Heineken Cup back with a bang
October 15, 2012
It was a perfect start to the campaign for Harlequins © PA Photos
The first weekend of the 2012-13 Heineken Cup has now been and gone and it was refreshing to see that despite the boardroom-based squabble concerning the future of this fantastic tournament, the usual high standard of rugby did not suffer.
There were 53 tries scored with seven teams getting the all-important four-try bonus point - check out our rundown of all the weekend's action.
Saracens travelled to last season's Heineken Cup semi-finalists Edinburgh and destroyed the Scottish side 45-0. Charlie Hodgson was at the forefront of everything they did well with the former England fly-half contributing 25 points to the eventual score - including one try. Alongside Hodgson's effort, there were also scores for Joel Tomkins, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Alex Goode. Edinburgh will now look to re-group ahead of their match with Munster at Thomond Park on Sunday and they will hope to have the key duo of skipper Craig Laidlaw and Tim Visser fit after they were substituted at half-time with injuries.
Elsewhere in Pool 1, Olly Barkley inspired Racing Metro to a 22-17 win over Munster in the Stade de France. Barkley, making his debut after his switch from Bath, knocked over 14 points and played a key role throughout. Munster looked to have the advantage in the match until Ronan O'Gara limped off in the 33rd minute. And the match may well be remembered for one moment of madness from Conor Murray. With Munster a point ahead with just five minutes of the match left, the scrum-half opted to run the ball from his own 22 instead of clearing his lines. The action resulted in Racing benig awarded a penalty which Barkley duly dispatched. The French side added another moments later and it was enough to give them the win.
The Ospreys kicked off their Heineken Cup campaign on Friday evening with a 38-17 victory against fellow RaboDirect PRO12 side Treviso. It was an ill-disciplined affair with four yellow cards being shown by referee Neil Paterson with the Italians bearing the brunt with three sin-binnings. The Ospreys came away from the match at the Liberty Stadium with the four-try bonus point thanks to scores from Eli Walker, a double from Hanno Dirksen and a last-gasp score from Ashley Beck.
On Sunday, in what was billed as the tie of the round, Toulouse eased past the Leicester Tigers 23-9 in France. Luke McAlister kept the scoreboard ticking over with 18 points while Toulouse's sole try came thanks to a superb individual effort from 18-year-old centre Gael Fickou.
The Tigers were in with a shout at half-time and despite Toulouse going 14-9 ahead soon after the break they had a kickable penalty in front of the sticks to reduce the deficit. But in what can only be described as a 'rush of blood to the head' moment, Ben Youngs opted to tap and go with Anthony Allen eventually knocking the ball on. It was a decision that prompted Tigers boss Richard Cockerill to criticise the scrum-half's poor judgement post-match.
Harlequins put down an impressive marker at The Stoop with a bonus point 40-13 win over Biarritz on Saturday evening. Quins had to cope without star playmaker Nick Evans for much of the match with the fly-half forced off with an ankle injury - a knock that rules him out of next week's match with Connacht. But they showed no ill effects with replacement Ben Botica, who had just one substitute appearance to his name for Quins prior to the match, excelling with 18 points. Quins' tries came through Danny Care, Rob Buchanan, Jordan Turner-Hall and Seb Stegmann while Arnaud Heguy scored Biarritz's effort.
Elsewhere in the pool, Connacht downed Zebre 19-10 on Saturday. Dan Parks knocked over 14 points for the Irish side with John Muldoon scoring their only try. Substitute forward Filippo Ferrarini went over for Zebre who are embarking on their first campaign in the Heineken Cup.
Ulster and Northampton Saints cemented their title credentials with bonus points win in round one. On Friday evening, Ulster dispatched Castres 41-17 with scrum-half Paul Marshall the deserved recipient of the man of the match award. He grabbed two tries with Andrew Trimble and Ruan Pienaar, in the last play of the game, scoring their other two. Castres were solid throughout but ever really threatened to pick up the win with their tries coming through Marc Andreu and Marcel Garvey.
On Sunday, the Northampton Saints fought back from 15-0 down to beat Glasgow 24-15 at Franklin's Gardens. The Warriors stormed into the lead with tries from Josh Strauss and Sean Lamont giving them the advantage but George Pisi grabbed two of his own before the half-time whistle to bring the Saints back into the game. And in the second 40, the home side grabbed two more scores with Stephen Myler and Vasily Artemyev ensuring a perfect start to the campaign for Northampton.
Delon Armitage grabbed two tries for Toulon © Getty Images
Heineken Cup holders Leinster survived an almighty scare at the RDS on Saturday where they edged Exeter 9-6. Jonathan Sexton knocked over three penalties for the Irish province with Gareth Steenson contributing the Chiefs' six points. Leinster found it hard going against Rob Baxter's resilient side, who were making their tournament debut, and never really found their natural rhythm but they will be relieved to start the campaign with a win.
Elsewhere in the pool, Clermont scored six tries against the Scarlets on their way to a 49-16 win. The Welsh region stormed into an early lead through Jonathan Davies' try but Sitiveni Sivivatu's score after 31 minutes restored some parity. The Scarlets were reduced to 14 men in the 37th minute with Morgan Stoddart receiving his second yellow card which effectively handed the game to Clermont. The Top 14 side ran riot in the second-half with Lee Byrne, Damien Chouly, Julien Bonnaire and Napolioni Nalaga all going over alongside a penalty try bringing up their six-score total.
Danny Cipriani re-announced himself on the rugby scene with an inspired cameo performance to inspire a Sale fightback against the Cardiff Blues. The Blues were at one stage three tries up with Alex Cuthbert grabbing a first-half hat-trick but Cipriani's entrance after 49 minutes swung the game in Sale's favour. He grabbed a score soon after his introduction and further tries from Mark Jennings and Tony Buckley, along with the boot of Nick Macleod and Rob Miller, gave Sale a nail-biting 34-33 victory - their first win of the season. Cardiff now face an anxious wait over the fitness of Wales captain Sam Warburton who was forced off with a badly dislocated finger.
The weekend's action came to a close with Toulon playing host to Montpellier at the Stade Mayol where the home side's English contingent were in good form with Delon Armitage grabbing two tries and fly-half Jonny Wilkinson weighing in with 10 points. Pierrick Gunther, Bakkies Botha and Mathieu Bastareaud also crossed as Toulon ran out 37-16 victors.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter