Well, it was almost a perfect weekend for the Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup, with Munster, Ulster and Connacht all winning their matches. Unfortunately, Leinster were unable to make it a clean sweep, though they did manage a bonus point.
Clermont had an incredible run of victories in their home ground, winning the 50 last games played there! Leinster failed to end the streak, but they came pretty close, losing the match, 15-12.
Leinster played very well in the match, dominating most of the 2nd half. But, they couldn’t get those crucial points to win, or even draw the game. The loss also ends Leinster’s own winning streak of 17 victories in the Heineken, home and away.
It was a very close contest. The rematch, in the Aviva (this Saturday, 3.40), should be a little easier for Leinster, with the home advantage, but it is imperative they win if they want to stay in the tournament.
Clermont now top the pool with 14 points, 5 more than Leinster. If Leinster don’t win the game on Saturday, they have no chance of being first in the pool, and very little chance of advancing further in the tournament, even if they come second.
Ulster continued their winning streak, beating Northampton, 25-16. This victory marked their 13th win in a row this season, in all competitions (Heineken and Rabo), and shows that they’re on a real roll.
It was a dominant performance by Ulster, scoring 4 tries, and completely out-classing the 2011 beaten finalists (Ulster lost the 2012 final, of course). This win puts them top of their table, with 14 points, pretty much guaranteeing that they will advance.
The rematch will be at Ravenhill, on Saturday at 6. Northampton are a good team
(though they’re 3rd in their pool, with 6 points, way behind Ulster) and shouldn’t be underestimated. I think Ulster will increase their winning streak, though.
Munster won a very hard-fought match, over Saracens, 15-9. It was one of the toughest games so far this year, with many errors on both sides. Saracens seemed to have the edge going into the game but performed under par.
Munster’s discipline was poor, but they were helped by Owen Farrell having an off day with the boot (he missed 4 kicks at goal). O’Gara, on the other hand, managed to kick all 5 of his attempts.
The return match on Sunday (3), will be tougher for Munster, as it will be played in London, away from Thomond. A win is crucial for both teams, as they jointly top the pool, with 10 points each.
Connacht’s win may have been the most impressive of all, as they vanquished French giants Biarritz, 22-14, even denying Biarritz the losing bonus point. It’s Connacht’s biggest upset this year, and possibly ever!
Biarritz are in a bit of a rut, though, having lost to Harlequins emphatically earlier in the season, and ranking 7th in the top 14 (losing 6 of their 12 games so far in that tournament).
The loss against Connacht seems to have been the final straw for Biarritz club president, and rugby legend, Serge Blanco as he has fired the coaches! Strange thing to do mid-season!
Connacht will have a tougher time when they travel to France for the return fixture (Friday, 8?). Some bad news for Connacht: their star player, Mike McCarthy, has signed a contract with Leinster and he’ll be going there next season.
This is a shame as McCarthy is their best player, and losing him will affect their chances of doing well in future. Just a thought but Leinster’s Leo Cullen might be thinking of retiring and McCarthy would be a good replacement.