WRAP: Heineken Cup Round 2
While I’m sure most people had their eyes glued to action here in South Africa, it was also a mouth watering weekend of Heineken Cup action across the Northern Hemisphere; in particular across Paris, London and Limerick.
It is incredible to think that while four top class South African teams battled it out for a place in a Currie Cup final, an incredible 28 South Africans featured in Round Two of the Northern Hemisphere’s show piece tournament. Surely no other nation can possess so much talent?
The Heineken Cup has always been fiercely contested but the evidence is there after a record breaking opening round to the campaign to suggest the tournament is getting tighter and tighter.
Seven of the 12 Round One games ended within the seven point margin needed for a losing bonus point. The second round of games can make or break a group, and wins this weekend for Northampton, Leinster, Munster, Biarritz, Leicester and Toulouse, puts them in pole position to make the quarter-finals in April of next year.
Round Two of the competition provided another 12 bruising encounters. There were many strong individual performances from the South African’s now playing in Europe: it will be interesting to see how their fellow countrymen compare when the Springboks travel north for the Grand Slam tour in November.
Friday , October 15
Ospreys (WAL) 27 - 16 London Irish (ENG)
South Africans = 1
Former Springbok Faan Rautenbach lined out for London Irish but no other South African was represented in Wales on Friday night. Wales star, Shane Williams, marked his 50th Heineken Cup appearance with a score that will be a candidate for try of the season. The wing-wonder's 60m second half blitz reasserted the control of the home side and made up for the sucker interception try his team had conceded at the start of the second period. The Ospreys came agonisingly close to victory against Toulon last weekend in France, so a win against England’s league leaders was an absolute must in order to stay alive in Pool Three (which also features Munster). The Welsh side has made it to the quarter-final stage of the competition in each of the past three seasons, so this win keeps alive their hopes of doing so again.
Castres (FRA) 27 – 20 Cardiff Blues (WAL)
South Africans = 1
A last-minute try by Scott Andrews salvaged a losing bonus-point for Cardiff Blues after Castres had dominated the opening half at the Stade Pierre Antoine. The home side built up a 27-13 half-time but the Blues managed to fight back in the second half and grab an all-important bonus point on the road. South African prop Danie Saayman was named on the bench for Castres.
Cardiff Blues were without Wales international Martyn Williams who has been suspended for three weeks after being found guilty of dropping a knee into the face of Scotland fullback Chris Paterson during last week’s win against Edinburgh. The ban could have been much more severe and is a blessing for Wales coach Warren Gatland ahead of Novembers Test against the Boks.
Saturday , October 16
Edinburgh (SCO) 27 – 31 Northampton (ENG)
South Africans = 1
In what is becoming a depressing trend in Scottish rugby, less than 5 000 turned up to watch Edinburgh take on former European Champions Northampton Saints in a crucial Round Two fixture for the Scottish side. It was probably just as well as Northampton returned to the summit of Pool One after recording a come-from-behind 31-27 win at Murrayfield on Saturday. Edinburgh, however, can count themselves unlucky as they continue to cause opponents plenty of problems without closing out to win crucial games. Johannesburg native Regardt Dreyer was the only South African involved in Saturday’s fixture, the prop started on the bench for Northampton Saints.
Aironi Rugby (ITA) 6 – 22 Bath (ENG)
South Africans = 2
Former Springbok Luke Watson led out Bath for the second week in a row and lined out beside former Cheetahs No 9 Michael Claassens as the English side got their Heineken Cup campaign back on track with a bonus point victory at Aironi. Watson, whose rebirth in England is culminating in some great rugby, scored Bath’s fourth try in the 66th minute to secure a vital bonus point.
South African born, but Italian international Jaco Erasmus lined out in the back row for the home side.
Racing Metro 92 (FRA) 16 – 9 Clermont Auvergne (FRA)
South Africans = 3
Racing Metro won the bragging rights and their first Heineken Cup points, by coming out on top in the all French affair in Pool Two. Clermont Auvergne made eleven changes from the side which defeated Saracens in style last weekend and could only register three penalties throughout the afternoon. Racing struggled on their Heineken Cup debut a week ago in Dublin, but claimed their first win with a good victory over the French Champions.
Both teams made a number of changes to last week’s starting line-ups; as a result there was no sign of Frans Steyn, Greg Goosan, Jacques Cronje or Francois Van der Merwe for the home side. There was a starting place for South Africa’s Bernard Le Roux who lined out in a back row which included French favorite Sebastian Chabal while Scott Zimmerman was again included on Racing’s bench.
South Africa’s Brent Russell was included on the bench for a Clermont side which featured 11 changes from the side which beat England’s Saracens a week previously.
Munster (IRE) 45 – 18 Toulon (FRA)
South Africans = 2
Two South Africans were involved in a ‘do or die’ encounter for Munster against French rich boys Toulon in Limerick. Toulon Captain and PE native Joe van Niekerk was in typically good form for the French outfit. Admittedly Toulon didn’t offer very much in the face of Munster’s complete dominance but the South African No. 8 scored an excellent try in the dying moments of the game after having gone close only a few moments earlier. On a day when his former side were battered in Newlands, former Cheetah’s prop Wian du Preez demonstrated why he is becoming a valuable signing for the Irish giants. Despite being substituted to make way for Irish international Marcus Horan in the second half, du Preez is impressing many in the Munster ranks.
All in all it was a great day for Munster as they scored six tries, taking all the points on offer, and climbed back to the summit of Pool Three. Irish hooker Jerry Flannery made a welcome return off the bench after playing just 40 minutes for local club side Shannon in the All-Ireland League. His first appearance for Munster in more than four months will please Irish coach Declan Kidney ahead of the Ireland’s Test against the Boks in November.
The French side decided to rest the inform Johnny Wilkinson ahead of three massive games in the Top 14 (including back to back away fixtures against Stade Francais and Toulouse). The news that Argentina’s Felipe Contepomi was to start at No. 10 instead of Wilkinson must have been music to Munster’s ears as the former Leinster man is loathed in Munster. No wonder the crowd were delighted to see him sin binned on 60 minutes after already being moved into centre in place of Wilkinson who came on after 52 minutes of the game.
Munster dished out a powerful lesson to a French side bursting with international stars. Toulon may possess one of the most expensively-assembled club squads in the game, full of stellar names, but this is their debut in Europe’s premier competition against a team with the richest of pedigrees, in a venue where Munster have now won 37 of their previous 38 ties.
Toulon returned to the top flight two seasons ago thanks, first and foremost, to their millionaire president Mourad Boudjellal, the so-called Roman Abramovich of French club rugby. Toulon are notionally credited with having the fourth highest budget in the Top 14, with €19 million.
Newport-Gwent Dragons (WAL) 19 – 40 Toulouse (FRA)
South Africans = 2
A powerful second-half display by Toulouse saw the reigning Heineken Cup champions overcome the Newport Gwent Dragons in a hard-fought encounter at Rodney Parade. The win means they maintain their 100 per cent start to the competition and continue to set the pace in Pool Six.
South African prop Daan Human started for Europe’s most successful club while fellow country man Shaun Sowerby was named on the bench alongside All Black star Byron Kelleher and France’s Vincent Clerc. Over all it was an impressive day out for the current champions against the Dragons in Wales.
Saracens (ENG) 23 vs 25 Leinster (IRE)
South Africans = 8
England’s home of football, the impressive new Wembley, became the 91st venue to host a Heineken Cup fixture when Leinster travelled to London to face Saracens in front of 46 000 on Saturday. A total of eight South Africans were involved in the game at some point over the 80 minutes.
With nine South African’s in their squad, it was perhaps not surprising that former Sharks prop Deon Carstens and centre Brad Barritt (declared for England), former Bulls flyhalf Derick Hougaard, former Stormers hooker Schalk Brits and former Lions No. 8 Ernst Joubert were named in Saracens starting XI. It was the former Lions captain Ernst Joubert, who stood out from the crowd. The No. 8’s physicality at the breakdown and with ball in hand asked serious questions of Leinster until he was surprisingly substituted early in the second half. Former Bulls flyhalf Derick Hougaard had a decent game but worryingly he was stretchered off after 46 minutes with an Achilles injury. Former Stormers scrumhalf Neil de Kock also featured off the bench for the English side.
Saracens fans will be delighted with the news that Ernst Joubert, Schalk Brits and Brad Barritt agreed new contracts during the week. Brits, a dynamic ball-carrying hooker, was rewarded for his outstanding 2009-10 season by being named the Rugby Players' Association player of the year.
South African Richardt Strauss, had another solid game at No. 2 for Leinster but didn’t make quite the impression he did in his Heineken Cup debut against Racing Metro in Dublin last week. On that occasion the versatile hooker showed his former back row skills with some excellent running ultimately resulting in a superb try. New Leinster signing and former Lions prop Heinke van der Merwe, entered the fray on 60 minutes for the 2009 European Champions and by all accounts made a decent impression on a game which was played with Test Match intensity.
Ireland’s battle for the No. 10 jersey continues to heat up ahead of the Springbok game on 6th November. Johnny Sexton had an irresistible game for Leinster scoring all 25 of his side’s points and now putting serious pressure on Munster’s Ronan O’Gara for the No. 10 jersey. O’Gara had a typically solid performance in Munster’s crushing of Toulon but Sexton’s assured play with ball in hand and from the tee demonstrated why many are now calling for him to be Ireland’s first choice.
Leinster’s water boy, a certain Brian O’Driscoll, was as anxious as any Leinster fan when Saracens put together 28 phases of play in the dying minutes of the game; but Leinster kept their cool in defence to leave Wembley with a brilliant win and in the process have almost certainly put Saracens out of the competition.
Sunday , October 17
Wasps (ENG) 36 – 26 Glasgow (SCO)
South Africans = 0
DTH van der Merwe started on the wing for Glasgow, but the South African born player now has 13 caps for his adopted Canada. So technically there were no South African’s involved as Wasps continued their long unbeaten run at home in the Heineken Cup on Sunday with a 38-26 bonus-point win over Glasgow Warriors. Wasps outscored their visitors four tries-to-two to move second in Pool Six, two points behind Toulouse who beat the Dragons on Saturday. It’s a decent start to the competition for the English who managed to take a bonus point from a difficult Round One match at Toulouse.
Perpignan (FRA) 35 – 14 Benetton Treviso (ITA)
South Africans = 2
South African’s Gavin Hume and Gerrie Britz, who started on the bench, crossed the line as Perpignan left it rather late to finish off a typically stubborn Benetton Treviso. It was an important win for the French side who went down away to Welsh side Scarlets in Round One. It was three tries in the last fifteen minutes which ultimately proved the difference at Stade Aimé Giral. The teams were locked at 14-14 with 20 minutes remaining but the hosts broke free with a penalty try before Gerrie Britz and Damien Chouly crossed in the closing stages.
Leicester (ENG) 46 – 10 Scarlets (WAL)
South Africans = 0
No South African’s were involved as two time European Champions Leicester Tigers put down a Heineken Cup marker by demolishing a confident Scarlets side 46-10 on Sunday. It was a bitterly disappointing result for the Welsh side who overcame Perpignan in a nine try spectacular at Parc y Scarlets in Round One.
Biarritz (FRA) 35 – 15 Ulster (IRE)
South Africans = 6
Biarritz maintained their unbeaten start in Pool Four of the Heineken Cup with an emphatic bonus-point home victory over Ulster. Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili was the architect for last season's finalists with a 15-point tally, including three penalties and three conversions.
Pretoria’s Eduard Coetzee, who has been plying his trade in France for several years now, started in at loose-head for winning side. A five strong South African contingent consisting of Ruan Pienaar, BJ Botha, Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannenburg and Robbie Diack was still not enough for Ulster as the 1999 Champions were beaten for the first time this season by an impressive display in France.
It’s all looking rather good for Biarritz who won away to Bath in Round One. The French club has played in two Heineken Cup finals and another two semi-finals but are yet to win the illustrious competition.
Ulster have failed to qualify for the knock-out stages for the eleven seasons since winning the competition in 1999 and are hoping that money spent on quality South African imports would prove the difference this time out. While it is certainly by no means over for the Irish side, they still have to face Bath home and away before taking on Biarritz again in Belfast.
In a weekend which saw South Africa’s best domestic talent battle it out for a place in the Currie Cup final, 28 South African’s demonstrated their skills in Europe. Round Three of Europe’s elite club competition takes place from December 10-12 after a November packed with internationals including the Springbok’s Grand Slam Tour of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales which kicks off in Dublin’s new Aviva Stadium on November 6. With so many talented South African’s playing in Europe one would wonder if Peter de Villiers and the SARU are best served by touring with exhausted local talent?
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