A mixed bag for the provinces during the Heineken Cup, this weekend. CONNACHT welcomed Heineken giants Toulouse to the Galway Sportsground for the first ever Heineken match to be played there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dream start they were hoping for, as the French giant’s showed their class, winning the match, 31-10. ULSTER aslo had a disappointing weekend, losing to Leicester, 20-9. The score belies how closely fought the contest was. Unfortunately, Ulster weren’t even able to achieve a bonus point for their trouble.
Luckily, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as MUNSTER added to their great win last week, beating Castres by 27-24. Ronan O’Gara got the winning drop-goal, again in injury time. The second match in a row that RO’G has sealed victory (though, there weren’t 40 phases leading up to the drop-goal this time! And he turned a draw into a win, last week it was a loss into a win). LEINSTER were very impressive in their match against Glasgow. Glasgow had had a great win against Bath the week before but hadn’t been able to build on that. Leinster had not played well against Montpellier, but managed to get things right this time around and put in a brilliant, 1st-half performance. They were already 31-6 up at half-time. Jaimie Heaslip and Gordon D’Arcy both played their best games in ages, and new-boy, Eoin O’Malley had a terrific game, scoring 2 tries. Leinster weren’t able to keep up the momentum in the 2nd half, and even let Glasgow in for a try towards the end. They were able to get their own try before full-time, though. It was a much improved performance by Leinster, overall. Last weekend they had trouble combining as a team, this week they gelled much better. Ironically in the pools, Leinster are top of theirs, Munster 2nd, Ulster 3rd, and Connacht 4th.
In other Heineken news: Edinburgh and Scarlets (who are ahead of Munster in Pool A) have the best record in the Heineken so far, each team has 9 points, with 2 wins from 2 matches. Edinburgh beat Racing Metro over the weekend, in an amazing game, 48-47. One of the highest scoring games in history. Toulouse and Munster also, have won both their opening games, but only have 8 points, as they failed to get bonus points in either games. On the other side of things, Connacht have lost both their games, and have no points.
With the Heineken Cup taking a 3-week break, the attention of the Irish provinces shifts to the RaboDirect Pro12 (formerly the Celtic/Magners League). ULSTER (who are placed 7th in the Rabo 12) get the ball rolling on Friday, when they face off against Glasgow Warriors (4th in the Rabo. Glasgow are actually pooled with Leinster in the Heineken, and Leinster beat them, quite handidly, 38-11). Ulster will want to make up for their poor showing against Leicester.
LEINSTER (2nd in Rabo) begin Saturday’s rugby, when they face off against Benetton Treviso (6th). Leinster will want to build on their great Heineken performance against Glasgow. Treviso are bottom of their table in the Heineken, so they’ll want to do better in the Rabo.
CONNACHT (9th in the Rabo), face off against, 1st placed, Ospreys. Ospreys are on a bit of a roll at the moment, placing first in the Rabo, and not losing any matches, so far, in the Heineken. Connacht haven’t had a great start to their first Heineken, and will want to improve.
MUNSTER have had a pretty amazing start to the Heineken, with Ronan O’Gara, twice kicking last minute drop-goals, to get them wins. Munster are currently 3rd in the Rabo, and this Saturday, will be facing, 10th placed, Edinburgh. Edinburgh are actually top of their pool at the moment, in the Heineken. They won an amazing game against Racing Metro, over the weekend, in one of the highest scoring games ever, 48-47. This should be a good game!
In other rugby news: fans of Peter Stringer will be interested to hear that he has been picked to represent the Barbarians, when they face Australia this Saturday. Stringer has been very unlucky in recent years, been unable to get a start with either Munster, or Ireland. He is matched at half-back (9 and 10) with Danny Cipriani, former England player who’s looking to impress the selectors. The Barbarians are coached by, former All Black coach Graham Henry (who actually coached the British and Irish Lions, another amalgamated team, in 2001, against Australia). Australia got 3rd place in the recent World Cup. The game should be a good one, Barbarians games usually are. The Babas (the Barbarians nick-name), are an international club, with no set home, or squad. Players are picked from around the world, and all are eligible. It has to be said that the Babas have suffered since rugby went professional. They have been unable to have access to some of the big-name players, who are busy with their clubs.
Things are pretty hectic for the RFU (English Rugby Football Union. They’re not the ERFU, as they were there first!) at the moment. There are a number of inquiries looking into the World Cup ‘debacle’ (i.m.o. they weren’t actually THAT bad, but the RFU seem to think otherwise). Manager Martin Johnson has already resigned, taking the bullet. He’s getting a lot of favourable mentions, for this selfless act (it’s not all his fault). A lot of his back-room staff are also been shown the door, as well. Some of the player’s have received bans as well. The RFU are also investigating supposed leaks in the papers, relating to players conduct during the World Cup. They also have to pick a new manager (bit of a poisoned chalice at the moment, you would think). Graham Henry (World Cup winning All Black coach, who’s now retired) has declined the offer, and, former Italy coach, Nick Mallett is postponing any decisions until June of 2012. Former Australia, and South Africa, coach Eddie Jones looks to be favourite at the moment. The RFU have promoted the Saxons (England A) coach to guide England through next years 6 Nations, while they look for a permanent replacement for Johnson. One of the main problems facing the England coach (whoever that might be) is working out an amicable settlement between the RFU, and the English clubs (who are the English players employers, effectively, and don’t like having to ‘loan’ their top players out to the RFU whenever an international is on.
Finally, Wales coach Warren Gatland has warned any Welsh players that aren’t playing for Welsh clubs, that they risk their international future as he won’t select players outside of Wales. This is a bit unfortunate as some of Wales’ best (incl. Jaimie Roberts, possibly the 2nd best centre in the world) play outside Wales. His reasoning is understandable. Scotland haven’t been pretty poor in recent years as so many of their top players are playing outside of Scotland. But depriving yourself of your best players is a bit like biting off your nose to spite your face!