Munster v Gloucester
Carberry wins battle of the 10s
Munster’s early Saturday kick off against Gloucester saw Joey Carberry come up against the talented English out half Danny Cipriani. It was a fascinating battle between the number 2 Irish out half and a man many feel should be starting at 10 for the English side. Their games were completely different: Carberry won the Man of the Match award after beautifully controlling the game and scoring a try in his first Champions Cup game at Thomond Park. Cipriani meanwhile was sent-off for a shoulder to the head of Munster hooker Niall Scannell. Cipriani is undoubtedly a talented player, but Carberry won this battle with a performance that will make Ireland coach Joe Schmidt take notice.
This Pool could go down to the wire
When the draw was made for the Heineken Cup, many pundits and fans believed it was the toughest pool to predict. It has certainly lived up to that billing as three out of the four teams have won one of their two games. Four points separate top of the table Munster from bottom of the table Exeter Chiefs. The Chiefs drew with Munster at home and will fancy their chances of beating Castres and Gloucester at home and sneaking away victories. Last season, Castres won the Top 14, Munster reached the semi-finals of the Pro 14 while Exeter lost the Premiership final. One result could dramatically alter the table as these teams vie for a Quarter Final place.
Racing 92 v Ulster
Racing are contenders
After Leinster’s facile 52-3 victory against Wasps, many believed it was Leinster’s title to lose. However, Racing 92 showed their credentials as they ruthlessly dismissed Ulster after a poor start. They have a star-studded team that can beat anyone in Europe. Simon Zebo, Teddy Thomas and Finn Russell lead a star-studded backline that tore through Ulster’s defence. Their forwards ground Ulster down allowing space for the backs to weave their magic. After losing the final to Leinster last May, they have the experience and the players to challenge for Europe’s biggest prize.
Hope for Ulster
After their wretched last season, Ulster are currently rebuilding under Dan McFarland. They fielded a young team against Racing as a mixture of injuries and retirements meant they were shorn of several top-class players. They started the game at a blistering pace and lead 12-3 before being wore down by a world class team. The absence of John Cooney was felt but despite the heavy loss there are still reasons to be hopeful. Billy Burns performed well at out half while Jacob Stockdale added to his try collection. They are short a world class prop, a back rower and a full back. If they can add to these positions, then they will be much closer to the leading sides in the competition.
Toulouse v Leinster
A Reality Check for Leinster
After last week’s 52-3 mauling of Wasps, Leinster were favourites to beat Toulouse in the French team’ back yard. A poor start saw them fall 14-0 behind after 20 minutes before they came roaring back at the hosts. However, they coughed up possession cheaply close to the Toulouse 22 metre line and were severely punished when Maxime Medard went over. Leinster’s defence was ripped apart early doors by Toulouse and although it improved, they were undone once more late on. They lead 27-21 but were given a harsh lesson when Medard scored late on. They lacked the same sharpness of their game against Wasps although they faced much better opposition. Leinster are still favourites to progress from the pool and they will hope to gain revenge on Toulouse in the reverse fixture.
France is still a tough place to travel
Despite all the success Irish rugby teams have enjoyed in recent years, winning away in France is a tough thing to do. Leinster have now lost six of their seven games to Toulouse that have taken place in France. The defending champions’ opening day performance led them to arrive as hot favourites but Toulouse at home would always offer Leinster a stiff test of their credentials. The crowd of 17,852 created a red-hot atmosphere as the Toulouse players fed off that support. The delight of the supporters at the end of the game showed their passion. Away games in France have been far tougher to Irish provinces than games in England. Once more it was a tough French away day for an Irish province.
By Ivan Smyth