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Heineken Cup – Leinster And Connacht Found Wanting In Return Fixtures

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Contrary to what the headline suggests, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the provinces this weekend. Ulster managed to once more thump Treviso, although with a little more difficulty this weekend. And Munster pulled a performance from circa 2002 out of the drawer with a last gasp victory over Perpignan.

But for fans of all creeds and colours the tussles of Leinster and Connacht stung badly. Both teams produced rugby brilliance last week, and both followed it up with something well below their own standards, though admittedly Connacht can shoulder very little blame.

First up for the weekend was Ulster against Treviso in Italy, playing in the thickest of fog ever seen. This, coupled with Treviso fronting up massively, seemed to hinder Ulster slightly but they eventually broke the Italian resistance, Jared Payne securing the bonus point try at the death and thus ensuring that Ulster remain sitting pretty at the top of the pool. They currently sit first of the final eight for qualification and only Leicester in January could realistically throw any spanner in the works. Ulster are learning from their last two or three Heineken Cup seasons, when unecessary slip ups in pool stages and too much exertion in the run up to the final have cost them. They are looking like the well oiled machine they truly can be and more so than ever are a primary threat in the competition.

Treviso 3 – 35 Ulster

Next up on Saturday came Munster and a trip down memory lane. It may not have been a miracle match, but it was as much must-win as that famous game ten years ago. Munster started the Cup with a stutter against Edinburgh, who once more through up a surprise this weekend, but they soon got back on track with that emphatic win last weekend. Perpignan were never going to roll over and quit on the return fixture, and though Munster held the lead for 75 of 80 minutes, it looked like the french had them beaten with seconds on the clock. Such is the resolve of Munster and the strength of their legacy however, that magic was mustered up and Hanrahan broke the line for a sensational winning try. It was epic to say the least and Munster should now breeze out of the pool.

Perpignan 17 – 18 Munster

They say it’s a team sport but Leinster unfortunately proved on Saturday that one man can make a difference as the Northampton physicality saw them missing Sean O’Brien in a massive way and as a result they followed up a winning bonus point with nothing. Northampton were never going to be steamrolled two weeks in a row, but the manner in which they closed down Leinster, who were admittedly underperforming, has to be admired. We can’t go without mentioning the dire performance of referee Jerome Garces and one assumes he won’t be welcome in Donnybrook anytime soon, but that Leinster couldn’t capitalise on that inspiring final phase, and in turn lost the bonus point, is just not good enough. Two years ago they were that Munster-esque team who could pull miracles from nowhere and they now stand two tough tests to ensure an unlikely home quarter final. Not all lost yet, but now much more difficult.

Leinster 9 – 18 Northampton

And finally we had Connacht, ravaged by flue and still bruised from their biblical performance the week before. The scoreline suggests otherwise, but Pat Lam has much to be proud of after this performance on Saturday. Few Irish squads could cope with 12 players succumbing to flu and missing key training sessions, least of all Connacht. Yet Connacht still had a relatively decent presence on the pitch until that final try sealed off Toulouse ‘s redemption. It has to be noted too that Maxime Medard was in fantastic form all evening and that his try count stopped at two was remarkable. Connacht now stand little chance of that unlikely qualification, but let’s not forget the Amlin still awaits some Heineken teams and at the end of the day all Connacht need to do is keep playing rugby.

Connacht 9 – 37 Toulouse

Image courtesy of ercrugby.com

 

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