With no Magners league, AVIVA Premiership or Top 14 rugby this weekend, all eyes were on the European Cup and the Challenge cup. From an Irish province perspective the results of Leinster, Ulster and Connaught show that Irish rugby is still very much able to match their European counterparts while for Munster, the trip to money bags French side was a step too far.
Without dwelling on Munster’s loss too much Tony McGahan’s men are finally proving the pundits who predicted they were a side on the decline correct however no other club can boast the credentials over the last 13 years that the men in red have and I think talk of their demise is greatly exaggerated.
Every team goes through a transitional period and that is where Munster are now, Flannery is too injury prone, John Hayes is pushing on, Tony Buckley has yet to make the set up while Ronan O’Gara is going to be able to kick on forever. Tony McGahan has some big decisions to make over the coming months with everyone around the country waiting on the next phase of the Munster story.
Ulster meanwhile are a province on the up and under Brian McLaughlin are developing into a very hard to beat side while Joe Schmidt is finally starting to make his mark at Leinster.
Of course the GreenWatch Rugby section is not about our domestic heroes, it’s about tracking those players that are playing their rugby abroad. The weekend’s European action saw no fewer than six players involved.
In Pool 3 28 year old Dubliner Brian Blaney played the final 8 minutes as London Irish beat Ospreys 24-12 at home. Kildare’s Bob Casey was again on the bench for the Irish while Tommy Bowe played the full 80 minutes at 13 for Ospreys. However the result was academic as top spot was secured by Toulon courtesy of their win over Munster.
Meanwhile Glasgow ended the hopes of London Wasps in Pool 6 as they beat the AVIVA premiership side 20-10 at home. The previous day Toulouse had beaten the Dragon’s 17-3 to take control of the Pool.
Limerick man Jeremy Staunton failed to come as Leicester proved too strong for Scarlet’s in Wales. Their 18-32 win puts them level with Perpignan, who beat Treviso 44-9, going into the final round of games in Pool 5. Leicester is slight favourites as they are at home to Treviso with Perpignan also at home to the Scarlet’s. Both sides qualify however with one side claiming a best runner up spot, the race is on now to see who tops the group and gets a favourable quarter final spot.
In Pool 2 Leinster secured their place in the quarter finals with a convincing win over Saracens, their 43-20 win see’s them move to 19 points 5 ahead of Clermont who beat fellow French side Racing Metro Paris 28-17 on Friday night.
Meanwhile in Pool 4 Ulster braved a strong breeze and a strong Biarritz side to claim a fantastic 9-6 win over one of the power houses of European rugby. The win was secured by the boot of Ian Humphreys and moved Ulster level of points going into the final game of the Pool where they will face an Aironi side that lost 55-16 away to Bath.
Like in Pool 3, both Biarritz and Ulster are in pole position to qualify with either side capable of securing one of the runners up spots. Biarritz is slight favourites however Bath will know that a big win could give them a slight chance of qualifying. A bonus point win for Ulster could secure top spot.
In Pool 1, James Downey and Roger Wilson both started as Northampton beat Edinburgh 37-0, neither player made the score sheet with Wilson playing the full match and Downey coming off after 54 minutes. That win coupled with Cardiff win’s over Castres mean’s that Northampton are comfortably through to the quarterfinals as winner’s of the group.
In the Amlin cup John Andress and Lewis Stevenson were missing as Harlequins beat Cavalieri 48-16 while group rivals Bayonne missed the chance to take control of the pool when they were surprisingly beaten 35-21 at home to Connaught, who were thankful to the boot of Ian Keatley as he scored 23 points.
Limerick’s Tom Hayes and Gareth Steenson both played as Exeter beat Bourgoin at home. Hayes played the full 80 minutes with Steenson coming on with 25 minutes to go and scoring with a 76th minute conversion.
In the British and Irish cup Leinster beat Worcester 38-23 thanks to 13 points from the book of full back Ian McKinley with David Kearney, younger brother of Rob scoring with a try.