Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heineken Cup - Quarter Finals Wrap

Clermont 36-14 Montpellier
Central France´s Clermont Auvergne look unstoppable and must surely be the odds on favorite to win the Heineken Cup Final in May. Standing in its way are two matches, starting with a Home Semi Final against Munster at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier. The prize for defeating Montpellier is, indeed, to play a Heineken Cup Semi Final in France and in its opponents city. With a capacity of around 15,000 more than the Stade Marcel Michelin, the Stade de la Mosson offers a bigger and more appropriate venue to host a key match. It continues the French tradition of taking European play-off matches to the countries largest venues. Last season Clermont played a Semi Final in Bordeaux and lost against Leinster. On that occassion the venues was packed as Montpellier will also be when Clermont take on Munster on April 27.

Clermont qualified for the Semi Final after starting slowly as Montpellier had the better of play in the openning 10-15 minutes. But with François Trinh-Duc leaving the field through injury Montpellier was never the same and Clermont showed all its strength to dominate the remainder of the match. The five tries to one win featured three Fijians scoring tries and impressive performances from a host of test players from France and abroad. Starting for Clermont was Canadian Jamie Cudmore who played in the secondrow and went up against Georgia´s most famous player, Mamuka Gordodze. Montpellier had four Pumas in the starting XV, all of whom are certain to pay for Argentina this year. Lucas González Amorosino played at fullback ad was joined in the backs by Santi Fernández who returned from a minor injury. In the frontrow Agustín Creevy was the starting hooker and was joined by the improving Maximilano Bustos who started at tighthead prop. Nahuel Lobo was also involved, on the bench for Montpellier.

Saracens 27-16 Ulster
In  a match moved to English rugby headquarters a less than impressive crowd watched the London based Saracens eliminated last years beaten finalists. The eleven point win could have been by a larger margin but a late try gave Ulster some credibility on the score sheet. Involved in the match were two USA players, one on the bench for either team. Chris Wyles covered the back three for Saracens while Callum Black was a frontrow replacement for Ulster. Both players came into the match as secondhalf replacements.

Harlequins 12-18 Munster
The first of two Sunday Quarter Finals was played in London with the Harlequins playing host to Irish province Munster at the Stoop. It was Ireland´s last chance of hope the host nation of the Heineken Cup Final had been nervous ahead of this match due to Leinster and Connacht being eliminated in the pool phase and Ulster losing against Saracens on Saturday. Munster, though ensured, Ireland wll be represented at least in the Semi Finals as it won a tryless match by six goals to four. Scoring all the points was USA born flyhalf Ronan O´Gara who was left out of the Irish squad for the later stages of the Six Nations campaign in which Ireland lost, amongst others, against Scotland and Italy.

Toulon 21-15 Leicester Tigers
The fourth Quarter Final increased the chances of having a new champion. In the history of the Heineken Cup none of Clermont Auvergne, Saracens or Touloun have won the competition. But now it is down to the three of them and Munster with one set to be the champion. It would appear that the most likely scneario is an all-French final as the skill of Clermont can, arguably, be matched only by that of Toulon who strangled Leicester into submission on Sunday.

Leicester started the match as the better side and with Toby Flood landing very difficult chances it appeared that Leicester was on course for victory. Toulon, though, recovered to have Jonny Wilkinson show exactly how good he still is as the former England ace kicked Toulon to victory. Wilkinson should be in line for selection for the Lions tour of Australia in June with him likely joining Owen Farrell and Jonny Sexton, should he opt to take part in the tour. Another English player based abroad who could play is Steffon Armitage with the former London Irish backrower impressing in a formiddable backrow that included Chris Masoe and Juan Martín Feránndez Lobbe. The Pumas captain had a very strong match justifying his high salary which is quite possibly the highest of all fowards in the Top 14. Fernández Lobbe was a part of a star-studded team featuring big name players from Australia, England, France, New Zealand and South Africa´s Bakkies Botha.

Leicester were far than happy with Botha who has been accused of intentionally injurying Argentina´s Marcos Ayerza in the Quarter Final. Ayerza started at loosehead prop and impressed, especially in the scrums as he won two early penalties against Carl Hayman. The extent of the injury to Ayerza is yet to be known but it is thought that his season is no over as he suffered a broken collar bone. He could potentially miss the start of The Rugby Championship and that being the case then Argentina will make some changes with Juan Figallo likely to move to loosehead prop and Maximilano Bustos to start at tighthead 

Clermont v Montpellier

Saracens v Ulster

Harlequins v Munster

Toulon v Leicester


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