Sunday, April 28, 2013

France three, Ireland one

The Heineken and Amlin Cup finalists were decided this weekend, two tournaments with very different feels to them. The Amlin Cup was bonkers and enjoyable, while the Heineken Cup was intense and enjoyable.

Perpignan Stade was all over the place as expected, but in a good way. The passion of the home crowd was second to none, and it took some very strange bounces of the ball in penalties for Stade to steal it at the end.   Perpignan had it, they had it, and then they lost it…and were left totally broken, with players slumped all over the ground. From a Leinster perspective, I was hoping Perpignan were going to win as the size of those Stade players is unbelievable. Great, enjoyable match to watch anyway.

Leinster kept hold of their official ‘Blue Magic’ title with a storming performance to stomp all over Biarritz. Biarritz kept it half decent until the last three minutes of the first half, when Leinster ran in two tries and killed the match off as a contest. Leinster ran everything, and with Sexton, Madigan, Nacewa , Bod and Kearney all looking dangerous – it wasn’t going to be Biarritz’s day. There was a sublime interchange of passes between Nacewa and Sexton for Sexton’s try, that won’t be matched for a long time. I was also impressed with how Leinster fronted up to the physical challenge of Biarritz, even without SOB. Home final too!

The Clermont Munster match was a far lower scoring affair, but way more intense. Clermont came out of the blocks at 100mph, and while they conceded an early penalty, they came roaring back with a try and looked like they were going to totally dominate Munster. But Munster were playing the game in the right parts of the field, and picking up points with penalties, staying in touch. Munster were much stronger in the second half, Hurleys try brought them back into it, and they NEARLY stole it at the end, but it wasn’t to be. Clermont are a hugely impressive team, so big and talented and well balanced, this looks like their year. For Munster, with POC back in the team, they are a physical force to contend with any team. And O’Gara played his best game in ages, awesome stuff, pinning Clermont back and putting through perfect little grubbers. Munster played well and it’s no disgrace to be beaten by a team like Clermont.

Finally, Saracens succumbed to the runaway juggernaut that is Toulon. They have the biggest, or the most skilled player, (or both) in every position, and JW to take the points. He squeezed out a drop goal there like threading a needle, he’s just pure pure class. It’s going to make for an awesome final, with Clermont the only team you could see beating them. Saracens were right there for most of the match, but faded at the end – Touoln’s subs were just better, and they totally lost their heads at the end. I think Saracens need a scrumhalf/flyhalf pairing with more flair, to present some sort of back play challenge to go with their awesome pack.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , April 28
Saracens 12 - 24 Toulon 
Saturday , April 27
Clermont Auvergne 16 - 10 Munster
Amlin Challenge Cup
Saturday , April 27
Leinster 44 - 16 Biarritz 
Friday , April 26
Perpignan 22 - 25 Stade Francais

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