The Heineken Cup continued in rip-roaring fashion this weekend as the group stages began to take shape. Leicester, Leinster, Biarritz and Northampton were amongst a number of sides who took command of their respective groups as they all achieved impressive victories.
Leicester secured a maximum five points for the second week running to march to the top of Group 5. Their thumping 46-10 victory over Llanelli Scarlets was a vast improvement on last week’s encounter with Treviso where they nicked the win in the final stages. The Welsh side had no answer to the sheer power that the Tigers exhibited as they were conclusively battered by their opposition.
The Scarlets put up a good fight in the first half and, like last week, scored a majestic try as Regan King broke out from his own 22 before the ball finally reached Morgan Stoddart to score. Aristocratic they may be with ball in hand, village they are without it. The lead lasted all of two minutes. Tigers drove right through the middle of the visitors allowing Martin Castrogiovanni to barge over and level the scores.
After the interval Leicester were simply irresistible as the Scarlets were run ragged. In fact it became obvious that this was an Anglo-Welsh encounter which was not so atypical of the recent failings of Welsh rugby. The visitors were consistently bullied at the break down by a more physical and explosive pack and knocked back in the collisions time and time again in the loose. The home side scored 33 unanswered points in the second half.
Tigers had an extra man at the beginning of the first half after King was sin-binned late in the first and they made it pay. Ben Youngs terrified the Scarlets around the fringes and the young scrum-half helped himself to one try and was instrumental in the west Wales side’s complete dismantling soon after. His quickly tapped penalty found Tom Waldrom for an easy score before Tom Crofts demonstrated just why he will be a fixture in the England side for many years to come as the dynamic back-rower took up two scoring positions to secure a brace of tries. Geordan Murphy steamed over late on to complete the rout.
Johnny Sexton scored all of Leinster’s points in their 25-23 win at Saracens. The results puts the Irish province on nine points – four points clear of Clermont Auvergne in second place (who lost 16-9 at Racing Metro 92) and leaves Saracens rooted to the bottom of Group 2 with a solitary point. The match-up at Wembley Stadium was played in front of a crowd of 45,000 but this was not a great European cup encounter and, at any rate, the atmosphere was stung by Sexton’s one-man show.
The first half was turgid as penalties were conceded one after the other. Saracens should have made more of it after Alex Goode’s early score. The forwards had minced the opposition defence through a series of pick-and-drives which allowed Goode to race over. However, Derek Hougaard could not extend the lead as he missed a couple of shots at goal. While Hougaard struck the upright with one, Sexton’s effort bounced off the bar and over the posts.
After Tinie Tempah’s brief half-time performance Sexton took control of the game and scored what proved to be the decisive try. In the 51st minute, Isa Nacewa got the better of David Strettle and passed out to the fly-half to run in unopposed to the try-line. The Irish side now had an 11 point lead and although Goode closed the gap with three penalties (Hougaard ruptured an Achilles tendon and is now set to miss most of the season) in the end the deficit proved too much for the London hosts. Their mammoth 28-phase play in the closing stages did not manufacture them a suitable drop-goal opportunity.
Dimitri Yachvili once again spear-headed Biarritz as they comfortably overcame Ulster 35-15 to maintain their unbeaten start to this season’s Heineken Cup campaign. They now have a healthy three point lead at the top of Group 4 as they have already collected an impressive nine points. The Irish province extended their unenviable record of never having won in France.
A drab first half saw the side’s go into the break at three points apiece. However, Yachvili took control of the occasion in the second period when he set up Takudzwa Ngwenya to score the first of two tries for the winger. Forwards Manuel Carizza and Sylvain Marconnet also crossed as Biarritz surged forward. Ulster were largely unable to handle the intensity Biarritz brought to the occasion though Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble did secure consolation tries.
Northampton moved themselves into a strong position in Group 1 as they collected another four points after beating Edinburgh 31-27 at Murrayfield. Unlike a number of other lethargic first half performances this weekend these two sides enthralled the crowd with five tries in a frantic first period.
Saints’ Dylan Hartley was the first to go over the try-line as he peeled away from a rolling-maul to touch down for the visitors. However, Edinburgh hit back with three quick-fire tries. First, prop Allan Jacobsen plunged over before Netani Talei touched down in the corner after a turnover inspired counter-attack. After more effective off-loading, Ben Cairns nipped through to extend the home side’s lead. Although, James Downey scored to keep the visitors in touch, the Scottish outfit went into the break 24-21 up.
The score board was even more pleasing to Andy Robinson early in the second half when Chris Patterson extended the lead with a penalty attempt. However, that was as good as it got for Edinburgh as they failed to make any further marks on the score board. Northampton back-rower Phil Dowson collected a loose pass and, after the ball had been recycled, Paul Diggin waltzed over. A successful conversion and subsequent penalty from Stephen Myler gave the Saints a four point margin which would not be overturned.
Elsewhere, Munster put their round one defeat to London Irish firmly behind them as they routed Toulon 45-18. The Thomond Park side proved too hot to handle as they ran in a staggering six tries. Doug Howlett (2), Denis Leamy, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll and James Coughlan did the damage with Ronan O’Gara adding six successful conversions.
Shane Williams proved himself as dangerous as ever as he terrorised London Irish during Ospreys’ 27-16 victory. The 33 year-old scored a superb solo-try early in the second half to put the Welsh region on their way to an ultimately comfortable victory. The winger collected his own chip from the 22 and burnt a series of defenders to touch down in the corner. Tommy Bowe scored the other try for the home side.
Castres held off a spirited Cardiff Blues comeback to run out 27-20 winners on Friday night. The home side looked set to rack up a cricket score against a below par Cardiff as they went into the interval winning 27-6 with tries from wingers Vincent Inigo and Marc Andreu. However, the visitors pulled themselves together and secured an unlikely losing bonus point thanks to tries from Ma’ama Molitika and a last minute score from prop Scott Andrews.
Finally, Perpignan secured a maximum five points through beating Treviso 35-14; London Wasps defeated Glasgow 38-26 and Bath overcame Aironi Rugby 22-6. Toulouse outscored all of them but bizarrely did not claim a bonus point as they only scored three tries in their 40-10 thumping of Newport-Gwent Dragons.