Clean sweep means Irish eyes are left smiling after an almost perfect day
Munster and Leinster win ugly and have much room to improve
Leinster’s man of the match Jimmy Gopperth goes past Antonie Claassen of Castres during the game in the RDS. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Heineken don’t do Saturdays, but the Cup provided a four-from-four return last Saturday. As the quartet of Irish provinces won within a seven-hour period, there wasn’t an English or French winner in sight, and the latter despite having four teams in action. You gotta love it.
All four Irish sides have won on the same European weekend before, namely on the final round of pool games last January, albeit those victories were scattered over three days. Not that Saturday’s foursome were all perfect performances, as Connacht, Leinster and Munster in that order confirmed favouritism with varying degrees of discomfiture, whereas Ulster were probably producing the result of the weekend and maybe the tournament so far by becoming the first side to down the Top 14 joint leaders Montpellier in their own city this season, and in three Heineken Cup pool campaigns.
Munster and Leinster, by contrast, each steadily built up 9-0 home leads before allowing Gloucester and Castres into the game with seven-pointers before eventually pulling through without either making a convincing case, as yet, that they are the prime contenders of recent vintage.
“Sometimes you have to win a bit ugly,” said Rob Penney after giving credit to Gloucester as a defensively well organised and proud Premiershp side. “That’s the nature of the competition. If we hadn’t have won tonight, this room would be asking very different questions. I’m just proud the boys managed to work their way through some challenges tonight. A very challenging week last week and to come through with a result was a great reward for them.”
Yesterday’s results in their respective pools went to form, with Perpignan recovering from a 7-3 half-time deficit at home to Edinburgh with four second-half tries for a bonus point win, and Northampton coming up one try short in a 27-16 home win at home to the Ospreys.
This leaves each team in Pool Six with a home win apiece, and Perpignan ahead of Munster by two bonus points to one. In other words, the group is wide open, prior to Munster hosting Perpignan at brunchtime on Sunday December 8th in the first of their back-to-back engagements with the Catalans.
The anxiousness in Munster’s display once Gloucester came back to within a score was palpable. “The reason they were anxious is because the expectations are so high. This team is riding on the shoulders of previous teams that have had experience and done great things and this team is trying to emulate that. Sometimes if we have a performance like last week they’re just so desperate to try and rectify that, that the mind starts drifting into areas which can be not conducive to allowing them to play.”
“Hopefully this result will just give them that much more confidence and resolve to say ‘yeah, we’re a good side, we can compete now and let’s press on’. It’s a new team. It’s a new campaign. Even though last year’s team did a great job, this is not the same team.”
Back-to-Back bruisers in the Heineken Cup inevitably leave their physical imprint, and both Donnacha Ryan and Denis Hurley both hobbled off, the former with a knee injury which will require 48 hours to full assess, the latter with a knee medial ligament strain that looks like keeping him out for a week or two.