Heineken Cup Round-Up

Photo via Ben Sutherland

Ulster 31-10 Aironi

Friday 9th December @ Ravenhill

Ulster did exactly what was needed as they ran in five tries to secure five points against Aironi in Pool 4. Stephen Ferris, Adam D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson scored the tries while Ian Humphreys added three conversions in another erratic kicking display. Ferris was Man of the Match again for Ulster. The Ireland flanker is in scintillating form at the moment with three tries in two matches.

Following this win, Ulster sit second in Pool 4. They will need another bonus point win next weekend when they travel to Italy for the return fixture with Aironi. While they did what was required at Ravenhill on Friday night, Ulster are aware that they will need to improve to get the five points at Stadio Luigi Zaffanella. Ulster are still well in contention in this pool and even if they don’t win the group they will be hopeful of going through to the quarter-finals as one of the best runners-up.

Here’s Pool 4 at the half-way stage:

Here’s footage of the Ulster tries, excluding the first from Ferris:

Connacht 10-14 Gloucester

Saturday 10th December @ The Sportsground

Connacht extended their losing streak to 9 games with this home loss to Gloucester in Pool 6. Read the full match report here. This game was certainly there for the taking for Eric Elwood’s side. Once again, errors at crucial times in the game cost Connacht as they came up short. An outstanding, inspirational display from ex-Ireland flanker John Muldoon was not matched by others.

Connacht travel to Gloucester next weekend for the return fixture and the fear now is that this run of losses will extend into double figures. It will take a mighty effort for the province to record what would be their first ever Heineken Cup win. Captain Gavin Duffy is aware of the scale of the challenge but remains hopeful that Connacht can end their losing streak.

Connacht are rock-bottom of Pool 6, and only Aironi have less points in the Heineken Cup after three matches. The potential to win games is there for Connacht. If they can start to take more of the chances they create and cut out just a portion of the errors they are making then a win will come.

Here’s a look at Pool 6 after three matches:

Scarlets 14-17 Munster

Saturday 10th December @ Parc y Scarlets

Munster secured their third win from three in Pool 1 with a hard-earned win away to the Scarlets. You can read the full match report here. This win leaves Munster sitting top of the pool and well-positioned to go on and claim a home quarter-final. The Scarlets come to Thomond Park in the return fixture next weekend.

Munster have home fixtures with the Scarlets and Castres and a visit to Northampton still to negotiate. It’s hard to see Munster losing in Thomond Park, and they are favourites to win the two home matches. The trip to Franklin Gardens will be a tough test, despite the fact that the Saints are now out of reckoning and and will presumably focus on the Aviva Premiership.

After the disappointment of failure to progress from the group stages in last year’s Heineken Cup, Munster look well-placed for a return to their traditional place in the knock-out stages of the tournament. The likes of O’Gara and O’Connell will make sure the squad take nothing for granted but will also be confident of topping the group.

Here’s how Pool 1 looks at the half-way stage:

Bath 13-18 Leinster 

Sunday 11th December @ The Rec

Jonathan Sexton’s accuracy from the tee was enough for Leinster to claim a valuable away win in Pool 3. The Irish province butchered a number of good try-scoring chances, but still came away from The Rec with a victory after Sexton kicked two late penalties to win the game. England international wing Matt Banahan scored the only try of the game for Bath. The home team enjoyed the majority of possession in the first half, but Leinster’s defence was solid.

Following yesterday’s game, Schmidt has urged his team to be more clinical in finishing the opportunities they create. Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien all made clean line breaks for Leinster but the defending champions failed to convert them into tries. Still, a win away from home in the Heineken Cup is a positive outcome, no matter how it is achieved.

Leinster are now top of the pool with two home games to come, as well as a trip to Glasgow. Joe Schmidt’s side should go on and top the group now for a home quarter-final. Glasgow look like Leinster’s biggest rivals for that top spot but the Scottish side still face trips to Montpellier and Bath. Once again, the senior members of Leinster’s squad will ensure complacency does no take root, but the Leinster squad is full of confidence and players in form.

Here’s how Pool 3 shapes up at the half-way point:

Here’s the highlights from the Leinster vs. Bath game:

Pool tables courtesy of ESPN Scrum.

Photo courtesy : Ben Sutherland

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