Sunday, 18 October 2009

A Round of Missed Opportunites

This year's Heineken Cup Round 2 has to go down as one of the tightest in recent years, and whilst my predictions weren't too far off, certain teams have got to feel like they've really missed an opportunity to stamp their authority on the competition.

First up was Sale vs Cardiff Blues, and even though I thought this would be a closely run encounter I didn't see it going right down to the wire and finishing 27-26. The harsh sin-binning of Cardiff's resident Whitesnake impersonator Andy Powell saw Sale amass a quick 14 points and a lead that remained one point too many for the Blues to conquer.

Elsewhere Northampton fell short at a reinvigorated Perpignan, with the French team bouncing back from a shock defeat in the rain soaked opening round against Treviso. I really thought Northampton might pull a surprise victory out of the bag in the south of France but it wasn't to be. The only souvenir they took away from a bruising visit to the one time home of the luscious Dan Carter was a severe crack of whiplash for the suitably D'Artagnan-bearded Ben Foden, when he was unceremoniously dumped on his arse by the human bulldozer that is Henry Tuilagi. If you missed this expert demolition using an illegal shoulder charge then you can view it again here:


Yesterday I watched the Brive vs Leinster game which was a penalty strewn and scrappy affair saved only by the dynamic running of Leinster hot bod Rob Kearney to score the opening try, quick hands from Brian O'Driscoll, and an excellent performance from man of the match Kevin McLauglin. Another almost faultless performance from Jonny Sexton will undoubtedly have Ronan O'Gara reaching for the Horlicks to try and avoid many sleepless nights in the run up to the autumn internationals: If ever there was an international number 10 in waiting then Jonny Sexton is the man.
That aside, Leinster will be disappointed not to come away from France with a winning bonus point, especially against a Brive side that didn't offer too much other than constant indiscipline. Still, at least this provided a quick burst of handbag waving entertainment to liven up the end of this rather uninspiring game, when Brian O'Driscoll and Andy "Timotei" Goode indulged the crowd with a gentle slapping competition. Maybe Andy is just jealous of Brian's superior hairline?

Away from France, London Irish will be left to rue a missed chance thanks to a last gasp penalty for the Scarlets courtesy of Sesame Street's Count (aka Stephen Jones). This game finished up 25-27 with London Irish undoing all their good work with an away win away at Champions Leinster last round. Oh well, serves you right for beating my favourite Irish team.

Stephen Jones is the man counting the win

Tonight, the Harlequins and Bath players will probably all be at home swigging bottles of gin whilst they freeze their nads off in ice baths after both teams lost their second pool game of the tournament. This pair of losing performances pretty much ends their chances of progressing to the next round, which is a shame as both sides were comfortably leading this weekend's games at half time before they both committed Heineken Cup hara-kiri.

The final team who really missed a chance to press home their advantage in the competition was Clermont Auvergne who lost 25-24 at the Ospreys. I really wish I'd watched this game, as despite leading 22-3 at half time, the Ospreys almost threw it away to a resurgent Clermont side. Unfortunately for all the Welsh ladies out there, Mike Phillips hobbled off with a foot injury just before half time, which means that the much less attractive Dwayne Peel might get a shout for the international games next month. Never mind, I'm sure he has some fans out there - probably the same ones that fancy his twin brother: Emmerdale's Andy Sugden.

Finally (and most importantly) this afternoon I witnessed the rare event that is a bonus point victory for Leeds Carnegie. In a game littered with the usual smorgasbord of Leeds handling errors which included several passes flying into touch or being fumbled to the floor, Leeds out muscled a rotund Parma side and secured the bonus point with just over ten minutes of the game remaining.

As the scoring opportunities went begging in the first half I did wonder if Leeds were lacking the killer instinct and would be able to punish the Italian side who looked like they'd spent far too much time woofing pizza then doing bench-presses at the gym. Happily, for every mistake Leeds made Parma made two, which allowed a much changed Leeds side to press home for victory and rack up the points in the second half. Leeds ended the game with an impressive scoreline of 37-13 but they are certainly going to have to raise their performance and banish the sloppy guiseppe style mistakes before next Sunday when they take a trip down the M1 to top of the table Saracens. If they don't tighten up I can't see anything happening apart from a ritual humiliation in front of the Vicarage Road faithful.

Anyway, let's see how my predictions fared against the results this weekend:
(Correct predictions highlighted in bold)

Newport-Gwent D'gons 22-14 Glasgow
Perpignan 29-13 Northampton
Sale 27-26 Cardiff Blues
Biarritz 42-15 Gloucester
Brive 13-36 Leinster
Edinburgh 17-13 Ulster
Harlequins 19-23 Toulouse

London Irish 25-27 Scarlets
Munster 41-10 Treviso
Viadana 11-46 Leicester
Bath 27-29 Stade Francais
Ospreys 25-24 Clermont Auvergne

Not too shabby at all as I only missed out on two correct predictions. I'm really rather pleased with myself!

Anyway, that's all for now. A review of the eagerly anticipated Lions 2009: Living with the Pride DVD is coming soon...

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