Flawed bonus point system only issue on opening weekend
Tries galore in timely advert for the Heineken Cup
Greig Laidlaw (9) of Edinburgh celebrates with Tim Visser (left), Wicus Blaauw and Jack Cuthbert after that surprising defeat of Munster at Murrayfield on Saturday. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
The ERC, under siege from all quarters, must have heaved a huge, collective sigh of relief. At last some rugby, and the Heineken Cup needed to do its talking where it is at its most erudite, on pitches across a dozen venues and half a dozen countries as reminder of the tournament’s value.
The first round of this season’s competition had a little something for pretty much everybody.
On a weekend which matched last season’s opening round tally of 52 tries, at an average of over four per game, and saw 552 points scored, just eight shy of the first round total 12 months ago, it could almost have been made to order.
Although it was threatening to be a bad weekend for the Premiership clubs, providing plenty of schadenfreude for the Celts and Italians, ultimately Gloucester’s late rally at home to Perpignan and Exeter’s first-half dissection of Cardiff ensured they had a 50 per cent winning return.
So too did the Welsh, Scots and Irish, with France having four wins from five, as well as Racing’s success over Clermont.
Wagged its tail
Although only four of its 11 sides were victorious, the Rabo Pro12 wagged its tail too, with bottom club Edinburgh upsetting Munster, 11th-placed Connacht taking 16-point favourites Saracens to the wire in Galway, and the Scarlets possibly producing the performance of the weekend with their stunning 33-26 win away to Harlequins.
The one caveat was a couple of the bonus points, which could be critical in deciding home advantage and/or the final place or two in the last eight.
Frankly, there’s something not quite right about teams who fall 36-3 and 34-0 behind by half-time, and indeed 41-3 and 41-7 soon after, subsequently being rewarded with a bonus point for scoring four second-half tries when the outcome has long since been decided.
Were the French system applied, namely that a team only earns a bonus point if they score three tries more than the opposition, both Exeter and Toulon would have punished for leaking four tries apiece.
Instead of all four sides in Pool 2 earning bonus points, none would have earned any.
Not for the first time in their history, Munster find themselves in a hole of their own making after a sloppy defeat in Edinburgh. Instead of taking a grip on their group, they find themselves fighting for their European lives in October.
Saturday’s loss in Murrayfield was the fourth time in the last five years they’ve lost their opening match. They also, of course, lost their opening matches in their victorious campaigns of 2005-06 and ’07-08, albeit away to Sale and Wasps.
Last season Munster could even afford to lose a second game on the road, to Saracens in round four, and still squeeze through as one of the best runners-up.