Heineken Cup Round 1 Matches
In what will become a weekly feature of this blog, Four on Form looks at four Irish players who really hit form in the previous weekend’s action.
Last weekend saw wins for Munster and Ulster, a draw for Leinster and a narrow loss for Connacht in the first round of Heineken Cup action. Who were the Irish players who stood out in these matches?
Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this article letting me know who you think should have been included here or disagreeing with any of the selections. Any feedback at all would be appreciated.
Heineken Cup debutant O’Mahony is an obvious choice. He collected the Man of the Match award after Munster’s dramatic win over Northampton. The 22-year-old backrow was brilliantly aggressive and his workrate was never-ending. As early as the 3rd minute, O’Mahony was hounding Chris Ashton and Ben Foden into conceding the lineout which led to Varley’s opening try. Eighty minutes later, O’Mahony was still going, carrying several times during the 41 phases before O’Gara’s drop goal.
In between, he put himself about the pitch to great effect, with one important carry in the lead up to Howlett’s try. O’Mahony has already captained Munster several times this season in the PRO12 and is clearly a natural leader. He showcased his abrasive, determined side here and will hope to build on this showing. His reputation will continue to grow with performances like this and they will not go unnoticed by Declan Kidney and the Irish management team.
Cronin started Leinster’s visit to Montpellier on the bench, but had a telling impact when he was sprung in the 57th minute. With Leinster struggling to make real incisions into the Montpellier defence, Cronin made an immediate impact after taking an inside pass from Fergus McFadden. Cronin burst through a slight gap in the defence but was eventually tackled. This was only a taste of what was to come. Released by D’Arcy out wide, the hooker showed great pace to get outside Montpellier’s Gorgodze. After being dragged down by the Georgian’s tackle, but crucially not held, Cronin displayed determination to bounce back up on his feet and drive over for the try.
This was Cronin’s Heineken Cup debut, having played in the Amlin Challenge Cup with Connacht last season. Cronin will hope that his blistering 23-minute cameo will be enough for Joe Schmidt to install him ahead of Richardt Strauss for Sunday’s clash with Glasgow at the RDS. Cronin will be eager to prove that his set piece abilities match his undoubtedly dynamic contributions in possession.
Yet another Heineken Cup debutant, outside centre Griffin had an impressive game for Connacht away to Harlequins. The Galway-native showcased his attacking threat when he cut through the ‘Quins line from a Mia Nikora pass and put Tiernan O’Halloran over for a try. Griffin has nailed down the 13 shirt for Connacht in recent times and his confidence grows with every game. The former Ireland U20 international combines good physical strength with fine handling skills and a calm head in defence.
Griffin displayed tremendous potential against Harlequins, carrying the ball well, showing a good burst of pace and being extremely solid in defence. He had no problems shackling the physically bigger Harlequins centre Jordan Turner-Hall. Griffin is another of the confident young players currently coming through within the Irish provinces. He will hope to continue his progress against Toulouse this Saturday.
Ferris continued from where he left off at the World Cup during Ulster’s clash with Clermont. Ferris lifted the decibel levels at Ravenhill every time he carried ball. His physicality is always second to none and that was on full display last weekend. Ferris was a wrecking ball every time he had possession, knocking defenders backwards at every opportunity. He continued his position as every scrum half’s nightmare when he held up Morgan Parra, turning over the ball.
Ferris never took a backward step in a tough opening fixture for Ulster. Himself and opposite number Julian Bonnaire stepped up nose to nose just after half time, typifying this particular battle. Ferris made hard yards all day for his side and put himself about in defence too. He was replaced with four minutes left having made 12 tackles and made a huge contribution to his side’s 16-11 victory.
Photo courtesy: Jukka Zitting