Well, 2011 ends with 3 Irish provinces topping their Heineken European Cup pools. Connacht haven’t been great, unfortunately. They had another close game but were unable to end their run of bad luck.
Leinster put in a cracking performance against Bath. The 2 teams had met the week before in a very close game, Leinster scraping home, 18-13. It was a much different story this time around, with Leinster dominating pretty much from the start.
Jonny Sexton missed his first penalty but more than made up for it, slotting a further 6 kicks, and hitting a drop-goal, and even getting a try (just missing out on the full-house). Kearney was in top form, scoring the first try and setting up a few others. Fitzgerald put in a great performance, which he sealed with 2 great tries.
Bath could barely keep up with the champions, and resorted to desperation, getting 2 players sent off for infringements. The only blot on the Leinster performance, was that they let Bath get in for 2 consolation tries, leaving the score 52-27. Still, one of the best performances of the year.
Munster are not making it easy for themselves! Though they’ve won all their matches so far, they have yet to finish more than 7 points ahead of their opponent’s. This means that each of the team’s they’ve beat have still come away with a losing bonus point.
They’re game against Scarlets was another close affair, finishing 18-13 to Munster. It wasn’t a very flashy performance by Munster, with most of the point’s coming from O’Gara’s boot. Still, 4 wins in 4 games is a great record.
Ulster put in a dominant performance against Aironi, winning 46-20. The score would have been a bit higher but Andrew Trimble fumbled the ball over the line. He made up for it, going over a few minutes later.
Ulster poured on the pressure and seemed that they would prove too much for Aironi. The Italian side would not lie down, though, and came back in the 2nd-half. They weren’t able to take control of the game for long, though, and Ulster ran away with it.
Although Ulster are top of their pool, they still aren’t completely assured of qualifying to the quarter-finals, as their pool remains wide open. Leicester put in a great performance against Clermont, to win 23-19.
Connacht actually dominated for most of their game against Gloucester, going into the first half with a 13-10 advantage. They started the 2nd-half very well but were unable to maintain their form towards the end of the match, and Gloucester scraped home, 23-19, leaving Connacht at the bottom of their pool.
There was some other great Heineken games as well. Harlequins (coached by Conor O’Shea, the RTE pundit), put in a great performance against Heineken giant’s Toulouse.
Harlequins were having a superb season. They had won all 14 of their first games of the season. Their un-beaten streak came to an end against Toulouse, though, losing 21-10.
That match had taken place in Harlequins home ground, the Stoop. The return game would be held in Toulouse’s home ground, where they had remained undefeated in the last 30 games, or so, so defeat for Harlequins seemed certain.
Harlequins never completely dominated Toulouse during the game, but they kept themselves ahead in the game. They were helped by the Toulouse out-half, Luke McAlister, who had a very poor game, missing a number of vital kicks.
McAlister is a former All Black, who actually made his debut in the 3rd test of the 2005 series against the British and Irish Lions. Ironically, the Harlequins out-half is also a former All Black, Nick Evans, who had a much better time of it, slotting 6 kicks.
It was a terrific performance by Harlequins, winning the game, 31-24. Toulouse still managed to get a losing bonus point, and this means that they still top their pool, despite their loss. Although Harlequins still have a chance of qualifying.
Saracens are top of their pool, after beating Ospreys, 16-13. A very close match, obviously, with Ospreys doing most of the running, but unable to break the Saracen’s defense.
Edinburgh are back on top of their pool after beating Cardiff, 19-12. Both teams actually have the same number of points, Edinburgh get the nod on points difference (the total number of points they’ve scored minus the total number they’ve conceded), so the pool is still wide open.
Scotland are doing well in the Heineken so far. Edinburgh are top of their pool, and Glasgow are second place, behind (albeit way-behind) Leinster. If Glasgow manages to win both their last 2 games, they still have a chance of qualifying for the Heineken quarters, which would be great news for Scotland rugby as a whole.
So far, only Leinster and Munster are in a clear lead of their pools, the other pools are still very much up for grabs. Still, 2012 ends on a high note for Irish rugby.