Sunday, January 19, 2014

Heineken Cup Americas Exports- Round Six Wrap

Photo London24: Chris Wyles scored
against Connacht on Saturday
The group stage of the 2013-2014 Heineken Cup competition was played over the weekend and revealed that the strength of European rugby continues to be centered in England, France and Ireland. The final eight teams in contention for the title come from the three nations with Italy, Scotland and Wales far behind and in some instances appearing to be in over their heads. Such is the power struggle in European rugby circles that the controversial make up of the tournament remains unresolved and no tournament for beyond this season has been agreed upon by all participants. The need for quality players requires players from abroad to take to the field and the region of the Americas was again significantly represented. 

Pool 1
Leinster 36-3 Ospreys
Irish province Leinster confirmed itself as the pool winners on Friday with a convincing win over Welsh region the Ospreys in Dublin. Part of the reason for the one sided scoreline was the loss of Ian Evans to a red card in the opening quarter. Leinster scored two penalty tries in the match while Ospreys players appeared to have other things on their minds - possibly the future of the team and the structure of Welsh rugby. Canadian winger Jeff Hassler started for the Ospreys as did back-rower Tyler Ardron.

Northampton 13-3 Castres
Last season´s Aviva Premiership finalists the Northampton Saints finished in second place of the pool after completing a ten point win over the 2013 Top 14 champions, Castres on Friday. The side should, in theory, be in the final eight due to it having defeated Leinster on the road. But with the club being unable to defeat Castres in round one the club ultimately fell short. The final round match between the sides featured just one try and saw USA Eagles star Samu Manoa playing number 8. 

1 Leinster 22
2 Northampton 17
3 Castres 9
4 Ospreys 5

Pool 2
Glasgow 8-15 Toulon
Not for the first time this season Toulon has failed to score a try when it was expected to have scored many.The lack of tries will quickly be forgotten however as Toulon can now prepare for a home Quarter Final in the Heineken Cup. The Scottish side was giving its test players game time ahead of the Six Nations which meant that there was no place for the likes of Gabriel Ascárate and DTH van der Merwe. Toulon had a strong side but Pumas captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe remains sidelined through injury. 

Cardiff 13-19 Exeter
With the exception of Toulon Pool 2 was a very evenly fought group with the three other sides all defeating each other once each. The exception is that the Blues defeated Toulon at home to therefore finish second place. The Cardiff Blues had the chance to make up for the opening round defeat in Exeter but failed to do so as the team from the West Country came out narrow winners to avoid bottom spot in the group.

1 Toulon 24
2 Cardiff 14
3 Exeter 12
4 Glasgow 11

Pool 3
Zebre 6-16 Toulouse
The currrent Toulouse iside has struggled in the Top 14 all season. So much so that the most successful side in the history of French and European rugby is yet to win a French fixture on the road. The club has won away in the Heienken Cup with wins in London and Galway and this continued on Saturday with a ten point win in Parma. The win demonstrated how poor the current Toulouse side is as it would have been expected to have won the match by 30 or more points but, instead, it won by scoring just a single try. A number of players are not what they once were and some top players such as Patricio Albacete were missing. Zebre fielded a number of Italian regulars including the Argentina-Italian 10-12 combination of Luciano Orquera and Gonzalo Garcia. USA eligible prop Dave Ryan was also involved as a replacement.

Saracens 64-6 Connacht
An eleven tries to nil thrashing showcased everything that is wrong with the Heineken Cup as a Rabo Direct Pro 12 side that has no right to be playing ahead of the likes of Bath, the London Wasps, Stade Français and Bordeaux-Begles was humiliated on Saturday. So poor was the Irish side that Alex Goode was made to look like Willie Le Roux. One of the tries was scored by USA fullback Chris Wyles who was a replacement. The result means that Saracens finish the group stage as the second best pool runner-up which translates into a Quarter Final against Ulster in Belfast. With uncertainty over the Heineken Cup it is quite possible that Saturday´s match could be the final one for Connacht in the European elite level competition.

1 Toulouse 23
2 Saracens 20
3 Connacht 13
4 Zebre 0

Pool 4
Clermont Auvergne 28-3 Racing Métro
The all-French clash on Sunday saw the visiting Racing Métro side fail to spark. Part of the reason was the makeshift nature of the lineup which saw a number of fringe players starting with regulars missing altogether. Clermont Auvergne was nonetheless also not fielding its best possible lineup but won the match by scoring four tries to zero. Starting in the second-row was Canadian enforcer Jamie Cudmore who, at 35, continues to hold down a starting position in one of the worlds premier teams. Argentina´s Juan Martín Hernández played fly half but lasted just 24 minutes before being replaced. Juan Imhoff was also involved playing on the right wing. 

Scarlets 20-22 Harlequins 
In terms of the Heineken Cup Sunday´s match in western Wales was a dead rubber as neither the Scarlets nor the Harlequins could qualify for the Quarter Finals. The Quins though had the opportunity to finish as a high enough ranked group runner-up to qualify for the Quarter Finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup. The London based side will now play in a Paris v London match against Stade Français. 

1 Clermont
2 Harlequins
3 Scarlets
4 Racing Métro

Pool 5
Leicester 19-22 Ulster
Irish rugby supporters can head into the Six Nations in confidence following the away victory on Saturday in which North Irish province Ulster defeated the English champions the Leicester Tigers. The win sees the province finish undefeated to secure a home Quarter Final against the bottom qualifier, Saracens. Leicester will also be in the Quarter Finals and will have to play away from home. The match at Welford Road on Saturday featured two loosehead props from the Western Hemisphere. Marcos Ayerza started for Leicester and out played former All Black John Afoa while Callum Black started for Ulster. Black remains uncapped and could still represent his home country of the USA.

Montpellier 24-6 Treviso 
A ded rubber between two eliminated sides saw the French side win for the second time in the pool phase. The season was nonetheless a failure for Montpellier which with a much better list of players was a Quarter Finalist last season. Second choice Argentine tighthead prop Maximilano Bustos was on the bench for Montpellier while Benetton Treviso had three Argentine players capped by Italy with Ignacio Fernández Rouyet and Franco Sbaraglini starting in the front-row and fly half Alberto di Bernardo being on the bench.

1 Ulster 26
2 Leicester 21
3 Montpellier 11
4 Treviso 0

Pool 6
Munster 38-6 Edinburgh
Munster booked top spot of Pool 6 with a comprehensive thrashing of Edinburgh on Sunday. The result confirmed the Irish province as group winners while it saw Edinburgh drop to third which means it will not be involved in the Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter Finals. The Scottish side featured two Argentine players who were both on the bench in the form of former Pumas back-rower Tomás Leonardí and uncapped centre Joaquín Domínguez

Perpignan 18-36 Gloucester
As in all other pool matches this weekend the Perpignan v Gloucester fixture took place at the same time as the pool´s other match. The home side was not interested in the game and as such fielded a host of unfamiliar faces. The team was also not playing to its potential as some reckless tackling allowed Gloucester to complete a convincing win in France.

1 Munster 23
2 Gloucester 14
3 Edinburgh 12
4 Perpignan 7

Quarter Finals
1 Ulster v Saracens
2 Clermont v Leicester
3 Toulon v Leinster
4 Munster v Toulouse
Venues tba

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