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Heineken Cup – Another Clean Sweep For The Provinces

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Not bad, not bad at all. Not perfect, not by any means, but there is a certain sense of pride to be taken from the Irish teams all sweeping the board in this Round 5 weekend. Not something to get boastful, or big headed about, but evidence of how strong the Irish presence is in this competition and that no bonus points were obtained shows how fiercely competitive this tournament still is, and long may it continue.

Speaking of bonus points, Leinster will surely be feeling the worst that they couldn’t snare that elusive fourth try. Fair enough, they came back from 14 nil down to beat a Castres side who showed up far more than expected. But the final five minutes of the game won’t be happy viewing today. Jimmy Gopperth was the man to steer the ship yesterday, and justified his selection immensely. Speaking of immense, Cian Healy and his lazarus impression did a fine job of filling a Sean O’Brien sized hole in the team. Without that bonus point they still have all to play for next weekend, but an away quarter you would hope is all but a certainty at the very least in the RDS on Friday.
Castres 22 – 29 Leinster

Deary me Connacht. Credit where it’s due, they came to play rugby, but they just played too much of it in the final quarter. Tries from Healy and Henshaw saw them obtain a lead that wasn’t broken, and their try line wasn’t crossed once, but the sheer panic and frantic play that ensued as they sought the bonus point should be a thing of the past to them now. We’ve seen the biggest teams get caught out like this in the past, but when Connacht churn out a season such as this so far, their best ever Heineken Cup record, it is heartbreaking to see them craft their own demise. Still the Amlin is a very real possibility and even the knock outs though that hinges on half a dozen results going their way. Once their European season doesn’t end next weekend Connacht will have much to be proud of, and based on Saracens yesterday they are positioned well.
Connacht 20 – 3 Zebre

Montpellier came to Ravenhill to recover from their previous drubbing to the Irish province. Ulster, with a powerful side including Ruan Pienaar who is their main orchestrator, are leading the charge but were well aware every point would count. Montpellier took the early lead through the boot of Eric Escande despite Ulster showing more intent on scoring tries. Paddy Jackson kicked a sublime cross field kick which resulted in Robbie Diack scoring for the Ulster men however and the tails were up. Pienaar followed up on his own chip and chase and Ulster were in for their second try. They were in the driving seat and there seemed no way back for Montpellier. Having said that, the French kept plugging away and Ulster’s weak point was exposed in their forwards, when a maul which caused them problems resulted in the big Robins Tchale Watchou crossing for the French club.

The second half was all Ulster who should have scored more but will be happy enough with this victory that guarantees their place in the knock out stage of the competition. They pressed for tries in the second half as they looked for a bonus point victory, Paddy Jackson’s grubber kick followed by a lucky bounce that fell to John Afoa who put daylight between the sides with their third try of the evening. Ulster won the game comprehensively on the end but the bonus was there, and they now await a showdown with the Leicester Tigers next weekend for a top of the pool clash.
Ulster 27 – 16 Montpellier

Munster travelled to Kingsholm Stadium to take on Gloucester in what was a crucial game for both sides to try to get to the knock out stages. The game started at a frantic pace from Gloucester as they aimed to put a lot of pressure on the Munster defence, which the Irish side did well to resist. Ian Keatley seemed in great form and gave Munster the early lead with the boot. Keatley was involved again and set-up Keith Earls with a grubber kick through the Gloucester defensive line to give them a 10 point to no score lead approaching half time. Gloucester, to their credit, found space out wide and with their superior numbers Charlie Sharples got space to score for and bring them right back into the game. The second half for Munster was all about closing out the game. Their forward play was excellent & seemed to have Gloucester in some difficulty. The Munster pack was crucial to setting up their second try by Peter O’Mahony to give some essential breathing space for the visitors, with Keatley extending their tally out to 20 points. Munster’s ability to slow down possession at the breakdown proved crucial as well as their implementation of the use of the choke tackle to turn possession in their favour and they did this continuously all evening to the frustration of the Gloucester side. With Edinburgh failing to register a bonus point against Perpignan, Munster have now secured the knock outs, with a home quarter still there for the taking.
Gloucester 7 – 20 Munster

Image courtesy of ercrugby.com

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