francais had a convincing 37-15 home win against the Scarlets at the Stade de France, with captain Sergio Parisse grabbing a brace to get Stade on their way.
Toulouse’s unconvincing form continued as they stumbled across the line against Glasgow in a 22-16 win – with David Skrela bailing them out for the second week running. Toulouse will have to improve dramatically if they want to get further in the knock out stages of the competition.
Leicester hammered the hapless Treviso by 60-16 in a game where the highlight was the baby blue away kit sported by the Tigers. The Ospreys beat Perpignan 15-9 in what was frankly a boring game – the only shining light was the performance of teenage fly-half Dan Biggar who kicked all the Ospreys points in the absence of James Hook.
Edinburgh also opened their account for the Heineken Cup with a 13-6 win against Castres and the final game of the round was at The Rec, where Bath won by 13-9 despite what was a stout performance by the Dragons, pushing Bath all the way to the end.
Ultimately, what this round showed us was that the big guns are already priming themselves for the rest of the competition and the wannabes of the European scene are already licking their wounds in what has been a weekend for the heavyweights.