By Katie Field
In the name of BOD
Ireland’s greatest player of all time is showing no signs of drifting quietly towards retirement. He was at his mercurial best as Leinster whupped Northampton 40-7 at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday, creating two tries for Luke Fitzgerald and adding a third himself, for good measure.
The centre began his masterclass by dinking a kick through a crowded defence in the third minute to set up the first of Fitzgerald’s hat-trick. His contribution to the second try a few minutes later was a spark of brilliance, as he flipped the ball with pinpoint accuracy between his legs to Rob Kearney, who set Fitzgerald away. And O’Driscoll put his own name on the scoresheet in the second-half, intercepting a pass and sprinting in from 30 metres out. Not bad from the old man. Catch him while you can (see below for a link to the match highlights).
England speedsters waiting in the wings
The list of injured England wings is longer than Veruca Salt’s latest tome to Santa, but fear not, Stuart Lancaster. Jonny May, who won one cap on last summer’s tour of Argentina, put in a Man of the Match-winning performance for Gloucester against Edinburgh on Sunday, including a jet-heeled, mazy run to set up a try for Martyn Thomas. And if that wasn’t enough, Miles Benjamin scampered over for two tries for Leicester to help them to a 41-32 win over Montpellier, showing his finishing instincts are intact after recovering from neck injury which threatened to end his career last year.
Connacht shock the French aristocrats
In the result of the Round, the unfancied Irish province stormed Stade Ernest Wallon and turned over four-time Heineken Cup champions Toulouse to blow Pool Three wide open. They were the first side to beat Toulouse on their own turf since Heineken Cup.
Fast-paced, full-blooded rugby from Connacht created a try for Kieron Marmion and Dan Parks added 11 points with the boot to crush the four-time Heineken champions but this result was all about heart and is one of the finest wins of Pat Lam’s career.
Blues are plastic fantastic
The Blues’ investment in their 4G pitch is reaping dividends as they staged an entertaining Heineken Cup match against Glasgow Warriors on Friday. The Blues kept their qualification hopes alive and, whatever the winter weather throws at Cardiff Arms Park, they can look forward to playing on a user-friendly surface that befits thoroughbreds like Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny. What the Edinburgh players wouldn’t give to say the same…
Saints are sinners
The Saints have sinned this week after 40-7 humbling at Franklin’s Gardens. You’d wager it was as chastening a match as Jim Mallinder can remember while in charge of the club. The beaten Premiership finalists, second in the league this time round, simply didn’t turn up as Matt O’Connor’s Leinster scored at will. In fact it could have been even higher if two clear-cut scoring opportunities weren’t spurned. Northampton skipper Tom Wood summed it up, saying: “We’re all pretty ashamed of what happened. To have fans call you an embarrassment as you leave the field is about as bad as it gets.”
Judge for yourself by watching the match highlights via this link.
French clubs - quelle horreur!
It’s been clear for many years that the French clubs care more about their domestic Top 14 competition than the European tournaments and after three rounds only three of them have a realistic chance of reaching this season’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals after a weekend of chastening results. Racing Metro, Perpignan and Montpellier joined Toulouse in losing their clashes and three out of the seven French clubs in the Amlin Challenge Cup also lost. Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne still top their pools and the halfway stage, but the nation needs a better showing next weekend to retain some fierté.
The waiting game: Conor Murray
Conor Murray has gone from strength to strength since his return from the Lions, performing superbly against New Zealand, but Saturday was a set-back. The Ireland scrum-half suffered a knee injury in the first-half of Munster’s win over Perpignan and faces a nervous wait to see if he can take part in the return match next Saturday. Munster and Ireland will be crossing all fingers and toes it’s not too serious.
Little Christmas cheer North of the Border
Scotland’s premier professional team, Glasgow Warriors got the weekend off to a poor start with their 29-20 defeat against an injury-hit Cardiff Blues side, then Edinburgh were beaten 23-12 by Gloucester in Sunday’s Heineken Cup clash at Murrayfield and Scotland U19s went down 29-5 to the touring Australian School side.
It led to an exasperated Tom English, Rugby World’s Scottish-based correspondent, exclaiming on Twitter, “Grim failure by Glasgow against a Cardiff side missing seven or eight first-choice players. Another Heineken season down the toilet.”
Quite, and it’s not even Christmas…