Sunday, January 12, 2014

Heineken Cup Americas Exports- Round five Wrap

Pato Albacete featured on Sunday 
The penultimate round of the 2013-2014 Heineken Cup took place this weekend with twelve matches been spread over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The round provided strong indications of the likely teams for the Quarter Finals and like last season it appears conclusive that no teams from Italy, Scotland or Wales will be in the final eight. Exactly how many England are to have remains open to question but France and Ireland look set to have three sides with Clermont, Toulouse, Toulon, Leinster, Munster and Ulster all leading their pools. Like in earlier rounds there was a high number of players from the Americas involved as the last remaining IRB defined region to host a Rugby World Cup continues to contribute to global rugby.

Pool 1
Ospreys 17-29 Northampton
Pool 1 was unique this round due to both matches being played on Sunday. Only Welsh region the Ospreys out of the running it meant that one other side would likely be eliminated. Northampton needed a win and got it by scoring three tries to two in Swansea. The result is that the English side is in second position and on thirteen points which is fewer than other second placed sides Saracens and Leicester. The match featured players from Canada and the USA with Jeff Hassler starting on the right wing for the Ospreys and Samu Manoa playing number eight for the Northampton Saints.

Castres 22-29 Leinster
When Castres won the Top 14 title in 2013 it came as a great surprize to many as it being labeled David v Goliath with Toulon being heavy favorites. It meant that more attention and expectation was placed on the small south-western French club in the Heineken Cup but with Castres three notable opponents it was never going to be easy to advance. At home against Leinster on Sunday it appeared that the French champions had a win as Castres held a fourteen point lead. Leinster, though, fought back hard to come out on top and loom as the pool winner. Although many of Castres test players were involved a number of regulars were also rested. 

1 Leinster 17
2 Northampton 13
3 Castres 9 
4 Ospreys 5

Pool 2
Toulon 43-20 Cardiff
The continued expansion of rugby in France saw a strong crowd gather in Nice to see the 2013 champions host the Cardiff Blues. With England and Wales 2015 fast appraoching the RFU, Premier Rugby and the Aviva Premiership clubs would do well to learn a thing or two from the French about hosting and marketing matches outside of traditional areas. Toulon´s impressive second half performance saw the club confirm itself as the group winner and next week it will look to confirm a home Quarter Final when it faces the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland.

Exeter 10-15 Glasgow
Neither the Exeter Chiefs nor the Glasgow Warriors will play any part in the competition after next weekend which is unfortunate for the Scottish side considering it completed an away victory in England. But with both sides well placed in their respective competitions they will have plenty to play for in the Aviva Premiership and the Rabo Direct Pro 12. Glasgow´s players from the Americas did not play this weekend.

1 Toulon 20
2 Cardiff 13
3 Glasgow 10
4 Exeter 8

Pool 3
Connacht 20-3 Zebre
The uncertain future of the Heineken Cup was caused in no small part by the structural order in which teams qualify from Italy and the Celtic nations based on their nationality rather than ability. With their positions in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 not being used to determine Heineken Cup placings the result is over representation from the Rabo Direct Pro 12 and in the case of Connacht and Zebre it is two sides who are inferior to a number of English and French sides who are instead playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup. With both Zebre and Connacht in the same pool it only adds to the frustrations particularly when there are teams such as Racing Métro and Montpellier in far more difficult groups. The match featured Dave Ryan who remains eligible for the USA while three Argentine players who are caped by Italy also played. Luciano Orquera was fly half in a 10-12 combination with Gonzalo Garcia while Matias Aguero was on the bench.

Toulouse 21-11 Saracens
Although Toulouse has a reputation to uphold the reality is that this season the club lacks the usual strength with the team´s chemistry simply not being that of old. A number of starting players lack the skill level that the team is famous for and this has seen Toulouse lose every away fixture all season in the Top 14. The side has won away in the Heineken Cup this season thoguh including against Saracens at Wembley Stadium. The French side made it a double on Sunday by not only winning but also denying the London based side a bonus point. The consequence is that Toulouse command the pool now and are extremely unlikely to lose next round. Argentina´s Patricio Albacete was a starting second-rower for Toulouse while the USA´s Chris Wyles started in the mid-field for the visitors.

1 Toulouse 19
2 Saracens 15
3 Connacht 13
4 Zebre 0

Pool 4
Racing Métro 19-13 Scarlets
Many rugby sources were describing the outcome of this match as an upset with many pointing the fact out that it was another Rabo Direct Pro 12 victory over a Top 14 or Aviva Premiership team. The French side certainly had a list of impressive players but many have been in poor form or have recently returned from injury. Starting for the French side were two Pumas with Juan Imhoff playing left wing and Juan Martín Hernández starting at inside centre. Both played 80 minutes with Hernández landing a second half penalty goal. The win gave Scarlets encouragement but with Clermont winning away from home the following day the Welsh region was, like he Harlequins, eliminated.

Harlequins 13-16 Clermont
A poor first half display dominated by knock-ons and an inability to complete opportunities saw Clermont Auvergne behind on the scoresheet for the majority of the match. The central French side got it together after the interval to score two tries and show determination to hold off a late charge from the London based side. The win puts Clermont in a strong position ahead of its final round home match against Racing Métro. A home Quarter Final is now very likely. Starting for Clermont Auvergne was Canadian veteran Jamie Cudmore who formed a second-row combination with former Scottish international Nathan Hines. They have a combined age of 72.

1 Clermont 19 
2 Harlequins 12
3 Scarlets 10
4 Racing Métro 7

Pool 5
Ulster 27-16 Montpellier
French side Montpellier in effect threw the match by sending a team consisting of many reserves and fringe players to take on group leaders Ulster in Northern Ireland on Friday evening. Although Ulster was able to complete a win without too many complications the Irish province missed out on scoring a bonus point. Ulster thus sits top of the pool with two more points than the Leicester Tigers whom the Irish side will face next weekend. Callum Black from the USA was on the bench for Ulster while Puma Maximilano Bustos started at tighthead prop for the French side.

Benetton Treviso 19-34 Leicester Tigers
Midway through the match in Treviso it was the Italian side that held the lead. A strong first half from Benetton Treviso saw the Rabo Direct Pro 12 side leading the Aviva Premiership champions by 13-8. The lead was extended with a penalty to start the second half but thereafter the Tigers took control to return to England with five competition points. Starting in the front-row for Leicester was Marcos Ayerza who played seventy minutes. The Canadian-Italian Roberto Baribieri started for the home side while two Argentine-Italians were on the bench in the form of front-rowers Franco Sbaraglini and Pedro de Santo. Of them Barbieri will represent Italy in the 2014 Six Nations.

1 Ulster 22
2 Leicester 20
3 Montpellier 6
4 Treviso 0

Pool 6
Edinburgh 27-16 Perpignan
At the start of the campiagn Perpignan were considered a strong chance for a place in the Quarter Finals. The French side was considered likely to be the biggest threat to Munster but some lacklustre performances and the growing threat of relegation from the Top 14 has seen the Catalan side fail to deliver this season. Edinburgh, on the other hand, have no such dangers but has nonetheless struggled in the Rabo Direct Pro 12. The wins sees Edinburgh move into second position but off the pace for a chance of finishing as one of the top two runners-up. Former Puma Tomás Leonardí came off the bench in the final ten minutes for Edinburgh as did the uncapped centre from Buenos Aires Joaquín Domínguez.

Gloucester 7-20 Munster
A packed Kingsholm was not enough to see Gloucester complete a home victory over a top visiting side on Saturday. For Munster it sees the Irish province confirm that it will be the top side from the group and therefore play in the Quarter Finals. The Irish province´s remaining fixture will be a home match at Thomond Park against Edinburgh, giving the side a great opportunity to secure a home Quarter Final.

1 Munster 18
2 Edinburgh 12
3 Gloucester 9
4 Perpignan 7

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