Well the first weekend of the Heineken Cup has just flashed by, and oh did it seem to go fast! The weekend’s rugby witnessed close fought games, predictable wins, spirited performances, but most importantly, a feast of rugby to whet the appetite for what’s the come.
The competition kicked off on Friday with some hard fought matches including a close shave for defending champions Munster. An unconvincing win for the defending champions against Heineken Cup debutants Montauban ended in a 19-17 win for the Munstermen – but it was a white knuckle ride for the home supporters which was only ensured in the 77th minute.
Perpignan’s victory against the whipping boys from Treviso was predictable if not entertaining, a 27-16 victory for Perpignan highlights that the Frenchmen can improve drastically – a certain Dan Carter bolstering their ranks come November might just help. The game was decided, ultimately by the superiority of the French pack, with 3 tries coming from the back row alone. A solid performance for Perpignan, but with room for improvement.
Saturday witnessed seven games with some high intensity and end to end rugby. The match of the day came at Ravenhill as Ulster played host to arguably the best club side in the northern hemisphere at the moment in Stade Francais. However, despite Ulster’s poor form, and the galactico stars on show for Stade, the Ulstermen showed huge heart to push Stade to a 26-10 score line. Ulster missed a number of try scoring opportunities but can take heart from a great performance in what is essentially a transitional period for the province.
Saturday also saw a good solid start from Cardiff Blues defeating the hapless Calvisano by 56-20, however, Dai Young will be looking for less complacency moving forward in the competition. The most emotion packed game on Saturday was at Stradey Park where the Scarlets hosted Harlequins in what was the final Heineken Cup game at the stadium before the team moves to the new Parc y Scarlets. The game did not disappoint as the visitors rallied late to win 29-22. Saturday also witnessed bonus point win for Leinster – during which O’Driscoll’s magic and Contepomi’s metronomic boot kept Edinburgh at bay – and Sale Sharks, who had a romping victory against Clermont Auvergne with Luke McAlister on scintillating form. The Newport-Gwent Dragons’s match up against Glasgow wasn’t a match for defence coaches, as 6 tries were scored in a game that swung back and forward numerous times. The final match of the day was between Gloucester and Biarritz. The first half was dominated by kicks and sin-binnings with the solitary try from James Simpson-Daniel the only highlight, and it wasn’t until the second half that either side started to step it up a gear and play some rugby. Gloucester ran out eventual winners with a 22-10 score line.
Sunday drew in the rugby-fest of a weekend, with some big games, including Leicester v Ospreys, Wasps v Castres and Toulouse v Bath. The game of the day came in Toulouse, as Bath punched above their weight to push the European giants to the brink of a famous lose at home. However, a last minute penalty from David Skrela saved Toulouse’s blushes in front of a partisan home crowd. However, Bath were the better side, scoring two tries through Abendanon and Claasens whilst at the same time, restricting Toulouse to keeping the scoreboard ticking over via the boot of Skrela. The early kick-off was at Welford Road with a repeat of the EDF Energy Cup final between Leicester and the Ospreys. A game for the purists, with all points coming from the boot in a 12-6 victory to Leicester. Leicester were rampant in the defence, gnawing away at the much vaunted Ospreys backline, snuffing out any opportunity to attack with a dynamic performance. The final game of the round witnessed Wasps return to form with a 25-11 victory at Adams Park. The much publicised dust up on the Wasps training ground between Josh Lewsey and Daniel Cipriani was not evident as the hosts chalked up three tries, with Cipriani combining with Lewsey for the third.
All in all, the opening weekend was a taste of what’s to come in the Heineken Cup, and although for the uninitiated it may have clogged up the sports channels, for the avid rugby fan it was a weekend of pure decadence – and promises to only get better.