Best of the Weekend: Ulster lead the way as Ireland dominate
Another great weekend of Heineken Cup rugby, featuring a whole selection of exceptional performances. Here, are the best bits:
Ulster run riot to set up a classic in Clermont
Ulster produced a performance to be proud of in Belfast on Friday with a thumping win over Leicester Tigers, managing to rack up an unexpected bonus point in the process. Standout performances from winger Chris Gilroy, Darren Cave in the centre and the magnificent Stephen Ferris & Dan Tuohy in the pack paved the way as Leicester struggled to cope with the physicality of the game.
The more frustrated Leicester became, so went their discipline and larger gaps appeared in their defence. The lack of reaction from Ed Slater as Paul Marshall scampered away for the all important fourth try said it all. They were constantly battling to keep up with the hosts, and when enough energy had been beaten out of them, the gaps were exploited. Man of the Match Andrew Trimble was also in excellent finishing form, grabbing a brace in the tightest of spaces. It means they go into Round 6 top of Pool 4 as they travel to Clermont, who completely thrashed Aironi 82-0 running in 12 tries.
Their Irish rivals Leinster & Munster both sealed qualification to the quarter-finals with respective wins against a spirited Glasgow Warriors outfit and second-string Castres side. Leinster are the top seeds and will probably remain there given that they face Montpellier on home turf next weekend.
Saracens move a step closer as Quins leave it late against Gloucester
Saracens put themselves in pole position to qualify from Pool 5, travelling to Italy next week knowing that a win will guarantee their progress to the knock-out stages. Despite some flashes of brilliance from Dimitri Yachvili in the second half, Biarritz kicked away too much possession, and it cost them. Saracens defence was impressive, cutting in to prevent the ball going wide to the hands of Ngwenya, Brad Barritt in particular causing some damage. The quality of their squad shone through, with John Smit, Man of the Match Alex Goode and Mouritz Botha producing touches of class.
Harlequins also kept their chances of qualification alive thanks to a fortunate bounce of the ball, with Mike Brown pouncing after Charlie Sharples was left stumped by Danny Care’s low kick through. Nick Evans seemed to have misplaced his kicking boots, following on from Rory Clegg’s problems against Exeter and Northampton, but managed to rack up enough points to guarantee the win. This was Gloucester’s best performance at The Stoop for some time, making amends for their 42-6 pasting earlier in the season. Credit to Matt Hopper for a top finish.
Finally in Pool 2, Cardiff look set to win their group after victory against London Irish in Reading, with Sam Warburton’s try the only one of the game. Edinburgh have kept it interesting though, snatching a very late win in Paris against Racing Métro thanks to Phil Godman’s late drop goal, capping an excellent performance.
Challenge Cup Pools still wide open ahead of final round
Progression to the knockout stages remains uncertain for those teams at the top of their Pools in the Amlin Challenge Cup. The biggest margin between the sides in first and second place is in Pool 1 where Stade Français are four points ahead of Worcester. With some big fixtures coming up in Round 6 to decide qualification, including Stade against Worcester, Exeter versus Perpignan and Sale Sharks having to win against Brive at home on Thursday, it remains all to play for.
Try of the Weekend goes to Timoci Nagusa of Montpellier. A clever chip kick from scrum-half Julien Tomas landed perfectly in the winger’s arms as he strolled over to win the game against Bath.
Phil Godman is this week’s Hero following his late drop goal to win the match for Edinburgh in Paris, coming off the bench to give his side a narrow 27-24 away win against Racing Métro.
The villains this week are definitely the whole of the Aironi side. Clermont are a fantastic team with a lot of quality, but conceding 12 tries, including four after 25 minutes, is unacceptable.
by Ben Coles