Well, it was another great weekend of Heineken rugby, especially for the Irish provinces. Both Leinster and Munster now top their pools after hard-fought victories; Ulster putting in a dominant performance; and Connacht almost winning their game, and still getting away with a losing bonus point.
Leinster’s match was against English club giant’s Bath. It was an evenly fought game, neither side able to break the other’s defence for most of the match. Leinster had what looked like a gift of a try but Sean O’Brien, with 3 players outside him, decided to hold on to the ball and the chance was lost.
It was a moment of madness by O’Brien, which could have easily cost Leinster the game. Bath scored the only try of the match, coming late in the game, putting them ahead, 13-12. Leinster game back with 2 penalties, through Jonny Sexton, and won the game 18-13.
A great win for Leinster, especially as they were playing away in Bath. The return match takes place this Saturday at the Aviva. Bath will want to reclaim some much needed points to still be within a chance of qualifying.
It was another close game for Munster, as they have all been this season. They’ve won all 3 of their Heineken matches so far, but each one was a hard-fought affair, which could have gone either way. This time they beat the Scarlets, the other favourites in their pool, 17-14.
As with Leinster, this win came away from home, which are much harder to achieve, and the match should be a little easier in Thomond Park. Ronan O’Gara was in fine form, featuring in his 100th Heineken Cup appearance.
Keith Earls looks set to make his return to action, after injury, in the return game, this Saturday, at Thomond. Unfortunately, Munster will be without Peter O’Mahony for the game.
Ulster put in a domineering performance against Aironi, winning the game, 31-10. They also got the bonus point, scoring 5 tries, 3 of them coming when Aironi were a man down. This puts Ulster in with a chance of qualifying, although 2nd in their pool.
Connacht fought tooth and nail, in a hard-fought contest against Glasgow, but were unable to win the match. The match finished 14-10 to Glasgow, with Connacht claiming the losing bonus point.
Connacht did well to come back from an 11-0 deficit at one point in the game. But it wasn’t enough in the end. Connacht are still bottom of their table, without any chance of qualifying. They face Gloucester again this weekend, in Connacht, which will probably be their best chance of winning a match in the Heineken, it has to be said.
In other Heineken news: Northampton are having a terrible season, after doing so well in last year’s tournament. They lost again over the weekend, to Castres, 41-22. This result puts Northampton at the bottom of their pool (which also features Munster).
Leicester are also having a tough time of it, going down to Clermont, 31-12, in a pretty dire display. Leicester are perennial Heineken favourites, but may not even get out of their pool (which also features Ulster) this season.
Saracens put in a great performance to beat Ospreys, 31-26, in a match played at Wembley Stadium. There were actually to Irish players playing in this game. Tommy Bowe plays for Ospreys, as you may know, but Saracens have just recruited Peter Stringer, on loan from Munster.
This is a great boost, for both Saracens and Stringer. Saracens are suffering a shortage of scrum-halves at the moment, and Stringer is getting much game time, with both Conor Murray and Tomas O’Leary, ahead of him in the pecking order at Munster.
Harlequins had their amazing 14-match winning streak finally come to an end against Toulouse, losing 21-10. It was a masterful performance by the French giant’s, who never really allowed Harlequins to get into the game. Quite a come-down for ‘Quins, after winning 14 games on the trot.
Cardiff were also dominant against Edinburgh, winning the match 25-10. Cardiff are currently top of their pool and look like possible semi-finalists, along with Munster, Leinster and Toulouse. I wonder if that will change in the next few rounds of Heineken action?