A weekend to remember
April 9, 2012
Edinburgh's win over Toulouse was arguably the result of the weekend © Getty Images
Another breathtaking weekend of Heineken Cup action has come to a close and the semi-final picture is complete.
Edinburgh shocked Top 14 champions Toulouse in front of a record crowd at Murrayfield on Saturday to book their spot in the last four for the first time, and they will face Ulster in Dublin after Brian McLaughlin's sie gatecrashed Munster's fortress, Thomond Park, to come away with a hugely impressive 22-16 win.
In the other side of the draw, Leinster will travel to Clermont Auvergne. The reigning Heineken Cup champions eased past Cardiff Blues 34-3 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday while Top 14 giants Clermont overcame Saracens 22-3 thanks to a ruthless, physical performance.
But who were the key protagonists from the weekend? After some quality rugby, which team stood out from the rest and what is the XV of the round? ESPNscrum provides a rundown of the weekend's action.
Player of the Round
He was a doubt going into the game but Ulster's Stephen Ferris put down a solid marker for the British & Irish Lions selectors with a back-row masterclass against Munster. It seems that whenever the Ravenhill side get over the line, it is Ferris who gets the Man of the Match award, but it's not pre-destined - it is fully deserved. Other key protagonists who warrant a mention are Edinburgh skipper Greig Laidlaw, Ulster's South African scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, Clermont fly-half Brock James and centre Aurelien Rougerie, Leinster fullback Rob Kearney and, of course, the returning Brian O'Driscoll, but Ferris just pips his illustrious colleagues.
Performance of the Round
On almost any other weekend, Leinster's demolition of Cardiff, Ulster's stunning win at Thomond Park or Clermont's heroic defensive effort against Saracens would have been enough to get the plaudits, but there is only one winner this weekend - Edinburgh. The Scottish side are second bottom of the RaboDirect PRO12 but kept their remarkable European season going with a hugely impressive win over Toulouse on Saturday. It was tactically sublime and Michael Bradley's side deserve all the plaudits they have earned.
It was a tale of two drop-goals. Ian Humphreys laboured at the start of the quarter-final with Munster but the Ulster half-back pinned the home side back with a wonderfully struck drop-goal on the 30 minute-mark to stretch their lead to 19-0. At Murrayfield, Edinburgh's Greig Laidlaw nailed three points of his own just before half-time to reduce Toulouse's lead from 14-7 to 14-10 - a kick that galvanised the Scottish team and proved crucial in the charge to a historic win.
Team of the Round
Try of the Round
There were some sensational scores from Leinster as they eased past Cardiff, with slick handling bamboozling the Blues' defence, but the score of the quarter-finals was from Ulster's Craig Gilroy. Andrew Trimble received the ball on the charge and after a few quick passes, Gilroy took the ball near the halfway line and jinked through the Munster defence, turning on the afterburners to sprint over for a quite remarkable solo effort.
Replace the word 'round' with 'tournament' and it has to be the English club sides. It is only the second time since the 1996-97 season that England has no representative in either the Heineken Cup or the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals. This was not through lack of effort, but the Premiership clubs were simply outclassed on Europe's biggest club stage.
Quote of the Round
"We have a very strong connection with the fans who came today and it's up to us to convert that into PRO12 attendances and try to move the club up."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin