Biarritz set the European standard
December 13, 2009
Biarritz's Takudzwa Ngwenya dives over to score during his side's victory over the Dragons at Parc des Sports Aguilera © Getty Images
Arix Viadana Benetton Treviso Brive Cardiff Blues England France Glasgow Gloucester Rugby Ireland Italy Leinster London Irish Munster Northampton Saints Ospreys Perpignan Scarlets Scotland Stade Français Toulouse Ulster Wales
The battle for European glory resumed this weekend with the latest round of action in this season's Heineken Cup.
The northern hemisphere's premier club competition once again delivered in terms of tension, drama and entertainment as the continent's leading sides continued their quest for the knock-out stages.
French side Biarritz remain the only unbeaten side left in the competition and as a result have a firm grip on Pool 2 but elsewhere the race for the last eight is wide open. Defending champions Leinster and Top 14 giants Clermont Auvergne also impressed in their latest outings but there is still everything to play for ahead of the return clashes in Round 4 next weekend.
Elsewhere, Northampton rallied from a 10-point deficit to record a 30-18 bonus point victory over Benetton Treviso at Franklin's Gardens. Treviso flanker Bian Vermaak pounced on a mistake a blunder by fly-half Shane Geraghty to canter in for the opening try and the boot of fly-half Marius Goosen stretched their lead before a try from Ben Foden just before the break reduced the arrears.
Northampton made a sizzling start to the second half with Joe Ansbro crossing for a score and two further tries from Chris Ashton in the next ten minutes saw the game swing the Saints' way. A try from Goosen on the hour mark offered the visitors hope but replacement Stephen Myler snuffed out their hopes with a late penalty. The victory lifted Saints to second place in the pool behind their Irish rivals ahead of the return clash in Italy next weekend.
Biarritz extended their unbeaten run and strengthened their grip at the top of Pool 2 with a 49-13 mauling of the Dragons at the Parc des Sports Aguilera. The hosts battered the Dragons into submission up front, and they claimed a bonus-point try just after half-time when England back Iain Balshaw touched down for the first of his double.
Wing Takudzwa Ngwenya, scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili and substitute Valentin Courrent also crossed, while there was a penalty try and seven successful kicks from Yachvili, who finished with 22 points, before Courrent slotted the final conversion. The shell-shocked Dragons had to content themselves with a consolation score by centre Tom Riley, while fly-half James Arlidge kicked the conversion and two penalties. It was the Dragons' heaviest Heineken Cup defeat since they crashed 37-0 to Stade Francais in 2003.
Glasgow rattled up 27 points in the first half on their way to a convincing 33-11 win over Gloucester to keep alive their hopes of progressing from Pool 2. A fiery opening shook the visitors and Dan Parks slotted two penalties in the opening five minutes. The Glasgow fly-half then went from hero to villain as a skewed kick gave Gloucester their only field position of the opening 10 minutes and Nicky Robinson opened the scoring for the visitors with a simple penalty.
Glasgow kept the game deep in the opposition half for Parks to land penalty number three but Robinson reduced the margin two minutes later with his second penalty. Parks replied again before another misplaced kick allowed Gloucester to attack and set up Charlie Sharples for the first try of the game. Parks confirmed the dominance of the Glasgow forwards three minutes later with his fifth penalty and, eight minutes from half-time, a sparkling cross-field move saw Max Evans cross for a home try. The break did not come quickly enough for a beleaguered Gloucester, who conceded try number two when Parks' long pass found fullback Bernie Stortoni to romp in for the score.
The conversion took Parks' first-half tally to 17 points and he made it 20 just three minutes into the second half with another penalty. With 10 minutes left, Glasgow again started to put pace on the ball as Gloucester ran out of steam and ideas and Parks banged over his seventh penalty.
Clermont Auvergne maintained their push for the last eight with a thrilling 40-30 bonus-point win against Leicester Tigers at Stade Marcel Michelin. A late Leicester flurry amid the snow showers - converted tries for centre Anthony Allen, fly-half Toby Flood and substitute Jeremy Staunton - could not disguise Clermont's dominance. Clermont turned up the heat on a freezing afternoon, scoring tries through wing Napolini Nalaga (two), flanker Alexandre Lapandry, scrum-half Morgan Parra and lock Jamie Cudmore.
Fly-half Brock James kicked 12 points and fullback Anthony Floch dropped a goal, while Leicester conjured three tries during the closing 10 minutes and three Flood penalties. It was the first time in Heineken Cup history that Leicester conceded 40 points, and defeat next weekend would nudge them perilously close to the exit door. They have only failed to secure last-eight status once during the past five seasons, but the pressure has now been piled on them. The Tigers rallied manfully during the closing stages, outscoring Clermont 21-5 after being 35-9 adrift, but it was a case of being too little, too late.
Ospreys climbed to the top of Pool 3 with a 62-7 thumping of Viadana at Stadio Luigi Zaffanella. The Welsh region ran in eight tries that underlined their multi-national flavour with Welshmen Richard Hibbard (2), Alun Wyn Jones and Gareth Owen, New Zealander Jerry Collins, Irishman Tommy Bowe, Scotland international Nikki Walker and Springbok Ricky Januarie all crossing for scores. Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar weighed in with 22 points courtesy of eight conversions and two penalties.
Gavin Quinnell crossed for the hosts on the hour mark but it proved scant consolation for the Italian minnows. The resounding victory for Ospreys puts the pressure on group rivals Leicester Tigers and Clermont Auvergne, who clash in France on Sunday. The Ospreys were without a glut of experienced stars with regular skipper Ryan Jones, Mike Phillips, Shane Williams, Lee Byrne, Adam Jones and James Hook all sidelined. But their major problem came at scrum-half with Phillips, Williams and Tom Isaacs all out injured. With Jamie Nutbrown returning from a two-month lay-off, the Welsh region snapped up Januarie on a short-term loan.
However, red tape held up his arrival from South Africa and the World Cup winner was handed his European debut after just one training session. But on the basis of his first-half performance, it looked as if he had been a long-serving campaigner for Sean Holley's men with an assured display.
Ulster boosted their quarter-final hopes with a battling 23-13 victory over Stade Francais at Ravenhill. A try in either half from hooker Nigel Brady and winger Simon Danielli and a man of the match performance from fly-half Ian Humphreys steered the Irish side to an impressive European triumph while Stade scrum-half Julien Dupuy, who was sin-binned for an off-the-ball charge in the second half, may well find himself in more trouble after an alleged gouging incident was caught by the TV cameras.
Stade emptied their bench in the second half in search of a bonus point and replacement winger Julien Arias got over with seven minutes remaining with replacement Noel Oelschig converting the score. However, Oelschig's penalty two minutes before the end failed to find the target that left his side empty-handed.
This was Stade's fifth loss from six visits to Ravenhill and Ulster's ability to match the French side in the collision zone and to take their chances when they were presented to them saw them deservedly take the game. The result puts Ulster and Stade level at the top of the pool ahead of the return clash next weekend in Brussels.
Bath kept their hopes alive by clinging on for a hard-fought 16-9 victory over Edinburgh at The Rec. First-half tries from Pieter Dixon and Michael Stephenson provided the platform for only Bath's third victory in all competitions this season.
Three first-half penalties from the boot of Edinburgh fullback Chris Paterson had kept the visitors in touch despite a yellow card for fly-half Phil Godman. Nicky Little kicked his second penalty in the 72nd minute but Bath only just held on in a frantic last five minutes.
There was more woe for France with Cardiff Blues edging out Toulouse 15-9 in a largely forgettable clash at the Cardiff City Stadium. The boot of fullback Ben Blair gave the hosts a narrow 6-0 half-time lead and he continued to punish the ill-disciplined visitors after the break to stretch his side's lead. Toulouse clawed their way back into the game with penalties from Florian Fritz and Frederic Michalak and a drop goal from David Skrela brought them to within three points but Leigh Halfpenny's late kick ended their hopes of a comeback.
The game as a whole proved a dreadful spectacle for any neutral supporter among a 10,500 crowd and both sides struggled to create clear-cut scoring opportunities as a combination of poor options, misplaced kicking and low skill levels reduced the the game to a kicking contest. Wales internationals Andy Powell, Gethin Jenkins and Martyn Williams caught the eye and the Blues' forwards were crucially more efficient and technically disciplined than their Toulouse counterparts. The victory lifts the Blues to within a point of Toulouse who escaped with a losing bonus point.
Sale Sharks also remain in the hunt for the knock-out stages following their 29-19 victory over Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop. Both teams showed their attacking intentions from the whistle, but it was Sale who made the first breakthrough with a stunning seventh-minute try. Nick Macleod fielded a high ball and sparked a counter-attack involving Mathew Tait, Lee Thomas and Ben Cohen combining to send Dwayne Peel through an extended defence. And before Quins could gather their thoughts, Sale doubled their lead with another well-worked score for Macleod.
It took something special to open up Sale, and former All Black fly-half Nick Evans produced it midway through the half, chipping Mark Cueto, and scoring a try which he also converted. But the crowd were still celebrating when Sale hit back, scoring a sensational try 10 seconds after the re-start with David Seymour pouncing on a mistake by Nick Easter.
Back came Quins with a searing score from winger David Strettle but Sale had the last word of the half with a Hodgson penalty. Easter was next to cross shortly after the re-start Sale smashed straight back yet again with a candidate for try of the season. Cueto's inside pass to Hodgson saw the fly-half bemuse the defence before passing inside to Seymour. He moved the ball on, with David Bishop playing in Tait who sent Cohen flying in on the left for his 33rd European try in both competitions - and a four-try bonus point for his club.
Defending champions Leinster hit top form to end the Scarlets' unbeaten European run and record a 32-7 bonus point victory at Parc Y Scarlets. First-half tries came from Shane Horgan, Gordon D'Arcy and Shaun Berne, who provided 17 points, before flanker Sean O'Brien grabbed the vital try. The Scarlets, who were missing injured trio Mark Jones, Matthew Rees and Dafydd Jones, struck back briefly in the second half with a try from Jonathan Davies but were unable to maintain that momentum and a yellow card for centre Sean Lamont dented their hopes further.
Leinster stormed into a 22-0 lead in the opening half hour but did not seal the bonus point until nine minutes from time - having weathered a yellow card for lock Nathan Hines. The victory was the province's second successive away win following defeat to London Irish in the opening round and pulled them level with the Exiles at the top of the pool.
In the other Pool 6 clash, London Irish powered to a 36-3 victory over Brive to end the French side's European hopes. The Exiles had produced one of the shock results of the opening two rounds with a stunning win at reigning champions Leinster before stumbling at home to the Scarlets. But Toby Booth's men got back on track with a hard-fought win in a bad-tempered contest at the Parc Municipal.
Fly-half Chris Malone was the hero with a 14-point tally which included a fourth-minute strike which rocked the home side while wing Tom Homer grabbed a brace of tries. Back-row pair Steffon Armitage and Richard Thorpe claimed the visitors' other tries but tempers flared in the final quarter as Brive replacement Guillaume Ribes saw red for a punch on Danie Coetzee before the South African hooker and Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux were sin-binned for fighting.
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