The southern teams have gone, it’s raining tries again
The Heineken European Cup resumed this weekend, after the Autumn Test International break in November. And with the defensive kick-oriented Southern Hemisphere test rugby off the stage – bar two matches – it started raining tries again (58 in all) across 12 matches.
There was rugby for every type of aficionado of the game.
Friday night saw the grinding but thrilling win by Munster 24-23 over Top 14 champions, Perpignan, who ended up on the losing side.
This was despite scoring three tries against the restored, brilliant boot of Ronan O’Gara, who masterminded the win with his kicking out of hand and from the tee.
O’Gara’s kicking had reduced to season average of 43% before the game, he finished the game with 8 kicks out of 9.
Perpignan nearly made it, with SA import Phillip Berger running the full length of the pitch for one of the tries of the comp, to take the lead in the dying minutes, only for O’Gara to give the Munstermen victory.
Meanwhile, Magners League leaders, Glasgow, were dishing it out to Gloucester at Firhill, finishing 33-11 to the good with Dan Parks in flying form with boot and hand – seven kicks, and a hand in two tries on his scoring ledger.
Saturday’s games opened up with a bang, with Ospreys running riot in Italy against Super 10 side Viadana, and running in eight tries against a single consolation one.
World cup winner, Ricky Januarie, was at the heart of many of the Welsh tries with his quick passing finding players time after time to get over the line.
In Belfast, Ulster were proving Ravenhill remains a fortress against Stade Francais, posting four Heineken Cup home wins of five against the French side.
Irish out-half, Ian Humphreys, ran the game to perfection with his place kicking and tactical play setting up two of the game’s tries, including one from his 22, linking to a storming Stephen Ferris run to the line that was finished off by Scotland’s Simon Danielli for the Irish side.
Ulster now top their pool.
Another top French side were paying a visit to Wales, where Cardiff Blues met Toulouse. The French sides’ ability to drop form away from home continued with this game; the only one to not produce a try from two of the comp’s more fluent teams.
It finished 15-9 in favour of the Blues.
Perpignan had already created the shock of the competition in the opening rounds by losing away to lowly Italian side, Treviso – normally a bonus point banker.
The Italians looked like they might repeat the feat, when they took on Northampton in their English fortress at Franklin Gardens.
The scoreline as half-time approached was 3-13, with the Italians a try to the good.
The Saints woke up from their stupor and crossed the line four times either side of the half-time point.
Treviso got another later on in the game, but couldn’t manage to close the gap, with Northampton finishing comfortably at 30-18 with a bonus point in the bag.
The final two games of the day ended up with lop-sided scores in two away wins.
Brive were another poor French team, coughing up five tries against London Irish with some sub-standard defending in a 3-36 defeat.
The try of the match was an eye-catching run by Steffon Armitage – the Englishman dancing down the touchline past Brive defence and finishing under the posts.
Irish now lead their pool over current champions Leinster on try difference.
Leinster had come out of the blocks against the Scarlets, with Horgan, Shaun Berne and Gordon Darcy crossing the line in a blistering period in the first half that left the Scarlets breathless.
Both sides moved the ball around in hand, with very few kicks being taken.
Scarlets came out in the second half and played more pragmatically to gain field position. They were rewarded with a powerful try by Jonathan Davies.
That was all the Welsh side got though as Leinster continued to press and crossed for their fourth try courtesy of some lovely footwork by the Australian Berne passing to Man of the Match, Sean O’Brien, crossing for the bonus point.
Kidney now has a third option to use at seven in the World Cup – O’Brien may well outshine Wallace and Jennings in the upcoming Six Nations with a greater facility for fetching than his multi-capped counterparts.
Leinster finished 7-32 to the good.
Sunday saw the final batch of matches from Round 3 completed with four matches on the card. Bath reasserted their position in their pool with a 16-9 defeat of Edinburgh and kept the home crowd happy with two tries from Stephenson and Dixon.
The tempo increased at the Stoop in an all-English affair where last season’s bad boys, Harlequins, played Sale in a frantic, open, try-scoring game with Sale eventually finishing the winners; outscoring Quins four tries to three.
The final two matches had 118 points scored between them. First up, Biarritz restored French pride with a home thrashing of Welsh outfit Newport-Gwent Dragons, 49-13.
Former English International Ian Balshaw got two of Biarritz’s six tries who overwhelmed the Dragons and benefiting from two yellow cards.
Last game of the day saw Clermont Auvergne finally defeat Leicester in a high scoring match (40-30) with eight tries on the board by the end.
Clermont surged into a seemingly unassailable lead of 35-9 with ten minutes to go.
Six minutes later the Tigers had three tries on the board, and were relishing either getting a losing bonus point, and possibly a fourth try bonus point.
Clermont put their final try over the line, and a mad scramble on their own line at the final whistle prevented Leicester taking anything from the match.
58 tries ought to keep the crowds returning for next week’s round – it starts all over again in 5 days.
Northern hemisphere rugby boring? Natch.
Looking to join The Roar team? We're searching for an experienced Group Sales Manager to lead our team in Sydney. Yes, this does mean you get to work with the site all day long! If you're a digital media sales star, we want to hear from you. Apply now.