Boom or bust for Harlequins
October 18, 2013
Edinburgh's win over Munster was the shock of the opening weekend of Heineken Cup action © PA Photos
After months of tit-for-tat posturing over the future of the Heineken Cup, last weekend, the rugby did the talking. We witnessed the Scarlets roll back the seasons and dispatch Harlequins playing a brand of rugby associated with those glorious Welsh club days of yesteryear while Toulon started their defence of the crown in blistering fashion as their array of Galacticos clicked.
For some, a defeat this weekend, even though we are in round two of the competition, could all but spell the end of their campaign. Teams like Harlequins and Northampton Saints are in bad need of wins. But before they get a chance to put things right, on Friday evening, the home of English football hosts Saracens' potentially epic match against Toulouse. It is set to be played in front of a record crowd in excess of 50,000 and shows why the Heineken Cup is still the best domestic tournament in the world.
The Irish sides Ulster and Leinster started well last weekend but were both unspectacular. It was their PRO12 rivals the Scarlets who were the talk of the town in the British and Irish isles though as they ran three tries past Harlequins with each score displaying individual and collective brilliance. Player wise, for the Scarlets, Wales selectors would have been delighted to have seen both Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams tearing up the English team's defence as they found gaps which have seldom been seen from Conor O'Shea's side in the past.
While the English teams mustered three wins last weekend, the most noticeable was from Exeter Chiefs as they put 36 points on the Cardiff Blues in the first-half of their match at Sandy Park. They looked brilliant at times but substitutions derailed their charge to the half century which, at half-time, seemed to be an inevitable total for Rob Baxter's men.
But the inform side in the Heineken Cup, at present, seems to be Bernard Laporte's men on the other side of the Channel. They were 34-0 up at half-time against Glasgow Warriors on Sunday, with the Scottish team leading the PRO12, as Matt Giteau pulled the strings majestically. They look to be the team to beat though you feel Clermont will up their game this weekend after falling to Racing Metro in the final game of round one.
Out of form
Just what has happened to Harlequins? Two years ago they were the darlings of English rugby. Their enthusiasm was infectious while everything Chris Robshaw and Nick Evans touched turned to points and prizes. But last weekend, apart from Mike Brown who was superb, they were limp against Scarlets and were lucky to be as close as they were on the scoreboard come the end of the game. While the Scarlets shone, the Blues were abject against Exeter and Phil Davies is starting to face questions over his future at the region. They need to do well against Toulon this weekend.
Munster were also taught a lesson by Edinburgh in accuracy as Greig Laidlaw put them to the sword with his metronomic boot. Their Thomond Park faithful will expect the men in red to make amends this weekend. And, somewhat inevitably, the Italian sides were also average on the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup. Both fell to defeats though they did put in valiant efforts. As a side note, Zebre's try from Deon Berryman against Toulouse is worthy of being watched again and again.
Tie of the round
Saracens' game against Toulouse on Friday evening will be brilliant but we cannot wait to see Clermont Auvergne in action against Harlequins on Sunday. Despite Quins' floundering start to the season, they still have plenty of class in their ranks and they will be smarting from their loss to Scarlets. Clermont also fell in the opening round but when you see the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu, Wesley Fofana and Napolioni Nalaga in their backline, you can expect fireworks.
While that is our tie of the round, we are also looking forward to seeing how Gloucester get on against Munster. There are few better places to watch rugby than Thomond Park and visiting teams are well versed in leaving the ground with plenty of bumps and bruises but no points. Gloucester looked good against Perpignan on Saturday and Jonny May will hope to silence the Munster faithful with some jinxing runs.
Toulon are still the favourites for the Heineken Cup with bet365 after last weekend's first round and you can get odds of 11/4 on them to prevail again this year. Andy Farrell has lauded Chris Ashton this week and if you think he'll get on the scoresheet against Toulouse on Friday evening, prices of 7/1 on him being first try-scorer are being offered. And if you think Quins can still win Pool 4 then 16/1 is the price.
On Friday evening, both Saracens and Leicester will be victorious. Come Saturday, there will be wins for Toulon, Connacht, Leinster, Montpellier, Munster and the Scarlets. Sunday will see victories for the Saints, Perpignan, Exeter and Clermont.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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