Monday, April 11, 2011

Heineken Cup Quarter Final Action

The Heineken Cup Quarter Finals dished up a massive reminder of the potential of rugby to be truely global. The four matches played on Saturday and Sunday featured teams from England, France and Ireland but featured international players from many other countries. Players who have represented powerful rugby countries including Argentina, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland and South Africa were all on show as were World Cup participants Georgia, Japan, Tonga and the United States. But there were also international players from countries with no World Cup experiences including Cameroon, the Cook Islands and Norway. Moreover two matches were played in Spain. It was a case in point of the growth of rugby and indeed underlined the need for Rugby World Cup tournaments to be taken to new frontiers with the overwhelming obvious location for 2023 being Argentina given the country´s history, rugby abilities and location.

The first Quarter Final took place in Barcelona in what was the first ever Heineken Cup match to be played in the city. As hosts of the match, Perpignan opted to move the clash across the border to make use of the estadio Olímpico de Barcelona which at 50,000 is three times the size of Perpignan´s home ground. Visitors Toulon fielded a team featuring Argentina backrower Juan Fernández Lobbe who played in the 6 shirt and captain Felipe Contepomi came off the bench in the second half to play inside centre. Perpignan scored fewer tries but Jerome Porical had a good day with the boot as USAP were able to have the better of play in the match as they win the match 29-25. Retired Pumas secondrower Rimas Alvarez Kaireles was a second half replacement for Perpignan. Alcarez is looking to end his decade long run with the club on a high as Perpignan try to win their first ever Heineken Cup title.

Dublin´s Aviva Stadium was the venue for the second Quarter Final between Irish giants Leinster and two time defending English Premiership champions the Leicester Tigers. In a low scoring match which saw the Irish province lead 9-3 at the interval, the hosts looked comfortable and led throughout with the Tigers only able to start a come back in the final ten minutes of play. The star was Irish international flyhalf who slotted 12 points and linked with Fiji international Isa Nacewa for Leinster´s only try.  The Leicester Tigers also only scored one try with replacement hooker Rob Hawkins scoring far too late to have an effect on the result. Leinster´s 17-10 victory ensures that Dublin will host the first Heineken Cup Semi final on Saturday March 30. Argentina international winger Horacio Agulla featured for Leicester and had a solid match on the right wing. Curiously English comentator Miles Harrison was overwhlemed whn Agulla was tackled and lost his shorts. He was joined in the second half by Argentina born Italian international tighthead prop, Martín Castrogiovanni. Pumas loosehad prop, Marcos Ayerza missed the game through suspension.

The elimination of Leicester does not mean disaster for English rugby, however, as the Northampton Saints ensured there would be one English side in the final four as the Saints defeated Irish province Ulster 23-13 at Milton Keynes in Sunday´s first Quarter Final. Ulster were 13-10 ahead at half time but were unable to score at all in the second half as the Saints had the better of play with the clubs England internationals puttting on solid performances. The result means Northampton have secured a home semi final, to be played on Sunday May 01 vs Perpignan.

The final Quarter Final, like the first was played in Spain as Biarritz moved their home match across the mountains into the Spanish city of San Sebastien to once again host a high profile encounter at the Estadio Anoeta. Visitors Toulouse started the match with a roar as they scored two first half tries to lead the match 17-0 at the interval. Amazingly, however, Biarritz turned the match around entirely in the second half as scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvilli was able to plug away at the lead thorugh his reliable goalkicking. he ahd narrowed the lead to 17-12 in the 68th minute as Biarritz attacked non-stop and the team looked like scoring a try minutes frmo full time but lost the ball in a scrum which enabled Toulouse to clear their lines and look like bringing the match to a close. A clearing kick from former French international flyhalf, David Skrela was, however, charged down by Fiji´s Ilikena Bolakoro who went over for a try with only one minute left on the clock. Yachvilli´s conversion attempt drifted wide but it was enough to tie the scores at 17-17 and go into overtime. Skrela slotted a penalty in the first 10 minute period of over time and Yachvilli responded with 3 minutes left in the second period. He went from hero to zero however as former French international backrower Yannick  Nyanga charged down his kick to cross for a try to end an amazing match and set up a mouth watering Quarter Final in Dublin between Leinster and Toulouse. Argentina international secondrower Patricio Albacete had a busy game for Toulouse as did Argentina international centre Marcelo Bosch for Biarritz. Former Argentine international hooker Eusebio Guiñazú made an appearnce in overtime for Biarritz and USA international winger Taku Ngwenya played right wing for the Basques.

Heineken Cup Semi Final Schedule

Leinster vs Toulouse, Dublin Saturday Abril 30 

Northampton vs Perpignan, (France), Milton Keynes, Sunday Abril 01

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