Europe’s done and dusted for another season and – blimey! – Leinster are champions again. It wasn’t quite the epic journey, or the emotional wringer of a final, of last year, but anyone who thinks Leinster had it easy would do well to name another team in Europe who could beat Clermont in their (sort of) own patch. Equally, minds should be cast back to the very first week when Leinster had to come from 16-6 down against a Ouedraogo-inspired Montpellier. That said, a few traditional heavy hitters were either injury afflicted (Leicester), tired and old (Toulouse), rebuilding (Munster) or just plain awful (Biarritz). We would welcome them back as forces in next year’s tourney.
Without further ado, let’s roll out the Heineken Cup Cordites:
David Brent Award for Networking: Shaun Edwards. When the defence-inventing messiah was applying for jobs back in October, he had his beady eye, pugilist’s nose and stern mouth fixed on the Boshiership. No surprise then that his HEC preview for the Grauniad had no fewer than six (six!) English teams in the knock-out stages – Leicester, Northampton, Sarries, London Samoa, Quins and Ooooooooooooooooooohh Bath – lots of love, but no job, and it was back to Wales for the year until Reading came calling earlier this month.
Abraham Zapruder Award for Film: Sky Sports. Two of the best teams to watch in this years tournament were Embra and Racing Metro. Embra embraced an offloading and multi-phase HEC game while abandoning the league, and Racing Metro used the HEC to practise attacking moves. When the two clashed in front of three fans in Murrayfield, the results were fun – a rollicking 48-47 which featured comebacks from 24 points down and a completely fudged drop goal to lose it for Racing. Luckily, Sky had the cameras present … at Cardiff, where the Blues and London Samoa served up a 10 penalty and 2 try bosh-fest. Ooooooooooh!!
The Memento Award for Selective Memory: Gerry Thornley’s supplement of the 15 Games That Defined The Heineken Cup should have been entitled 15 Games That Gerry really enjoyed, or 15 Great Irish Provincial Wins. No mention of Stade v Leicester, Toulouse v Wasps or Munster v Wasps. And Munster v Saints this year, hugely exciting though it ws, hardly defined anything.
Funniest moment for non-English fans:
There’s Something About Mary Award for Hero Worship: Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’arcy. On Newstalk on Monday night Shane Horgan revealed that in the dressing room after the final, BOD and Dorce were showing him photos of themselves holding the Cup with Brad Thorn, like a pair of fanboys. They just really, really love Big Bad Brad. Bless.
The Emilio Estevez Brat Pack Award: Chris Ashton. After Rog’s heroics in Thomond, the Saints had a chance to put their season back on track at home to Llanelli. The Scarlets hit them for 3 first half tries and had Northampton rocking. However, just after the hour, the Saints had ground back some momentum and had a penalty to get within 9. Ryan Lamb strikes the post, and it rebounds back into Northampton hands. A couple of passes later Chris Ashton fumbles the ball … and walks away, leaving a huge gap in midfield for the onrushing speed merchants of the Scarlets. Thirty seconds later, it’s the bonus point and Saints are out.
The Haagen-Dasz Guilty Pleasure Award: Biarritz 21-18 Toulon. We hate an unambitious boshfest as much as anyone (except Barnesy obviously), but there was something oddly compelling about 16 fatties teeing the ball up for 2 of the best generals in the business – Dmitri Yachvili and Le Jonny. It wasn’t pretty, but then if every game was about the piano players, we wouldn’t get to sneer at league. [Note: we know this was in the Amlin, but we don't care].
Toto Schillachi Award for Fleeting Greatness: Rhys Priestland. Played like a dream in the World Cup, but like a drain ever since. Wobbly goal kicking, poor control and when presented with a huge chance to put Scarlets in charge of their group, he went into meltdown and they coughed up a home defeat to a patched up, if mentally resilient Munster team. Lions fly half? You must be joking.
Best Atmosphere: Ulster 41-7 Leicester. Palla’s first ever experience of the Ravenhill roar (Ireland A v Tonga doesn’t count), and he sure picked the right night. Ferris smashed Tuilagi, Trimble scored two in the corner and Ulster blew away injury-stricken Leicester in every facet of play. The rickety old stadium rocked from start to finish.
Player of the Tournament: Johnny Sexton. ‘I just let him play’, said Joe Schmidt. And boy did he do that. Dug Leinster out of a couple of tight spots too.
Team of the Tournament: Kearney; Matavanou, Rougerie, Fofana, Visser; Sexton, Pienaar; Healy, Ford, Afoa; Tuohy, O’Connell; Ferris, O’Brien, Talei.