The back to back reverse fixtures this week turned up some surprising results – not least in the games featuring two of the Irish sides who triumphed in some style on the previous weekend.
They say a week is a long time in politics – although 5 minutes is a long time in that profession as far as I’m concerned – and the past week in rugby was certainly more interesting.
But let’s start with the first match in Pool 1 where The Ospreys finally got their act together and pulled off their first win of the group against Castres.
The result certainly helped the Saints – who also did themselves a huge favour by knocking over one of this year’s favourites Leinster on their home patch. Having been taken apart at Franklin’s Gardens the previous week by the same opposition Northampton were transformed and shook the Leinster foundations. They ran out eventual winners by 18 – 9, denying the Irish side even a bonus point.
This was nominated the ‘group of death’ and it is hard to see either Castres or Northampton overtaking Leinster but there are another two rounds to go and anything is still just possible.
Pool 2 is a little clearer now as both Toulon and Cardiff Blues picked up good wins leaving Exeter and Glasgow virtually unable to qualify.
The Chiefs gave Toulon a lot to think about – they ran from anywhere and it took a long time and a very dodgy TMO decision before the French side pulled away.
The score was 7 – 5 to the Chiefs when Stevie Wonder in the television adjudicator’s box reviewed a ‘try’ by Toulon. Matt Giteau (who was outstanding all game) made a break and passed to let Smith on the wing cross for the second time. Giteau was 3 yards short of the 22 when he let the ball go and Smith caught it on the 22 – it was a touchdown pass that Joe Montana would have been proud of!
It wasn’t marginal – it was a disgrace.
It didn’t affect the result – which is not the point – it could easily have made a big difference in the group. TMO’s – earn your money guys!
I still take Toulon to emerge from the group for the quarters but Cardiff may be in with a shout as one of the best runners up.
In Pool 3 Saracens predictably put Zebre to the sword wrapping up the bonus point within the first half hour. In the other game Toulouse bounced back from their surprising defeat at home to extract revenge and a bonus point in a five try romp away to Connacht.
The top two are equal on points, but Toulouse have an almost guaranteed 5 points from the game at Zebre in the final round. The eventual Pool winners are likely to be decided in the next match when Saracens travel down to Toulouse
On to Pool 4 and Harlequins have given themselves a little hope in the group by beating Racing Metro – home and away – over the last two weekends.
If they can maintain their momentum for the last two rounds they could yet surprise everyone and qualify. But Clermont are still in the driving seat following a good win at the Scarlets where the bonus point may prove invaluable in the final analysis.
Pool 5 will now go down to the wire – both Leicester and Ulster picked up wins on the road – the Tigers by a single point. The Tigers have Treviso next and must be expecting to pick up five points –if Montpellier can turn over Ulster, it will all come down to the final game when the Irishmen travel to the Welford Road cauldron. If this happens the Tigers will have the chance to win the Pool – and maybe even get a home advantage in the quarters.
Munster won away at Perpignan to take charge of Pool 6 – they are now 5 points clear of Gloucester who lost to Edinburgh at Kingsholm.
Next round Munster travel to Gloucester and will expect to win – it won’t guarantee a home quarter final – but, with a home game still to come it is looking increasingly likely that they will be at Thomond Park when the knock-out stage begins.
The last two rounds take place in January and several groups remain undecided – January promises to be an entertaining one in the Heineken Cup.
The future and format of this competition has yet to be confirmed and it looks very likely that it will take until well into the New Year before we hear – I’ll keep you posted.
Starting on Friday evening the Aviva Premiership returns and I’ll be previewing games later in the week.