Monday, January 16, 2012

Heineken Cup Round 5 Wrap

Martín Bustos Moyano
The Quarter Finals picture is far clearer now after the fifth of six rounds of pool play was completed this past weekend in the Heineken Cup. The best sides from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales were all on show and the script was not entirely followed with a number of upsets which saw the financial powerhouses of Racing Métro lose at home to Edinburgh and Ulster took the Leicester Tigers to the cleaners. These two results took place on Friday as two of three matches to open the weekend. Ulster´s massive win was only a shadow of group rivals, Clermont who smashed a number of records in humiliating Aironi. The round featured a large contingent of players from the Americas with Argentina, Canada, the United States of America and Uruguay all having international players on show. Fans from the Southern Hemisphere had plenty of reason to follow the action as many of Los Pumas´ finest were playing and impressing enough to suggest that The Rugby Championship is going to have a competitive side from South America.

Racing Métro 24-27 Edinburgh
The Scot´s continue on target for an unlikely place in the Quarter Finals thanks to two late kicks which saw Edinburgh win late after the Parisians had been leading 24-21 with less than ten minutes remaining. Greig Laidlaw landed a penalty in the 72nd minute and Phil Godman a drop in the final minute to snatch a great win for Edinburgh. Estebean Lozada was unused from the bench for the Scot´s while Racing Métro had three Pumas starting. Juan Imhoff had an impressive match at fullback as he again was able to find holes in the defence and he found his way to the line to score a try. He played the full 80 minutes and is looking like being a red-hot contender for the rookie of the year award in the Top 14. It will be very hard for both Benjamin Fall and Mirco Bergamasco to remove Imhoff from the team as the speedster looks to have cemented himself not only in the starting lineup but as the teams best attacking weapon. Juan Martín Hernández joined Imhoff in the starting lineup and played 50 minutes at flyhalf before being replaced. During which time, El Mago slotted two conversions. Juan Orlandi started at tighthead prop but was largely ineffective and lazy defence led to Ross Rennie running in for Edinburgh´s first try. Should Orlandi hope to return to Los Pumas he will need to improve. Alvaro Galindo did not feature for the Parisians.

Ospreys 44-17 Benetton Treviso
In the Rabo Direct Pro 12 the Ospreys have not been so impressive recently while Benetton Treviso continue to push strong teams far and claim a number of scalps. This set up an interesting match in Swansea, Wales on Friday evening but the homeside found its feet to notch up an impressive bonus point victory. The Italians had a number of Argentine players on show with Córdoba´s Gonzalo Padro scoring one of the sides two tries. Franco Sbaraglini also started for Benetton Treviso while Augusto Allori came on in the 45th minute of the match but Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet was not used from the bench.

Ulster 41-7 Leicester Tigers
A famous victory for the Northern Irish side occured in Friday´s final match. The unthinkable bonus point victory has cast major doubt over who will win the group which also includes Clermont and Aironi. South African Ruan Pienaar scored 21 points to underline the extent of how dubious the new Irish rulling is on imported players. He has signed a contract extension with the province but it means other Irish sides cannot contract players in his position. Horacio Agulla and Marcos Ayerza played the full match for Leicester with Agulla on the right wing and Ayerza at loosehead prop. Agulla´s colleague, Alesana Tuilagi had a poor match and was guilty of basic defensive errors which allowed Ulster to score its two first tries. From there the moutain was unclimbable. Italy´s Argentina born tighthead prop, Martín Castrogiovanni started alongside Ayerza in the frontrow. The Tigers now need to win maximum points vs Aironi next week and hope that the Clermont vs Ulster match works out well for them.

Montpellier 24-22 Bath
After being unlucky in drawing two matches in earlier rounds, Montpellier have now got a win and put Bath at the bottom of the standings in Group three. Despite being far from full strength the French side got the win with Argentine winger Martín Bustos Moyano converting the teams late try which gave them the win. Bustos Moyano was a 67th minute replacement. Santiago Fernández started the match at flyhalf and Maximiliano Bustos started at tighthead prop. Neither Montpellier nor Bath can make the knock-out stages as both are too far behind Leinster to win the group. Either side, however, could potentially finish second ahead of the Glasgow Warriors to book a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter Finals.

London Irish 15-22 Cardiff Blues
The Cardiff Blues could well be one of the two best runners-up after the Welsh region completed a vital away victory over the London Irish Exiles on Saturday. It means the Blues and Edinburgh are tied at top of the table. The runner-up appears to be the most likely to qualify for the Quarter Finals alongside the loser of Clermont vs Ulster next weekend but it could very well be the Harlequins. Canada´s Jebb Sinclair missed the match due to injury.

Scarlets 17-29 Northampton Saints 
Saturday´s other Welsh vs English clash was a reverse with the Saints making the Scarlets pay as the Llanelli based side has now been eliminated from Quarter Finals contention. Both teams will be very disappointed with their campaigns as they would have been targetting a Quarter Final through, in the least, finishing second behind Munster. USA Eagles secondrower Samu Manoa started for Northampton and played the full 80 minutes.
Aironi 0-82 Clermont
Clermont´s humiliation of Aironi was a record Heineken Cup win for the French side and a record loss for the Italians. Clermont needed a bonus point win to give themselves every chance of finishing above the Leicester Tigers and potentially Ulster too. The twelve try massacre effectively means Leicester have been eliminated as they now need to not only defeat Aironi and claim a bonus point but also need Ulster to defeat Clermont in Clermont, a massive task. Canada´s Jamie Cudmore started in the secondrow for Clermont and Argentine born Italian centre, Gonzalo Canale started in the midfield. Aironi fielded a weaker than usual side with Luciano Orquera, amongst others, being rested.

Munster 26-10 Castres
Munster are in control of Group One and will host a Quarter Final. The Irish provinces lead puts the side on 20 points with one game still to play. Castres, in contrast, will be happy to be finishing its Heineken Cup matches so that it can return to the Top 14 Orange and try to keep its place in the top four. USA born Irish international flyhalf Ronan O´Gara kicked four penalties and two conversions for Munster while Castres had Uruguay´s Rodrigo Capó Ortega in the starting lineup as he packed down in the secondrow.

Toulouse 24-3 Connacht
Toulouse are also likely to host a Quarter Final after completing a simple win vs Connacht at home on Saturday. The bonus point win puts Toulouse on 18 points and the side now need to defeat Gloucester next weekend to secure home advantage for the play-off´s. Argentine secondrower, Patricio Albacete is looking rock solid despite only returning from injury last weekend vs Lyon. He remains a contender for the Pumas captaincy with Felipe Contepomi now aged 34 and Juan Fernández Lobbe yet to play a match this season following his World Cup ending knee injury vs Scotland. Nicolás Vergallo again had to watch the action from the side lines as Toulouse are prefering Australian Luke Burgess and Frenchman, Jean-Marc Doussain.

Harlequins 20-14 Gloucester
The Quins remain in contention for a Quarter Finals birth after completing a come fron behind win over Gloucester in Saturday´s final match. When Argentine secondrower, Tomas Vallejos Cinalli entered the field in the 57th minute Gloucester were winning 14-13. The win puts the Quins on 16 points and should they win their final match vs lowly Connacht they will advance to the final eight as one of the two best runners-up from the group stage. Former Pumas hooker Matias Corteze did not play for Gloucester nor did the one time capped centre Benjamin Urdapilleta.

Glasgow Warriors 16-23 Leinster
Glasgow have been eliminated following the teams home loss to group three leaders, Leinster. The Scottish side came close as the scores were tied at 16-16 in the 62nd minute. Leinster scored with eleven minutes left to seal top spot of the group and a place in the final eight. Former Argentine international winger, Federico Martín Aramburu did not play for the Warriors but the USA´s Tommy Seymour did as he started on the right wing. Depending on how Glasgow perform vs Bath next weekend the team could find itself in the Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter Finals.

Saracens 20-16 Biarritz
The weekends final match on Sunday saw Saracens victorious to virtually confirm their place in the final eight. The English Champions are all but through to the Quarter Finals after their win over Biarritz puts then five points clear of both the Ospreys and Biarritz. It was a nail-bitter that went down to the wire with Saracens leading 17-16 with ten minutes left. USA Eagles fullback, Chris Wyles started for Saracens again on the left wing and played the full 80 minutes. Argentine-Italian prop, Carlos Nieto also started for the English side. Biarritz had four Argentine players with Marcelo Bosch playing flyhalf and being joined by Francisco Gomez Kodela in the starting lineup. Pumas World Cup secondrower, Manuel Carizza came off the bench in the second half while Eusebio Guiñazú was unused from the bench.

Group Standings

Pool 1
1 Munster 20
2 Northampton Saints 12
3 Scarlets 11
4 Castres 6

Pool 2
1 Edinburgh 17
2 Cardiff Blues 17
3 London Irish 9
4 Racing Métro 8

Pool 3
1 Leinster 20
2 Glasgow Warriors 11
3 Montpellier 10
4 Bath 7

Pool 4
1 Ulster 19
2 Clermont Auvergne 16
3 Leicester Tigers 12
4 Aironi 0

Pool 5
1 Saracens 18
2 Ospreys 13
3 Biarritz 13
4 Benetton Treviso 6

Pool 6
1 Toulouse 18
2 Harlequins 16
3 Gloucester 10
4 Connacht 2

Racing Métro vs Edinburgh

Ulster vs Leicester Tigers
Scarlets vs Northampton Saints

Aironi vs Clermont

Toulouse vs Connacht

Saracens vs Biarritz

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