IN THE GRAND scheme of things, this weekend’s Heineken Cup action went pretty well for the Irish sides.
Granted, Connacht were obliterated by Harlequins at The Stoop but Conor O’Shea’s side have now won 17 from 20 games in all competitions this season.
Connacht’s Heineken Cup highlight came in the 22-14 home win over the two-time finalists Biarritz in early December.
They should get their third win of the campaign when Zebre visit next week.
Ulster got back onto the winning horse after the slip-up to Northampton and guaranteed their name would be in the last eight with a 23-6 win over Glasgow.
Mark Anscombe’s men gave away a lot of foolish penalties but this season’s reliables – Ruan Pienaar, Jared Payne, Nick Williams and Paul Marshall [in his now customary super-sub role] produced the goods again.
Congratulations to Ulster.
The focus now shifts on Munster and Leinster next weekend and they are both in with a shout, if not a holler.
Sean Cronin was a force of nature for the Blues. (INPHO/Cathal Noonan)
Three tries from four games going into Saturday night’s contest but, with the surnames Kearney, Nacewa and Fitzgerald operating in the Leinster backline, four scores flooded in after 43 excellent minutes.
The worry for Leinster is that they have hit form one game too late but one suspects another five-point haul is achievable at Sandy Park next weekend.
Joe Schmidt will not be looking forward to the Monday morning fitness updates but he is due a bit of luck.
Fergus McFadden and Brian O’Driscoll will remain in the ‘concerns’ column for now but results of rivals have not buried the champions yet and they love a good comeback.
There was a certain logic in the Ronan O’Gara and Doug Howlett discussions at Murrayfield today, which inevitably ended when the veteran out-half kicking for three-pointers, but the sense of a big missed opportunity lingers.
The Edinburgh front row was getting minced by Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley and BJ Botha but the half-time score read a paltry 12-3 after 40 minutes of domination.
Munster opted to kick for the corner for the first time, rather than aim for the sticks, after 38 minutes. The attacking spurt almost led to a try before Earls knocked on.
The attacking intent was clear in the second-half but the heavy pitch and a stuttering Munster failed to cause Edinburgh enough problems.
Two stats sums up Munster’s inability to get the bonus point – they made 138 carries but registered one line break all day.