Well, it turned out to be a pretty calamitous weekend for Irish rugby, with all 4 provinces losing in the Heineken Cup. The losses were worst for Leinster and Munster, pretty much ending their chances of advancing to the quarter-finals.
LEINSTER hosted Clermont at the Aviva stadium. It had been a close game the previous week, with Clermont barely scraping by, 15-12, in their home stadium. It was hoped that Leinster could reverse their fortunes at home.
Unfortunately, Leinster’s performance just wasn’t up to scratch, and not worthy of the defending/double-champions. Clermont were superior in all facets of play, pushing the Leinster pack around with ease, and running through the opposition backs.
It was pretty even in the early stages, but Leinster weren’t helped by an early injury to hooker Richard Strauss. His replacement, Sean Cronin, is just coming back from injury and wasn’t looking to come in so early. He didn’t look comfortable out there.
Clermont took the lead with a classy try, and finished the half, 16-6 in front. Leinster’s woes were compounded when Sean O’Brien, one of their best players in the match, was yellow carded early in the second half.
With Clermont 22-9 ahead, Leinster started a comeback, with Shane Jennings scoring at the 65th minutes, and Fergus McFadden getting in at the death, but it wasn’t enough to win the game. Leinster got a losing bonus point, though, with the final score, 28-21.
It was small consolation, but Leinster’s chances of reaching the quarter-finals are dire. They’d have to score at least 4 tries in both their last matches (against Exeter and Scarlets), if they are to have any chance of progressing.
Leinster have only scored 3 tries, in their last 4 games combined, 2 of them coming in the match against Clermont. They didn’t do well the last time they played both teams either, only winning against Exeter by 9-6, and Scarlets, 20-13.
MUNSTER had beaten Saracens last week, 15-9 at Thomond, but the results were reversed when the game switched to Sarries home ground. Saracens won a closely fought contest, 19-13.
It was a good performance by Munster, highlighted by a great try by captain Doug Howlett. They were unable to capitalise when a Saracens player was yellow-carded though, and couldn’t get the crucial points to win the match.
The win marks Saracens first in 5 games against Munster, and relegates Munster to 3rd in the pool, effectively ending their chances of advancing. The pool isn’t decided yet, though, with Clermont only 2 points behind Saracens.
ULSTER are the only Irish province still with a chance of advancing, though they lost their match against Northampton, 10-9, they still manage to top their pool. It was Ulster’s first loss of the season, ending an impressive run of 13 victories.
After losing last week, 25-6, Northampton came to Ravenhill a much better side. They got the lead on Ulster, and managed to retain for the whole game, helped by Ruan Pienarr having a poor match.
Ulster still top the pool, with 15 points (to Northampton’s 12). Their next matches are against Glasgow (who they beat, 19-8), and Castres (41-17). Castres actually beat Northampton earlier in the season.
CONNACHT’S loss to Biarritz was almost inevitable, after they humiliated the French team, 22-14, last week. Biarritz came back with a bang, winning on their home ground, 17-0. Their still way behind pool leaders, Harlequins, though.
Harlequins top the Heineken with 19 points, the highest of all the pool leaders. Both Toulon and Clermont have 18, while Ulster have 15. Leicester and Saracens have 14 each.
If the quarter-finals were been decided now, Toulouse and Montpellier would be the runners-up to advance as they both have 13 points. Leinster currently have 10 points so they’re quite behind the other teams.
The Heineken takes a break until mid-January, so attention returns to the Rabo. This weekend it’s the inter-provincial series, with Leinster facing Ulster (Ravenhill, Friday at 7), and Munster travelling to the Sportsground to face Connacht (Saturday at 5).
Leinster have a tough task, with Ulster still leading the Rabo table on 43 points, to Leinster’s 31 (their 3rd out of 12). Munster are 4th with 29 and Connacht are way down at 10th with 15 points.
Compounding the losses was the injuries suffered to Irish players over the weekend. Richard Strauss is out for 4 weeks, as is Dan Tuohy of Munster. Ulster’s Tommy Bowe could be out for much longer. It all adds up to a poor weekend for Irish rugby!