by Katie Field
Skills and thrills
Why do we watch rugby? For many fans, it’s all about the moments of stunning skill, those out-of-your-seat moves which leave you shaking your head in wonder. There were a fair few of those in this weekend’s Heineken Cup action, led by Harlequin Danny Care’s brilliant backwards, mid-air flick which stopped the ball from going into touch and sent it safely into the hands of Matt Hopper, who raced in for a try against Clermont.
Not to be outdone, George North scorched in for another fabulous solo try, swatting tacklers aside as he rampaged up the left wing to help Northampton to a 29-17 win at the Ospreys. His compatriot Kristian Phillips conjured up another special score in the Scarlets’ excellent 19-13 win at Racing Metro, leaving five defenders clutching the air in his wake. And Charlie Sharples, the Gloucester wing who was axed from England’s EPS last week, turned a half-chance into a try with a terrific, weaving run through the Munster defence to give the home fans something to cheer in a 20-7 defeat at Kingsholm.
Gentleman, we take our hats off to you!
There will be a fight to the finish in the so-called pool of death, Heineken Cup Pool One, but Leinster put themselves in poll position to win it with a 29-22 away win at Castres. Some of the French players were in tears at the final whistle, having given up a 14-0 lead, but they were up against a Leinster side which is full of character and talent and which had already won at the Ospreys and Northampton in this season’s European competition.
Jimmy Gopperth pulled the strings in the Leinster revival, scoring two tries, kicking 11 points and punishing Castres for every mistake, while Shane Jennings and Cian Healy both galvanised the pack from the bench. Leinster now need just one point from their clash with the Ospreys next Friday.
He missed the whole of last season due to a neck injury, but Miles Benjamin is making up for lost time in a big way now and scored two tries in Leicester’s 34-19 win at Benetton Treviso. The wing moved from Worcester to the Tigers in 2012 but had to wait until October 2013 to play for the Leicester first team. Since then he’s scored four Heineken Cup tries and another in the Premiership, proving the best may be yet to come from the 25-year-old speedster.
Two of the best
Big players step up on big occasions and Paul O’Connell and Ruan Pienaar both proved that point as they played major roles in wins for Munster and Ulster respectively. O’Connell ruled the roost at Kingsholm, bossing the lineout and giving a masterclass in the choke tackle as Munster chalked up their seventh away win on the bounce in the Heineken Cup.
Pienaar was the Man of the Match in Ulster’s 27-16 win over Montpellier, which keeps their 100% record in Pool Five alive. He scored 17 points, chasing his own kick to grab a try, narrowly missing out on another when he was held up over the line, and kicking three conversions and two penalties.
Saracens’ sparkling form coming into the weekend of Heineken Cup rugby gave fans of English rugby cause to be optimistic that the fortress that is Toulouse’s Stade Ernest-Wallon might be breached at last. However, they were out-muscled by their French hosts, lost 21-11 and were barely able to produce any of the vibrant, attacking rugby which has characterised their Aviva Premiership campaign this season.
No English club has won a Heineken Cup match on the Toulouse home ground and while Saracens still have a strong chance of reaching the quarter-finals as a pool runner-up, they will be gutted that they did not even secure a losing bonus point this weekend.
No, no Niko
Glasgow Warriors were leading 15-10 at Exeter Chiefs as the clocked ticked past full time. They were ready to celebrate a win on the road, and a victory which would give them the chance of qualifying for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals. Replacement scrum-half Niko Matawalu got his hands on the ball and just needed to boot it into touch to herald the final whistle. Instead, the Fijian put an up-and-under up the middle of the park and condemned his team to what head coach Gregor Townsend called “two minutes extra tackling practise” before they were able to put the ball dead.
Harlequins needed to beat Clermont Auvergne to keep their Pool Four hopes alive and they did everything to achieve that aim, only to fall on their faces at the last. They led from the 22nd minute to the 72nd but a try from Sitiveni Sivivatu and a penalty from Brock James allowed Clermont to sneak home 16-13.
When Quins were 13-8 up with ten minutes to go, the usually reliable Nick Evans missed a straightforward 35-metre penalty. From there, Clermont attacked and created Sivivatu’s try. After James had put Clermont ahead, Quins turned down a kickable penalty to go for a potentially winning try, but a crooked throw from Dave Ward at the close-range lineout laid waste to that final chance.