Another Round Of Heino, Please

Another Round Of Heineken, Please

Orange and Canal+ executives must have been appalled by the carnage among the Top 14 clubs in the first weekend of the H Cup 2011. French rugby should be on the crest of a wave following the RWC2011 renaissance but Clermont, Racing, Castres, Biarritz all bit the dust, with Toulouse the only French H Cup winners on the weekend. In truth new-boys Montpellier salvaged the pride of Les Tricouleurs rugby with a gutsy draw against European champions Leinster, which could even have been a victory. 

If Sky Sports producers had been allowed script the outcome of their first European Cup weekend, they could not have come up with more extraordinary denouements than the games in Montpellier, Limerick and Glasgow. It’s fortunate that they had such drama because their much hyped Premiership rugby flattered to deceive akin to the English national team.

Although Harlequins beat Connacht and Leicester beat Aironi neither victory was in any way convincing against teams that would have been expected to offer bonus point opportunities to their more illustrious English opponents. Only Saracens’ victory versus Treviso, with the sole 5-point performance of the opening salvo, gave an indication that the English based teams have learned how to put performance and victory into the same encounter.

Nationally, the Scots took the honours with a 100% return against their two English opponents. Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh team have already claimed the scalp of Munster this Season in the Pro 12 but their away victory against London Irish was the most valuable victory in the first weekend. Glasgow’s bizarre last movement try against Bath may prove valuable to Leinster if the European champions can revenge the early-season loss of their two-year home record to the Warriors when they meet next Sunday.

Welsh clubs also demonstrated that the national fervour of their RWC performance has restored pride and confidence with wins for all three clubs. Like Edinburgh, Cardiff took an away victory from Racing Metro on Friday night, whilst Llanelli’s win against Castres should not be underestimated in what will be a tight Pool. Ospreys Dan Biggar showed that he has not resigned himself to playing second fiddle to Rhys Priestland for the Welsh No 10 shirt. Both of these clubs have turned successfully to youth and Welsh rugby looks the better for it.

Of the Irish quartet, Ulster may feel best pleased with their work. They have back to back games against Aironi in December and despite the prospect of a journey to Welford Road next weekend, they will feel that they have given themselves a real chance in this tough Pool with their victory against Clermont. Munster on the other hand, despite their ROG- inspired last gasp, 41-phase conquest of Northampton, will spend at least the next week worrying that their scrum is still neither a weapon nor even a base for fruitful adventure.

Leinster were accused by some media of being naïve against Montpellier but the weeks to come will prove whether Galtie’s team can continue their progress of last Season and emerge in the French league as a developing force. Certainly the Mole believes that Montpellier have a pack which will prove a handful to every team they oppose this year, and Trinh Duc is not just the best Vietnamese rugby player but possibly the out-half who will wear the Blue jersey when the 6 Nations comes around.

The Mole has learned over the years that the Heineken Cup is an expedition rather than a contest. It is evident from the first set of Pool games that there is no longer any gap between the respective European leagues and even that the quality of the Italian teams has improved dramatically. Despite their defeats, the size of the crowds at French venues suggest that the “H-Cup est gros” throughout France and qualification now requires every French team to give it their best shot on an equal basis with the Top 14.

The only downside? It must be that free-to-air coverage is not available in any of the competing countries – even for one game per day of the three-day schedule. Rugby could do with the exposure of this unique European experience as a way to copper-fasten the enthusiasm of new supporters of our game – without losing the monetary rewards which has made its development possible.

National Performances

SCOTLAND (100%)

  • London Irish 19 – 20 Edinburgh;
  • Glasgow 26 – 21 Bath

WALES (100%)

  • Racing Metro 20 – 26 Cardiff
  • Scarlets 31 – 23 Castres
  • Ospreys 28 – 21 Biarritz

IRELAND (62.5%)

  • Harlequins 25 – 17 Connacht
  • Montpellier 16 – 16 Leinster
  • Ulster 16 – 11 Clermont
  • Munster 23 – 21 Northampton

ENGLAND (43%)

  • Saracens 35 – 3 Treviso
  • Glasgow 26 – 21 Bath
  • Aironi 12 – 28 Leicester
  • L Irish 19 – 20 Edinburgh
  • Munster 23 – 21 Northampton
  • Harlequins 25 – 17 Connacht
  • Toulouse 21 – 17 Gloucester

ITALY (0%)

  • Aironi 12 – 28 Leicester
  • Saracens 353   Treviso
FRANCE (16%)
  • Racing Metro 20 – 26 Cardiff
  • Scarlets 31 – 23 Castres
  • Ospreys 28 – 21 Biarritz
  • Montpellier 16 – 16 Leinster
  • Toulouse 21 – 17 Gloucester
  • Ulster 16 – 11 Clermont

League Performances (Results based)

  • TOP 14 12.5%
  • Premiership 42.5%
  • PRO 12 77.0% 

So, honours to the RaboDirect Pro 12 on the first weekend. Despite the losses of the two Italian teams to Premiership opposition, the Scots, Welsh and Irish kept the powerhouses of French and English rugby at bay which sets the scene for European encounters till Christmas.

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