THREE IRISH TEAMS sit top of their respective pools after the fourth weekend of Heineken Cup action. There they will remain until January at the earliest, though there was another tough result for Eric Elwood’s improving Connacht side to stomach.
Here’s are all the details:
Aironi 20-46 Ulster
An early try from Andrew Trimble helped Ulster to claim a bonus-point win in Italy on Saturday afternoon.
The Irish province played well and moved well ahead of their opponents by the interval but tries from Sinoti Sinoti and Roberto Quartaroli gave the home side some hope until scores from Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack and Adam Macklin settled the encounter.
“We are delighted to be sitting at the top of a very tough pool after four games,” Ulster’s Director of Rugby, David Humphreys told the team’s website. “We knew we had to take ten points from the past two matches to give us a chance going into the final two games in the New Year.
“It is going to be a huge game at Ravenhill against Leicester and it will be just as difficult the following week when we travel to Clermont. It’s going to be an exciting end to the pool stages and we are looking forward to it.”
What it means: Ulster are top of Pool 4 heading into Christmas, two points ahead of Leicester and three ahead of Clermont Auvergne.
Gloucester 23-19 Connacht
Connacht experienced the ultimate heartbreak on Saturday, conceding a late Jonny May try at Gloucester when they seemed on course to claim their first ever Heineken Cup victory.
Much the better side throughout most of the game, the team’s traded tries in the first half – Tiernan O’Halloran going over for Elwood’s men – and four penalties from the boot of Niall O’Connor had the Irish side ahead 19-16 with eight minutes remaining.
However, there was still enough time for May to break through the tackles of two Connacht players and score in the corner, snatching an unlikely victory for Gloucester.
“We played extremely well and to lose in the way we did is difficult to take,” Elwood said, (See Sportinglife.com). “We’ve got to keep bouncing back and though it’s tough going, it hasn’t broken our spirit.”
What it means: Connacht are bottom of Pool 6 with two losing points to their name and still to register their first win in the competition.
Leinster 52-13 Bath
Defending champions Leinster were in sensational form at the Aviva Stadium when they racked up over 50 points in their win over Bath.
A try in the opening minutes from Rob Kearney set the tone for the fixture and scores followed from Luke Fitzgerald (2), Jonny Sexton, Eoin Reddan, Rhys Ruddock and Ian Madigan to ensure the home supporters went away more than happy.
Fitzgerald, in particular, was in sparkling form with two fine tries and coach Joe Schmidt couldn’t hide his satisfaction at the end of the game. He said (See ERCrugby.com): “We were delighted with the way some of the tries were scored and some of the running lines.
“We’ve come a long way from drawing at Montpellier but that was probably only our second or third game together. Fortunately, it was exhibited in fantastic conditions in front of a fantastic crowd.”
What it means: The bonus point win sees Leinster top of Pool 3 and six points ahead of their nearest rivals, Glasgow. The performance, however, is something that will be watched closely by any team with aspirations of winning the tournament outright.
Munster 19-13 Scarlets
It was far from vintage from Munster on Sunday but a win is a win, as they say in sport. James Coughlan’s second-half try was one of a select number of high points for the Reds who may well have been beaten had their talented opponents made the best of their opportunities.
O’Gara, as ever, was near flawless with the boot but the fact the game hung in the balance for so long will at least prevent any complacency from kicking in on training pitches in Limerick and Cork.
Speaking afterwards, coach Tony McGahan said (See ERCrugby.com): “We are disappointed with the performance, but that is down to the Scarlets. They came and stopped us at the breakdown, their scrum was much improved, they kicked well and they played with a lot of ambition.
“We recognise we still have a lot of work to do and that this Pool isn’t anywhere near finished. We know that and we know it is going down to the wire.”
What it means: Despite being written off (again) before the start of the tournament, Munster are five points clear of their nearest rivals (Scarlets) at the top of Pool 1. With games at home to Castres and away to Northampton to come, there’s plenty of rugby to be played but McGahan will surely be intent on securing a home quarter-final spot at this stage.
Heineken Cup results:
Friday, 16 December: Biarritz 29-12 Treviso, Edinburgh 19-12 Cardiff Blues, Ospreys 13-16 Saracens.
Saturday, 17 December: Aironi 20-46 Ulster, Gloucester 23-19 Connacht, Leicester 23-19 Clermont Auvergne, Leinster 52-27 Bath, London Irish 19-25 Racing Metro 92, Montpellier 13-13 Glasgow.
Sunday, 18 December: Munster 19-13 Scarlets, Northampton 45-0 Castres, Toulouse 24-31 Harlequins.