Gloucester 23-19 Connacht
Saturday 17th December @ Kingsholm
Connacht came so, so close to ending their miserable run of defeats but were denied as Gloucester replacement Johnny May scored a try with only four minutes remaining. This was a much improved showing from the Heineken Cup minnows and they will be devastated to have left this one behind them. In doing so, they have now recorded a club record 10th defeat in a row. If they can match this performance at Kingsholm in the coming weeks, that run will finally come to an end.
Connacht scored one lovely try after Frank Murphy intercepted Gloucester flyer Charlie Sharples’ pass. The scrumhalf offloaded to Gavin Duffy who then popped the ball back inside to Murphy. George Naoupu took Murphy’s second offload and looked to be clear, but was hauled down metres short of the tryline. He had the awareness to pop the ball off the deck to the supporting Tiernan O’Halloran who dotted down. Niall O’Connor converted that try and added four penalties over the course of the 80 minutes.
For Gloucester, outhalf Tim Taylor scored a try, conversion and penalty in the first half before being replaced by Freddie Burns at the break. Burns knocked over two penalties as well as the conversion after May’s late try. The match looked to have gone Connacht’s way when O’Connor was successful with a penalty 8 minutes from time to leave his side 19-16 up. But a weak missed tackle by substitute hooker Adrian Flavin allowed May to break through the Connacht line and use his pace to go all the way.
There are certainly positives Connacht can take from this defeat. O’Connor was vastly better than the previous weekend. His kicking from hand was exquisite at times. Along with O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin and David McSharry there is obvious potential in the Connacht backline. Clearly, forwards coach Dan McFarland spent a lot of the week running up to this game working on set pieces as Connacht were greatly improved at the scrum and lineout. There were far fewer individual errors too, but as we saw with May’s late try, even one mistake can have fatal consequences.
Here’s a look at Pool 6 after the weekend’s action:
Aironi 20-46 Ulster
17th December @ Stadio Brianteo
Ulster scored 6 tries as they overcame a second-half resurgence from Aironi to leave Italy with a five crucial points. Brian McLaughlin’s charges dominated the opening half to lead 27-3 at the break through tries from Andrew Trimble, Tom Court and a penalty try after a fantastic rolling maul was dragged down by the Aironi pack. Ian Humphreys converted all three tries and tacked on two penalties as well.
Ulster came out from the half-time interval in a less than convincing manner and allowed the Italians back into the game through their own sloppy play. Aironi scored two tries through wing Sinoti Sinoti and substitute Roberto Quartaroli. Luciano Orquera converted one of the tries to bring the game back to 27-15. Ulster were finally stirred into action and Craig Gilroy was on hand to finish a good team move which secured the bonus point.
Aironi then went over for another try when replacement back-row George Biagi took Quartaroli’s offload close to the line to go over untouched. But Ulster confirmed the win with late scores from South African Robbie Diack and sub Adam Macklin. Ruan Pienaar added two conversions in the second half to leave Ulster with a 46-20 win.
These five points keep Ulster at the top of Pool 4. The pool is wide open following Leicester’s win over Clermont, with all three sides still competing to top the group or secure a best placed runners-up spot. Ulster host Leicester in January in a must-win game. If they can do that and then secure a losing bonus point away to Clermont, it could be enough to see them through as a best placed runner-up. However, even though there are only two rounds of pool games left, nothing is decided. That’s the beauty of the Heineken Cup.
Here’s how Pool 4 stands after last weekend:
Here’s the Ulster tries against Aironi. This is a playlist, so just let each one play through and you’ll be able to select the next try:
And here’s the highlights from the other game in Pool 4 on Saturday between Leicester and Clermont:
Leinster 52-27 Bath
Saturday 17th December @ Aviva Stadium
Leinster scored 7 tries as they hammered a far inferior Bath side in front of a big crowd at the Avia. You can read the full match report here. At times, Leinster were just sensational and if they can consistently match the heights they hit at times on Saturday then no team will beat them. With such a strong squad too, it is hard to see injuries affecting Leinster too much. Still, there’s a long way to go before the business end of this competition.
Leinster are looking comfortable now at the top of Pool 3 and should secure a home quarter final with wins over Glasgow and Montpellier in the final two rounds of pool fixtures. Joe Schmidt will certainly head into Christmas in positive form after this win, although he was frustrated by how his team switched off for the closing quarter of the game. It is a measure of this Leinster squad that they will find negatives after a win like this.
Here’s how Pool 3 looks following the action over the weekend:
And here’s the highlights from Leinster’s win over Bath:
Munster 19-13 Scarlets
Sunday 18th December @ Thomond Park
Munster had another hard-fought win on Sunday. They’ve now won 4 from 4 in Pool 1. It was a case of more of the same from Munster as O’Gara kicked 14 of the points and James Coughlan touched down at the back of a rolling maul. The Scarlets were threatening in patches but once again lacked the accuracy to finish off the breaks they made. They scored a try of their own through substitute prop Ken Owens. Rhys Priestland kicked a conversion and a penalty while Stephen Jones added a penalty of his own.
Tony McGahan was happy with another win but admitted to being disappointed with the performance from Munster. Regardless, Munster are now very well positioned to go on and secure a home quarter-final. They’re 4 points clear of the Scarlets at the top of Pool 1 and next up are a Castres side who have lost all interest in this competition. McGahan will hope to secure Munster’s first bonus point win in that game.
Here’s Pool 1 after four rounds of action:
Anyone who missed Munster vs. Scarlets can watch the entire match over on the TG4 Player. Just click on ‘Sport’ under the ‘Archive’ menu then select ‘Rugbai Corn Heineken’.
Photos courtesy: Eoin Gardiner, M+MD.