By Alan Dymock
AFTER THE final pool matches at the weekend we now know the quarter-finalists, who drops into the Amlin Challenge Cup and who goes back home, wondering what could have been and desperately trying to fool everyone else into thinking that the lack of ‘European hangovers’ on the horizon is a good thing.
Here are the winners and losers from Round Six.
The Amlin Challenge Cup
It seems odd to state that another competition has benefitted so much from the last round of the Heineken, but it is true. With current champions Leinster, former champions Toulouse and former Amlin champions Biarritz tumbling out of the Heineken Cup and landing in the Amlin quarter-finals there is a feeling that the perpetual bridesmaids may get their day. After all, London Wasps versus Leinster, Gloucester versus Biaritz and Perpignan versus Toulouse should draw big crowds. Picking a winner in this tournament could be harder than picking a finisher in the Grand National.
Simon Zebo and Munster
After his hat-trick heroism, Simon Zebo should be the name on every Munsterman’s lips.Indeed, after his side’s loss to Saracens on Sunday, Michael Bradley revealed that he had shared a conversation with Zebo the week before, in which he urged the back-three speedster to make amends for missed opportunities in Edinburgh by scoring three tries the following week. Someone should have nipped off to the bookies, because he completed the job in quick time against Racing Metro on Sunday. The haul was enough to see Munster squeeze past rivals Leinster and take a spot in the last eight. They face a tough ask at the Stoop against Harlequins in the quarters, but their showing against the Parisian outfit showed a glimmer of the efficiency of old.
Toby Flood may have had another disciplinary setback, earning a yellow card for a slapping a ball down, but his kicking from the tee was enough to see the Tigers past Toulouse and into the quarter-finals, with a 9-5 victory at Welford Road. Despite a Yoann Huget try coming from a bumbling Mathew Tait, it was not the French giants’ day. Brawny hulk Louis Picamoles was denied what looked like certain try by the TMO and Lionel Beauxis and Luke McAlister were as accurate as an online dating profile when it came to kicking at goal. Beyond this, though, it was really the Tigers’ tenacity that saw them triumph.
If you have not seen a clip of the Scot’s weaving run at the death, which gave Glasgow Warriors the win and ensured that Saints could not even parachute into the Amlin, then do yourself a favour and check it out [clip below]. This is the definition of timing. Not only was it in the final throes of a match, but it came two days before Horne was due to roll into the Scotland Six Nations camp. Big play from a promising player.
The redoubtable Exeter Chiefs flanker may be no stranger to succeeding against the odds, but he faces a tough battle getting back into Stuart Lancaster’s back row for the Six Nations after injury scythed him down at the weekend. Exeter’s Rob Baxter said he doubted reconstructive surgery was needed after Johnson hobbled off with a damaged knee during the Chiefs’ loss to Leinster on Saturday. However, he will almost certainly miss the Calcutta Cup clash and with Tom Wood, Tom Croft or James Haskell in the mix, it could be very hard for Johnson to find an opportunity to plead his case to Lancaster. A cruel blow.
Fair play to Benneton Treviso, but fans of the Welsh region must be spitting vitriol following a narrow loss in Italy, especially after their side performed so fantastically against Leicester Tigers a week before.
They may not have had the same strength of squad they had in their last outing, and perhaps there is a hint of old-world rugby snobbery here, but the contrast in approach and accuracy is something coaches despise.
Dan Biggar is a confidence player, and Wales will be hoping this minor setback will not be carried into camp. As a region, they are well placed and can still improve further in the RaboDirect Pro12. However, if they do not, it will be no surprise if the highly sought after Kahn Fotuali’i signs elsewhere.
No wins. No draws. No bonus points. No points at all. Three tries for. A whopping 18 against. That is a team who were semi finalists last season. You’d rarely see this level of regression anywhere outside of a Star Wars convention. Big changes are needed from the Scottish franchise, if they are to live up to any potential that was displayed a year ago.
If not, that victory against Toulouse in last year’s quarter finals, and those games against Racing Metro, will become a one-off memory. Nothing more.