Connacht 9-8 Harlequins
Friday 20th January @ The Sportsground
A determined, ferocious effort from Connacht earned them their first ever Heineken Cup win at a wet and windy Sportsground on Friday night. Man of the match John Muldoon said afterwards that he and his teammates felt like they had just won the tournament. While Munster’s huge win against Northampton on Saturday showed us one side of what makes rugby so special, Connacht showed a totally different side with their undying spirit and determination.
So, the awful run of losses is finally over. Connacht’s first win in fifteen games came thanks to what Muldoon called “a lot of ticker”. This heart was expressed through Connacht’s powerful, aggressive defence. ‘Quins failed to adapt to the conditions and the scrappy nature of the game suited Eric Elwood’s men. Niall O’Connor landed the crucial points with three penalties. Sam Smith touched down for Harlequins in the first-half but Nick Evans was off target with the conversion as well as a more straightforward second-half penalty.
Here’s the final table from Pool 6. Toulouse are the only team to advance to the quarter-finals:
Leinster 25-3 Montpellier
Saturday 21st January @ The RDS
Leinster completed their dominance of Pool 3 with a muscular win at home to Montpellier. Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney and Cian Healy scored the tries while Fergus McFadden kicked ten points. Leinster did miss out on the try-scoring bonus point to leave Munster as top seeds after the pool stages. However, Joe Schmidt will be unconcerned following a good display from his team. Leinster will now host the Cardiff Blues, most probably at the Aviva, in April’s quarter-final.
Montpellier gave Leinster’s defence a severe testing for a 25 minute spell either side of half-time but the current Heineken Cup champions held firm. Schmidt will be hugely pleased to have only conceded three points, showing that Leinster can defend just as well as they cut teams open in attack. Some strong individual performances from the likes of Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Gordon D’Arcy will have pleased Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
Here’s how Pool 3 finished up. Leinster are the only team to move on to the knock-out stages:
And here’s the highlights from the Leinster vs. Montpellier game:
Clermont 19-15 Ulster
Saturday 21st January @ Stade Marcel Michelin
Connacht’s win on Friday night meant that Ulster were already guaranteed a quarter-final spot coming into this game. After the narrow loss to Clermont, Brian McLaughlin stated that he was pleased his side had also secured that qualification on their own merits with a losing bonus point. However, he expressed his dissapointment at their failure to win and ensure a home draw. The Ulster performance was once again top class. This side, after a shaky and inconsistent first third of the season, has morphed into genuine Heineken Cup contenders.
The nature of this defeat will frustrate Ulster. Clermont scored the only try of the game through replacement hooker Ti’i Paulo. While the French side had been battering Ulster’s line at the time, the touchdown came only after an American football-style block by Nathan Hines. The fact that Hines was lucky to still be on the pitch after some highly cynical holding of Pedrie Wannenburg and Stephen Ferris only minutes before exacerbated the sense of frustration. The fact that dan Tuohy had been binned early in the game for a less serious offence topped off a one-sided display from referee Dave Pearson.
Still, Ulster will move on and now have a quarter-final with Munster to look forward to. That will be a momentous occasion in Thomond Park.
Here’s how Pool 4 finished up. Both Clermont and Ulster move on to the quarter-finals:
Here’s the highlights from the game:
And a closer look at the two incidents involving Nathan Hines. The Clermont try is first, followed by the Scottish second-row’s cynical holding:
Northampton 36-51 Munster
Saturday 21st January @ stadium:mk
Munster saved the best for last as they made it six wins from six to qualify as the top seeds for the quarter-finals. This scintillating performance was a stunning surprise from a Munster side who have, by their own admission, been winning without playing brilliantly up until now. Paul O’Connell had emphasised in recent weeks that his side needed to start converting more of the try-scoring chances they were creating. That finally happened to great effect at stadium:mk as Munster swept the Saints aside in the second-half.
Five tries from Johne Murphy, BJ Botha and Simon Zebo (3) ensured a try-scoring bonus point while Ronan O’Gara kicked 24 points. Munster had a sloppy opening quarter to the game, allowing Northampton pull into a 13-3 lead. At that stage, things weren’t looking good for Tony McGahan’s men, but they pulled back to 19-19 at half-time. After the interval, Munster were unstoppable as they repeatedly cut the Saints apart, despite the English side’s awesome dominance of the scrum. From being written off as a side in transition for most of the season, Munster have marked themselves out as one of the teams to beat in this competition. The inter-pro quarter-final with Ulster will be fascinating.
Here’s a look at how Pool 1 finished. Munster are the only team into the quarters:
Here’s all five of the Munster tries. Enjoy!
Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan.