Leinster are now portraying the traits of experienced cup teams. The ability to go away from home and perform for most of the eighty minutes and come away with the points, however the home side play
After two rounds of Heineken cup action and a productive weekend from an Irish point of view. Leinster Lions sit comfortably on top of Pool Four while Munster and Ulster re-ignited their challenge with home wins over Perpignan and Cardiff respectively.
Out west, Connacht inked their names into the next round of the Parker Pen Shield, with a controlled 47-29 win over French side Mont De Marsan.
Alan Solomons’ Ulster have scored a quarter of Northampton and Biarritz’s respective try count (four) in Pool six, but reaped an important 25-6 win over Cardiff under the Ravenhill lights on Friday night. In Limerick on Saturday afternoon, the touch paper of Alan Gaffney’s Munster career was finally set alight at Thomond, where the home side fumbled to a nine-point victory over plucky Perpignan.
With two rounds before Christmas and two after, the Heineken Cup has belched to a temporary hault with a Gallic flavour to four of the six pools. Beziers top Pool 1, and look likely to qualify with Leicester, who had a facile 63-21 win over Calvisano on Saturday. Despite their loss, Perpignan are perched ominously in second place in Munster’s pool, equal on points with the 2002 finalists, but outweighing them by ten tries to four. A disappointing statistic for followers of the Red Army, which should be rectified with back to back games with Italian outfit Viadana, who have already conceded 126 points. Bourgoin have bubbled to the top of Pool 3, a tight affair in which no clear winner looks apparent. Both Llanelli and Glasgow have dropped points already and the Sale Sharks are virtually down and out in last position, impotent against Glasgow on Friday, without star winger Jason Robinson.
Toulouse and Biarritz have 100% records in Pools 5 and 6, and will only be drawn back into a dogged scrap for qualification, if they lose on their travels to either London Irish, or in Biarritiz’s case, Ulster or Northampton. Matt Williams’ Leinster could be overtaken by Montferrand pre-Christmas in back to back games against the feared French side, but Bristol are still in the hunt in Pool 4. The Shoguns lost the try count two to three for the visit of Montferrand on Saturday afternoon, but four Contepomi penalties helped them to a battling 24-19 win.
Though, Zurich Premiership leaders Gloucester destroyed the hapless Viadana 80-28 in Italy, Leinster’s forty-one point victory over Swansea was as good a performance as there was this weekend and their best display this season. Their six-try tally adds greatly to their chances of progressing, and the performances of the back division throughout was a good sign, allied to their ever willing forwards. They must take into account that this was a woefully inept Swansea side who, despite containing a smattering of Lions, nine internationals and the promising Wallaby halfback, Sam Cordingley, were all at sea, bar a fifteen minute period at the beginning of the second half.
Leinster are now portraying the traits of experienced cup teams. The ability to go away from home and perform for most of the eighty minutes and come away with the points, however the home side play. This was a gear above their win over Bristol at Donnybrook last week. Tries from Aidan McCullen, Brian O’Driscoll (2) and Gordan D’Arcy (3), as fluent a runner as any of the top teams have, bounced their Pool count up to eight tries. Leinster have forwards that can do damage up front and their strengths stretch to their talented young benchmen. They can be confident of scoring opportunities against Montferrand, when they settle down to examine the video of Bristol versus Montferrand on Tuesday. Despite this, I think Leinster would suffer immeasurably if they had to do without the services of Brian O’Driscoll, Victor Costello and Malcolm O’Kelly. It is vital that they avoid injury because you sense that Matt Williams’ side can get better with every game, and if that holds true and the squad stays fit, Montferrand can be turned over, home and away.
Perpignan’s flight to Shannon touched down four hours before kick-off, yet they functioned well enough to score three tries, all from attacking ball lost by Munster in the French visitors’ half. In other words, the Catalans’ scored three tries they should not have. It seemed that for every two steps the home side took forward, the visitors came back, albeit losing their discipline and presenting referee Tony Spreadbury with no option other than to send three to the sin-bin. January in a chill and partisan Stade Aime Giral will be an altogether tougher proposition for Munster.
Already the competition is alienating the Welsh and the Scottish. Neath, the Welsh side with a slight chance of qualifying, having drawn with Leicester and lost narrowly to Beizers away, can beat the French side at home and rely on four points from their two forthcoming fixtures against bruised Calvisano. The Welsh All-Blacks are two tries down on table toppers Beziers, but have a realistic chance. Otherwise it is looking like the axis of England-France and Ireland will hold firm.
Ulster have their work cut out in Pool 6. As Leinster rely on the creative talent of Brian O’Driscoll; so too do Alan Solomons’ side rely on the boot of David Humphreys. The Irish international scored twenty in his side’s 25-6 win over Cardiff, and is currently carrying a slight injury. They must apply the kid gloves and nurse the Dungannon man, so as to be competitive against Biarritz.