I’ve said it before I know but I keep ignoring my own advice – if it looks like being a close thing – go for the home side. Well I ignored some of my own advice (again) and forecast 4 away wins at the weekend. There were only three – unfortunately I got two of those wrong!
I did however say there would be far fewer bonus points and I was right – just 5 compared with the 12 on the opening weekend.
I was on the money here with both games – Northampton Saints disposed of the Ospreys by 27 -16 with Courtney Lawes outstanding from the first whistle. Lancaster will find it hard to leave out this man from the autumn line-ups. I’ll be selecting my team for the Australian game early next week (before it’s announced) and you can bet that Courtney will be one of the first on my team sheet.
Despite the five British Lions in their pack the Ospreys were well beaten in the end and the best they can now hope for is a spot in the Amlin Trophy. The one blot for the Saints was their failure to get the bonus point but try (sic) as they may they couldn’t get the fourth – even with Dan Biggar (scorer of all the Ospreys points) in the sin bin.
Leinster continue to look formidable and subdued Castres 19 – 7 in Dublin having fielded something like half of the likely Ireland team for November. New Zealander Jimmy Gopperth kicking 14 points. They lead the group with 8 points and as long as they don’t slip up too badly on the road look likely to fight it out with Saints to top the group.
I got both results wrong here – having predicted two away wins.
Cardiff Blues who have had a poor start to the season took all 4 points against the trophy holders Toulon as they scored a (very) late try to overhaul Wilkinson’s men and run out 19 – 15 ahead.
Until then it had looked as if Toulon would get a vital away win thanks to Johnny’s boot.
The holders won’t be pleased with just a bonus point.
In the other game the Exeter Chiefs also let me down when they lost up in Glasgow by 20 – 16. The Warriors showed why they lead the Pro 12 league and recovered from a 6 -9 deficit at half time to score two tries before Exeter hit back in the last five minutes to grab a bonus and make the Scots sweat on the final whistle.
Bonus points could well decide this group and if I had to put money on it I still see Toulon as the team to qualify.
Friday night was the big clash at Wembley – where more than 61,000 saw Toulouse snatch victory against Saracens by just 17 – 16.
Although the home side started well there were ominous signs at every scrum where the monster French pack demolished the Saracens 8. If former All Black Luke McAllister hadn’t been having such a poor game Toulouse would have not had so much trouble getting ahead.
Saracens scored a fine early try from Chris Wyles with Chris Ashton prominent and it would be a major surprise if he didn’t get his England shirt back on this form. With Owen Farrell kicking well the home team led until the last ten minutes. Louis Picamoles had come on for the massive and massively impressive Gillian Galan and when the pack shoved Saracens to the line once again he picked up for the decisive score.
Toulouse may not be the side that once frightened all of Europe but with their huge impact bench they will win more than a few games late in the day.
Connacht’s trip to Zebre was far more straightforward and they drew level on points with Saracens after Dan Parks kicked his way to 23 points in the 33 – 6 away win.
No one will fancy the trip to Toulouse where Saracens will almost certainly need a win to qualify from the group.
Here I got one right and one half right – Racing Metro grabbing a draw away at the Scarlets.
Rhys Priestland and Johnny Sexton matched each other kick for kick both making two conversions and 4 penalties – they are likely to face off again in the 6 Nations in the New Year where Scott Williams may well be wearing a red jersey too. Williams scored another fine try and is looking like a star in the making especially when playing alongside the influential Jonathan Davies. Warren Gatland will have a much bigger smile than Stuart Lancaster as they both consider their centre options for next month.
In the other game Harlequins continue to have a rough time – losing 23 – 16 down in Clermont Auvergne. Most of the scores came in the first half with Clermont leading by 20 – 13 at the break. The French side will be disappointed not to have scored a fourth try in the second forty having clocked up three in the first 25 minutes. Quins escaped with a losing bonus thanks to Nick Evans drop goal on the 80 minute mark but they are virtually out of contention already with just one third of the pool games played.
Leicester Tigers played host to Treviso on Saturday in a game that they would have expected to pick up 5 points. It was only 13 – 0 at half time but they pulled away in the second half and tries by Blaine Scully and Tom Youngs in the 65th minute added to Thomas Waldron’s first half touchdown made it look like the bonus point was within easy reach.
But it took until the clock turned red before Ed Slater managed to put away Adam Thompstone for the elusive fourth try – Welford Road may well have celebrated but there was more than a touch of relief in the cheering.
Ulster made light work in beating Montpellier with Ruan Pienaar kicking five penalties in the French ground. Montpellier’s game was riddled with mistakes and they could not get any advantage against the hard working Irish pack.
For now Ulster control the group but it is much too early to write off the Tigers – or even Montpellier if they can spring some away surprises.
The final pool saw two fairly predictable results – Munster proving far too strong for Gloucester at Thomond Park where they triumphed 26 – 10 to get their campaign back on the road after the surprise reverse against Edinburgh last week.
It looked like Gloucester were resigned to defeat when their starting line-up omitted Billy Twelvetrees, Henry Trinder, Freddie Burns and Jimmy Cowan – with only Burns figuring on the bench. As three of these were confirmed in Lancaster’s squad for November (obviously Cowan wasn’t!) it looked like a strange move.
When Burns finally got on the pitch Munster were only 16 – 10 ahead but despite looking the part he couldn’t stop Munster finishing the job.
The Gloucester pack continue to wax and wane this season – they did well here in the scrums and Nigel Davies will be hoping for a repeat performance next week against West Country rivals Bath when the Aviva premiership returns
It took Perpignan until the second half to subdue Edinburgh and at half time and 7 – 3 ahead the Scots must have been dreaming of a second group win.
But the French side ran in four tries for a 31 – 14 bonus point win and kept the Scots at bay so that they ultimately went home with nothing to show for their efforts. James Hook was again handy with the boot picking up 11 points from four conversions and a penalty.
Only two points separate all four teams after R2 and it seems likely that the final outcome will come down to bonus points.
So – we leave the Heineken Cup for a few weeks – R3 is on the weekend of 7th December. By then we should know if the competition has a future, although judging by the inactivity from ERC we may still have no idea what will be happening next season. There is supposed to be a meeting on Wednesday 23rd October – I’ll keep you informed!
Until then it’s back to the Premiership.
The other big game was the final Bledisloe Cup match in Dunedin.
Predictably the All Blacks continued their unbeaten run in 2013 and it seems unlikely that they will slip up in Japan or Europe and will end up unbeaten for the whole year.
The Wallabies did however put up a pretty decent show on Saturday morning (our time) – especially bearing in mind the number of injuries that had afflicted the team of late. England also have some squad members out and if they can get within the same number of points against the ABs next month, I for one will see it as some sort of progress towards 2015.
In addition the media may have written off the Australians in the autumn but the Wallabies always find something extra in Europe – particularly against England and none of the home camps will be taking the games lightly.
The rugby just keeps coming – long may it continue!