Heineken Cup Week 1: The Good, the Bad and the Referees

Good week
Flowers of Scotland
 
Scotland had a pretty grim RWC, and the drip-drip of dispiriting news, which seems to have been going on forever, continued with last weeks revelation that the man who will anchor the Jock pack for the next decade, Richie Gray, was flying the coop. And not to Toulon, Clermont or even Narbonne – to Sale Sharks! To team up with renowned team players like Mushy and Powell-y. But this weekend showed a chink of light in the gloom. On Saturday, Embra scored a well-earned win in Reading. London Irish might be awful, but any away win deserves a clap on the back in this competition. Then yesterday, Glasgow soaked up all the “running rugby” Bath could throw at them and struck for a last-minute sucker punch. The Scots are 2 for 2, and Edinburgh have a chance to go 2/2 themselves when Racing Metro come to town at the weekend. Long may it last.
 
Onwards and upwards

 

Wales, in contrast to Scotland, had an excellent RWC with talented young players who showed maturity that seemed out of reach for Mike Philips and Gav the elder statesmen of the side. Ospreys are top of the TripleALeague, and the good news seems set to last. And it continued this weekend, with a full house from our Welsh friends. Cardiff had the stand-out result of the weekend, winning in Paris and already looking like they have a firm stranglehold on Pool 2. Ospreys and the Scarlets also saw off French opposition, both showing admirable cojones when the pressure was put on in the second half.
23 Man Rugby

 
Deccie has yet to embrace the concept, but the rules of rugby these days allow shrewd coaches to replace players who aren’t injured with other players. During the game! I know – revolutionary. The best coaches, however, are completely au fait with the idea, and have responded in a rational fashion – pick 8 (or 7) men on the bench who you can tactically introduce in an attempt to win matches. You are often left with the (somewhat contradictory) idea that the correct XV was picked, but the substitutes made the difference. Joe Schmidt is an expert in this regard. He picked a pack (and a 9) to meet the physical intensity of Montpellier head-on. After 55 minutes, Leinster were teetering at 16-6, but Joe could introduce players better suited to tiring opponents such as Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings and Eoin Reddan. The use of the bench was the key factor in Leinster’s recovery.

Bad Week

Homer Owens and Blind Dave Pearson

It’s an unfortunate state of affairs that so many high profile rugby matches are decided by the man in the middle.  As @sarahlennon08 tweeted, ‘After watching Owens and Pearson today, I have decided I don’t understand the laws of rugby.’  It felt a bit that way to us, too.  The last minute penalty for Leinster where the Montpellier chap was clearly first into the tackle zone, the scrum penalties when Munster were scrummaging at 90 degrees to the tryline, the blatant crooked feeds, O’Mahony playing the ball while his legs were in mid air in a maul, the same fellow being penalised at the lineout for contesting possesion, the stopping of the Saints maul in full flow… we were left saying ‘Huh?’  more than once.

Northampton Saints

They were a two minutes from a famous victory, and putting themselves in complete control of the pool, and as bad as Owens was, Saints will be kicking themselves.  Ryan Lamb lost his bottle kicking from hand, and needed to look for further territory.  Artemyev showed why Leinster were willing to let him go (he has feet for hands) and Northampton were fiddling around in a maul in their own half when they should have just been kicking downtown in the last minute of the game.  Saints have the pack to win the tournament, but have been on the wrong end of too many close matches.  They need to win a big one like this to be genuine contenders, but we think they’re still favourites to top the group.

Clermont Fly Halves

Two 10s, and both as flaky as each other.  Brock James has never recovered from that night in the RDS and Skrela plays like a man who is trying to remember if he left the iron on at home too often for a player at an elite club.  Between them, they let Ulster back into a game in which they should have been dead and buried.  Like Saints, Clermont have a pack to live with anyone, but their woes on the road will continue with these two fly-halves.  Morgan Parra at 10, anyone?

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