by Ben Coles
A THRILLING opening round to the Heineken Cup produced some excellent results and plenty of tries with Harlequins, Ulster, Toulon, Clermont and Saracens all putting down early markers. Here are some of the standout performers and disappointments:
One 20 minute cameo was all it took for Danny Cipriani to make his mark on the Heineken Cup. Sale’s start to the season has been horrible and Cipriani had suffered by losing the No 10 shirt to Nick Macleod, but the former Wasp made a telling contribution off the bench against Cardiff Blues with first a try of his own and then two crucial assists to give Sale the lead, this after being 27-12 down at one point. It was enough to win Cipriani the Man of the Match award and a reminder of his mercurial talent. More please, Danny.
The 18-year old Toulouse centre was another Man of the Match winner after his impressive showing against Leicester Tigers, doing enough in the process to produce a worried “Uh oh” from a watching Brian O’Driscoll. Fickou shone at the IRB U20 Junior World Championship in South Africa earlier this year and produced two excellent kicks against Leicester, collecting one for the only try of the match in miserable conditions.
Whilst Ben Youngs struggled in Toulouse, with his decision-making being called into question, Care was outstanding in Harlequins impressive home win against Biarritz. A try-scorer on the evening and playing at a consistently high-tempo, Care’s sniping runs were a nightmare for the Basque visitors defence and his distribution was also strong, putting him in firmly in contention to start for England during the November Internationals.
Leading by 15 points well into the second-half thanks to a hat-trick from Alex Cuthbert, the Blues’ Heineken Cup campaign looked like it was off to the perfect start in Salford until Danny Cipriani entered the fray and Sale rallied, winning 34-33. The defensive errors and sin-binning of young scrum-half Lewis Jones will leave Phil Davies hardly relishing the visit of Toulon’s expensively assembled squad next weekend.
2011-2012 felt like a landmark year for Edinburgh when they reached the Heineken Cup semi-final for the first time, getting there through an exciting running game and a resolute set-piece. Against Saracens however, last season’s victorious run in the competition felt like an all too distant memory. Edinburgh were as abject as the Saracens were excellent, the visitors’ ruthlessness leading to a five-try rout at Murrayfield. Edinburgh boss Michael Bradley even admitted the scoreline could have been worse.
The opening European fixture between Mont-De-Marsan and Gloucester was far from a classic, but will always be remembered for Hazell’s no-holds barred assault on prop Sebastien Ormaechea. In mitigation, Hazell alleges he was repeatedly gouged before unleashing a flurry of punches and delivering a knee to the head of the defenceless prop, resulting in his first red-card in 12 years. He will doubtless face a disciplinary panel ahead of a lengthy ban.
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