By Alan Dymock
SO HEINEKEN Cup rugby is pretty darn special, isn’t it?
We may have lost sight of that fact at some point between the first press release about the English and French clubs wanting to break away and the last one from the ERC asking for engagement but one thing become apparent very quickly at the weekend: the Heineken is a sublime competition and how we’ve missed it.
What else did we learn, though? Here are five things worth percolating over the next few days;
The Llanelli Scarlets may not be torching the RaboDirect Pro12 right now but on Saturday they tromped up to the Stoop and rattled three mesmerising tries past a misfiring Harlequins side.
Indeed, while we’re used to keeping up with the Joneses, it was more a case of keeping up with the Williamses in London. From Rhodri Williams’ try after a smart interchange of passes, to Scott Williams’ lung-wrecker of a run past defenders and Jordan Williams’ score, which looked for all the world like a hot-wired bumper car speeding up the street, pinging off parked cars, it was all very, very impressive. Add in Liam Williams’ canny defence and cheeky flick between his legs after plucking a kick out of touch and Mrs Williams must be very proud of her boys.
The Quins did keep plugging away and Mike Brown looked in fine nick, but Scarlets were irresistible.
Exeter exterminate Blues
On Sunday, resisting the Chiefs looked as easy as ignoring as a freshly abandoned sheet of bubble wrap. In the first-half everything was popping for them. Beautifully brutal breakdown work was married with a sense of adventure and ball carrying in perpetual motion, thus ensuring that five tries and a bonus point were banked before the interval.
Cardiff Blues did well to come back from 41-3 down, but it was another case of too little, too late and it is hard to see what is more troubling for Phil Davies: the wet-paper tackling or the fact that when the comeback was on and Exeter lost a few men to the bin the Blues couldn’t score even more. As games go, it was one of the weirdest and most exciting you are ever likely to witness.
Can anyone beat Toulon?
Glasgow Warriors would probably romp the ‘they’re no mugs’ pageant were it held tomorrow, but the Pro12 leaders looked well and truly blitzkreiged on Sunday as Toulon poured it on in the first half.
Much like Cardiff Blues, Glasgow came back in the second to snatch a four-try bonus point, but there is a sense that Toulon could have tightened things up and played the corners if they weren’t intent on having so much fun throwing speculative passes. They still scored over 50 points. Which is worrying for everyone else, because if they are this strong and truly enjoying every minute in each other’s company there are very few teams who can cope. If they do the same again in Cardiff this weekend, then the on-song Chiefs will be viewing their double-header with some trepidation.
One word. Scary.
Forget the league, folks
Castres beating Northampton makes a mockery of form, with the Top 14 champs having a pretty ropey league campaign so far, but they leant on Saints on Saturday and managed to unsettle the high-flying Aviva Premiership outfit.
Of course, the fiercest flame being held to the formbook was Edinburgh’s. The Pro12’s basement dwellers kicked, nipped and hustled their way to an impressive victory over two-time champions Munster. Greig Laidlaw kicked impeccably and one chance was enough for Tim Visser to make possibly his only contribution to a tight game by galloping down the left wing to a lovely try.
League tables be damned!
Former champs looking less than ship-shape
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As mentioned above, Saints and Munster got horrid frights, but other past winners also looked like they are yet to click. Leicester Tigers were turned over by (okay, also former champs) Ulster and were happy to get out of Belfast with a losing bonus point. Leinster themselves won, but did not look like the fluent, Euro-charmers we have come to expect in defeating Ospreys 19-9. Toulouse have admittedly raced to the top of their pool, but they were playing a Zebre team that have lost so often the Italian dairies are refusing to put their picture on milk cartons any more.
Which makes Toulon’s Sunday turn all the more ominous. The debonair bleeders that they are.