Sunday, December 16, 2012

Heineken Cup - Round 4 Wrap

Pool 1
Edinburgh 3-15 Racing Métro
Racing Métro won without playing well but the real story was Edinburgh as the home side was simply poor in attack and had nothing to offer at all. The horrors of Scottish rugby at present were highly visible on Friday night as Racing Métro defeated Edinburgh at Murrayfield. Scotland is currently without a coach and the national team has been unable to score tries consistently. The problems are a Scottish problem in general as they stretch beyond the national team. After four rounds of the Heineken Cup Edinburgh has not scored a try. Incredibly the same team was a Semi Finalist, just seven months ago, of the 2011-2012 season. Racing Métro looked best in the final stages of the match when starting flyhalf Olly Barkley was replaced by Juan Martín Hernández. Los Pumas backrower Alvaro Galindo and prop Juan Pablo Orlandi were both also secondhalf replacements for the French club. A fourth Puma, Juan Imhoff started on the left wing.

Saracens 19-13 Munster
A home win for Saracens puts the London based team in the lead of Pool 1. Saracens needs to win its remaining matches to finish top of the pool however and this includes a visit to France to face Racing Métro. The win was not entirely satisfying as Munster picked up a bonus point and this could prove vital. USA born Irish International Ronan O´Gara started for Munster at flyhalf while USA Eagles fullback Chris Wyles was on the bench for Saracens. Wyles played the final quarter.

Pool 1 Standings
Saracens 14
Racing Métro 12
Munster 11
Edinburgh 0

Pool 2
Ospreys 17-6 Toulouse
In what was quite possibly the worst Toulouse performance in years, the Welsh Region celebrated a superb victory at Liberty Stadium in Swansea. Toulouse played dreadful rugby which enabled an injury  depleted Ospreys team to not only win but deny the French giants a bonus points. Argentina´s Patricio Albacete was one of the better players in a poor team. He played the full 80 minutes in the secondrow. Thre result means Toulouse no longer lead the group.

Leicester Tigers 13-14 Benetton Treviso
Toulouse were almost saved by, of all teams, Benetton Treviso. The Italian side has been quite competitive in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 but unable to do well in the Heineken Cup. It was leading English giants, Leicester well late into the match and looking like winning. It took a penalty try to change the match as Leicester won by one point to rub salt in Toulouse´s wound. The Leicester v Toulouse match will now be key to determining this group. Both the Ospreys and Toulouse should get five points against the Italians. Pumas prop Marcos Ayerza started for Leicester and the Argentine-Italian frontrower Martín Castrogiovanni was a replacement. Treviso has Alberto de Bernardo at flyhalf, anptehr from Argentina. He is looking increasingly like being a real contender to be Italy´s flyhalf in the Six Nations. Two others from Argentina were on the bench - Ignacio Fernández-Rouyet and Franco Sbaraglini. 

Pool 2 Standings
Leicester 14 
Toulouse 13
Ospreys 9 
Treviso 1

Pool 3
Biarritz 17-0 Connacht
Last weekends loss in Galway was tough for Biarritz. So tough, that the coaches were fired. Such a loss is, indeed, unthinkable given the playing resources of the two teams. The French club´s home win means Biarritz can still qualify for the Quarter Finals depending on the outcome of other pools. Pumas prop Francisco Gómez Kodela started the match at tighthead while centre Marcelo Bosch was on the bench.

Harlequins 52-5 Zebre
Reigning English champions, the Harlequins will be in the Quarter Finals after completing back-to-back bonus point victories over Italian side Zebre. Biarritz´s shock loss last weekend against Connacht means the gap is too big between the clubs. the seven tries to one performance places further doubts over Zebre´s participation in the competition. The two Italian and Scottish teams are not only winless but are only participating due to their automatic qualification. The likes of Perpignan, Stade Français, Bath and Gloucester certainly have strong reasons to believe they are victims of the system. Zebre´s team featured the Argentine-Italian Luciano Orquera at flyhalf and Gonzalo Garcia on the bench. 

Pool 3 Standings
Harlequins 19
Biarritz 9
Connacht 8 
Zebre 0

Pool 4 
Ulster 9-10 Northampton Saints
Ulster have finally lost a match, but only just. The Northern Irish side is undefeated in this seasons Rabo Direct Pro 12 and had also been dominating Pool 4 until Saturday. Northampton´s lackluster performance seven days earlier was put to bed as the Saints win now gives the side a good chance of making the Quarter Finals. It´s two remaining matches will be against Castres and the Glasgow Warriors. The match featured two players from the USA with Samu Manoa starting in the secondrow for Northampton and Callum Black being a 68th minute frontrow replacement for Ulster.

Castres 10-8 Glasgow Warriors
There will be no Scottish side in the Quarter Finals as both Edinburgh and the Glasgow Warriors are the bottom of their pools. There will also be no Italians and it is also doubtful that there will be any Welsh regions in the final eight. Castres remain in contention but the most likely scenario is that Ulster will win while neither Castres nor Northampton will advance. Castres´s win over Glasgow looked unlikely during the secondhalf and it took a late try in the 73rd minute to turn the match. Glasgow fielded a Canadian and an American with DTH van der Merwe starting on the left wing and Tommy Seymour on the right.

Pool 4 Standings
Ulster 15
Castres 12
Northampton 10
Glasgow 2

Pool 5
Leinster 21-28 Clermont Auvergne
The defending champions of the Heineken Cup, Leinster suffered a rare home loss against Clermont Auvergne, the team that must now be considered favorites for the title. Of all the teams in the competition it would be possible to suggest that a Clermont v Toulon final may well be on the cards. Leinster were outplayed with the central French side in firm control. It took a late try for Leinster to escape with a bonus point but the result means that Leinster are highly unlikely ton win the pool. It´s remaining matches against the Exeter Chiefs and the Scarlets will be vital. If it does not win both it will have no chance of making the Quarter Finals. The match featured the Canadian enforcer, Jamie Cudmore who started in the secondrow for Clermont.

Exeter Chiefs 30-20 Scarlets
This pool will go down to the wire. Exeter´s two wins over the Scarlets means that it has as much chance as Leinster of making the Quarter Finals. It is a touigh assignment however as it is an away match against Clermont followed by a  home match against Leinster. Exeter´s win on Saturday featured  an 80 minute performance from Pumas winger Gonzalo Camacho. Pumas secondrower Tomás Vallejos Cinalli featured for the Scarlets as a secondhalf replacement while Argentine flyhalf Ignacio Mieres was unused from the bench by Exeter. 

Pool 5 Standings
Clermont 18
Leinster 10
Exeter 9
Scarlets 2

Pool 6

Montpellier 34-21 Cardiff Blues
A bonus point home win for Montpellier keeps the French club well in the hunt for a place in the Quarter Finals. Montpellier now has a very realistic chance of making a first ever appearance in the play-off´s. Its two remaining remaining matches can be won as Montpellier has as away match against the Sale Sharks and a home game against Toulon. It´s two wins over the Cardiff Blues were without a number of regular first choice players. François Trinh-Duc and Lucas González Amorosino all missed both matches while a host of others only played in one of the two games. One player who played in both was Santi Fernández with the Pumas centre playing both matches at flyhalf. Juan Figallo has been Argentina´s leading tighthead prop since August 2011 but has been used by Montpellier as the clubs first choice loosehead. This weekend,  however, he started at tighthead. The one time capped Martín Bustos Moyano started at fullback and had a solid match, kicking 16 points.

Toulon 62-0 Sale Sharks
After a slow start Toulon ran wild to humiliate the only team from Northern England playing at the elite level. it is a majopr concern ahead of England 2015. Sale won the then called Guinness Premiership in 2006 with a team packed with world class players from England, France, Argentina and elsewhere  but the clubs is entirely different now. Former captain, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe left for Toulon and the team has so much depth that they are able to rotate players. This week Fernández Lobbe, Jonny Wilkinson and others were on the bench. Corcho Fernández Lobbe came off the bench for the final ten minutes.

Pool 6 Standings
Toulon 18
Montpellier 13
Sale Sharks 4
Cardiff Blues 1

* Currently Qualifying for Quarter Finals

Edinburgh v Racing Métro

Ospreys v Toulouse

Leinster v Clermont

Biarritz v Connacht

Montpellier v Cardiff Blues

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