Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Heineken Cup Round 1 - Pumas, Eagles, Cannucks and Teros

The first round of European rugby´s premier competition, the Heineken Cup produced a list of interesting results with upsets occuring throughout the weekend. The Irish, Scottish and Welsh sides were able to get the better of the English and French rivals as the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership clubs tended to appear rusty. Although it is early days the results will indeed go a long way to determining the Quarter Finals chances of a number of teams. With only the top side from each pool and the two best second placed sides advancing to the Quarter Finals all teams must win every home match and drop at the very most two away matches. Last seasons beaten finalists the Northampton Saints travelled to Ireland with this in mind. The English side took on Munster and Thomond Park with the home side winning the match 23-21 thanks to a last gasp dropgoal to USA born Irish international flyhalf, Ronan O´Gara. The two point loss meant Northampton returned to England with a bonus point. USA international secondrower, Samu Manoa was on the bench for the Saints and played the final fifteen minutes.

The pools other clash also took place on Saturday with Welsh region, the Scarlets playing host to French side Castres in Llanelli. Castres had a great start to the Top 14 season but has recently been on a losing streak and this continued in Llanelli as the Scarlets completed a 31-23 win to deny Castres a bonus point. The impressive win included three tries and 16 points were kicked by Welsh international flyhalf, Stephen Jones. The Scarlets´ win sees them join Munster at the top of the table. Uruguay international forward, Rodrigo Capó Ortega played secondrow for the Castres. Despite losing, Capó Ortega should be a happy man following Uruguay´s victory over Portugal in Lisbon on Sunday.

Group 1 Standings

1 Scarlets 4
2 Munster 4 
3 Northampton Saints 1
4 Castres 0

The group two results were both upsets with the seemingly stronger sides dropping home matches to blow the group wide open. Racing Metro played host to the Cardiff Blues on Friday  in Paris and were expected to win. Neither side was at full strength with both sides missing a handful of players. Nevertheless it was a game which the Parisians were considered to be favorites. It did not turn out as such as Scotland international flyhalf, Dan Parks slotted 16 points in Cardiff´s 26-10 victory. Cardiff scored two tries to one which was enough for the Welsh side to go top of the standings while Racing Metro gathered a bonus point for losing by less than seven points. The try of the match went to Argentine international winger, Juan Imhoff who combined well with Los Pumas flyhalf, Juan Martín Hernández. El Mago took on the Cardiff defensive line and made a half break before off-loading to Imhoff in the tackle. From there the young Pumas winger, brushed off three tackles as he made a 40 metre sprint to the line to go over for his first try for Racing Metro. The try should be a signal of things to follow as Imhoff looms as being a permament fixture in the Argentine number 11 shirt ahead of Leiciester Tigers´ winger, Horacio Agulla. Both Racing Metro players are likely to take the field vs South Africa when Argentina makes it debut in the new The Rugby Championship in 2012. Hernández also got on the score sheet with a first half drop goal from long range. Another player in contention is former Pumas tighthead prop, Juan Orlandi who also started for the Parisian side. he will need to improve as Welsh loosehead prop, Gethin Jenkins had the better of him throughout the evening.

Sitting top of the table together with the Cardiff Blues are Scottish side Edinburgh after the Scottish capital´s team upset London Irish 20-19 on Saturday. The win was a major coup for the Scot´s who have been needing something to cheer about following the national sides early exit from Rugby World Cup 2011. Former Argentine international secondrower, Esteban Lozada played the full match in the secondrow for Edinburgh while Canadian World Cup secondrower, Jebb Sinclair started at eight for London Irish. Similar to group one, the unpredictable results mean that it is likely that only the winner of the group will succeed in advancing to the Quarter Finals.

Group 2 Standings

1 Cardiff Blues 4
2 Edinburgh 4
3 London Irish 1
2 Racing Metro 1

What Edinburgh can do, Glasgow can do better. Such was the weekend for Scottish rugby with a very rare feet taking place in which both Edinburgh and the Glasgow Warriors were victorious in the Heineken Cup. The Warriors played host to Aviva Premiership side Bath and completed a remarkable 26-21 win on Sunday thanks to an 80th minute try to the best Scottish player to come along in a generation, secondrower, Richie Gray. Bath looked to have had the game in the bag thanks to penalties to Tom Heathcote and New Zealand´s World Cup hero, Stephen Donald but it was the big bleach-blond Scot who made all the difference as Glasgow won their Group 3 match. Former Argentine international winger, Federico Martín Aramburu played for Glasgow as a secondhalf replacement and left the field all smiles as Glasgow sit top of the group as the only team in the pool to have won on the weekend.

Defending Heineken Cup champions, Leinster played its first match fo the tournament in Montpellier on Saturday and were extremely lucky to have not lost the match. The French Top 14 side was well in control of the match before the Irish province hit back with a late try to go within striking distance. Unwanted Argentine winger, Martín Bustos Moyano then looked to have guaranteed a victory for Montpellier as he kicked for touch in the final minute of play. Leinster, however, were able to take a quick lineout and were awarded a penalty when former French international backrower, Remy Martin was judged to have gone off his feet at a rugby. The highly questionable decision saw Irish international flyhalf, Johnny Sexton slot a full time penalty to secure a 16-16 draw. Earlier in the match Montpellier had gone well ahead thanks to a try to French international backrower, Fulgence Ouedraogo who touched down after gathering a pass from Argentine international fullback, Lucas González Amorosino who had regathered his own kick. Santiago Fernández played inside centre for Montpellier and was jopined by Pumas World Cup squad members Maximilano Bustos who impressed at tighthead prop and Agustín Creevy who also did well at hooker. USA international centre, Seta Tuiveluka did not play for Montpellier as he contnues to recover from injury. Despite the teams having to settle for a draw it is likely that they will be the two top teams in the group.

Group 3 Standings

1 Glasgow Warriors 4
2 Leinster 2
3 Montpellier 2
4 Bath 1

French powerhouses, Clermont a nightmare performance in Belfast, Northern Ireland as Ulster completed a 16-11 victory in Group 4. Clermont were fielding a semi-experimental side which did not include a number of the sides most recognized players. Canadian international secondrower, Jamie Cudmore did not play nor did Argentine born Italian international centre, Gonzalo Canale. The games hero was Ulster flyhalf, Ian Humphreys who had the perfect match with the boot as he slotted every kick and he also went over for his sides try as Ulster completed a comeback after Clermont appearad the better side early in the piece. The French side will now need to respond in a big way as they play host to Italian side, Aironi on Friday evening. Clermont will need to come away with a bonus point win to get back on track.

Aironi played its first match of the tournament in Viadana vs English powerhouses, the Leicester Tigers on Saturday. The English side, as expected, was too strong in completing a 28-12 victory but, crucially, Leicester were unable to collect a bonus point. The win sees the Tigers join Ulster at the top of the table but with the two sides meeting next week and Clermont hosting Aironi it is likely that either Ulster or Leicester will fall behind Clermont. Leicester´s inability to score four tries can be partly attributed to English international flyhalf, Toby Flood who has been unable to return to the form he showed last season. Argentine botn Italian international flyhalf, Luciano Orquera started against flood while another Argentine player who plays for Italy, Matías Agüero came on in the 46th minute of play. Los Pumas tighthead prop, Marcos Ayerza played the full match for Leicester in the same position while Argentine born Italian international tighthead prop, Martín Castrogiovanni came off the bench for the Tigers. Los Pumas winger, Horacio Agulla missed the match through injury.

Group 4 Standings

1 Leicester Tigers 4
2 Ulster 4
3 Clermont 1
1 Aironi 0

Aviva Premiership Champions, Saracens sit in first place of Group 5 after hosting and defeating Italian side Benetton Treviso 42-17 at Vicarage Road in London on Sunday. Saracens´ five try bonus point victory sees ther English champions claim first place in the standings. USA international fullback, Chris Wyles scored Saracens´ third try and was joined in the starting lineup by USA Eagles international secondrower, Hayden Smith. The English side also had Argentine born former Italian international tighthead prop, Carlos Nieto in the lineup. He came on as a secondhalf replacement. benteoon Treivso had Canadian born Italian international backrower, Robert Barbieri in the starting XV as well as Argentine hooker, Diego Vidal. Benetton Treviso had four Argentine players on the bench with Franco Sbaraglini, Ignacio Fernández Rouyet, Pedro Di Santo and Gonzalo Padro all selected. The pick of them being Gonzalo Padro who scored a try.

Behind Saracens sit Welsh region, the Ospreys who hosted and defeated French side, Biarritz on Saturday. Biarritz have been having a miserable season in the Top 14 and sit dead last in the competition due mainly to the sides many World Cup players being unavaliable in the early rounds of the competition. The team headed to Swansea looking to get back to form and the side, despite losing, certainly performed significantly better than it has done so far this season. Biarritz picked up a bonus point for losing 28-21 to the Welsh side. The first half of the match was forgettable with neither side able to do much at all with ball in hand. The Ospreys took a 6-3 lead into the interval. The match was vastly different in the secondhalf with Irish international winger, Tommy Bowe scoring for the Ospreys and former English international winger, Iuain Balshaw scoring two tries for Biarritz. The match, however, was won by goalkicking with former Welsh international flyhalf, Dan Biggar kicking one conversion and seven penalties. Argentine international outside centre, Marcelo Bosch played the full match for the French side in the 13 shirt and took on goalkicking duties as he kicked two penalties and a conversion. Bosch was joined by fellow Argentine Francisco Gómez Kodela who came on as a replacement in the 62nd minute to play prop. Pumas secondrower, Manuel Carizza missed the game through injury after breaking his hand in training last Monday. Canadian international backrower, Chauncey O´Toole did not play for the Ospreys.

Group 5 Standings

1 Saracens 5 
2 Ospreys 4
3 Biarritz 0
4 Benetton Treviso 0

This seasons most impressiev side in the Aviva Premiership has, without question, been the Harlequins who sit in first place after thus far being undefeated in the competition. The London based side played host to Irish province, Connacht on Friday at the Twickenham Stoop and continued to impress in picking up a 25-17 victory. Former All Blacks flyhalf, Nick Evans, kicked 20 points for the London based side who were outscored two tries to one by theit Irish opponents. Argentine international secondrower, Tomás Vallejos Cinalli played 66 minutes of the match for the Harlequins and the one time capped Argentine flyhalf, Benjamin Urdapilleta played 46 minutes after both came on as first half replacements as the Quins suffered injury problems.

Meanwhile in Southwestern France, Toulouse played host to English side Gloucester on Sunday. The French powerhouses fielded a second-string side with a host of first choice players missing. The French side were, nevertheless, able to pull off a win as they fought back from a deficit to claim a 21-17 win thanks to a late try to former French international fullback, Clement Poitrenaud. Argentine international scrumhalf, Nicolás Vergallo was on the bench for Toulouse with Australian international, Luke Burgess getting his first start for the club. Vergallo´s Pumas teammate, Patricio Albacete missed the match as he continues to recover from an ankle injury. The win puts Toulouse top of the table together with the Harlequins. The teams will both have away matches next weekend with Toulouse expecting a big win vs Connacht while the all-English clash looms as a crunch match.

Group 6 Standings

1 Toulouse 4
2  Harlequins 4
3 Gloucester 0
4 Connacht 0

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