Former England international scrum-half and Sky Sports expert Dewi Morris selects his Heineken Cup quarter-final highlights.
TRY OF THE WEEK:
Brian O’Driscoll LEINSTER v Toulouse
This article might just end up being very Leinster biased. There were some good tries to choose from but I am going for Leinster’s first one, scored by captain Brian O’Driscoll. It was important for Leinster to make an impact early on in Toulouse and that is exactly what they did. We, and they, knew they would have to create chances to take on Toulouse and what they did was put in one of the best Heineken Cup peformances we have seen.
The try started with Felipe Contepomi standing flat and putting Shane Horgan through the gap before getting the ball back. Contepomi took the ball on and O’Driscoll took the line that only he can pick to finish the move. It showed their intent and blew Toulouse away.
Denis Hickie’s try came a close second and was another great score. Any other week it would have been a winner, but O’Driscoll caught Toulouse cold and set the tone for the game.
TEAM OF THE WEEK:
LEINSTER v Toulouse
It is harsh to single any of the individuals in the Leinster team out because collectively, which is most important, they were brilliant to a man.
They were led by example by O’Driscoll who set the standards. His centre partner Gordon D’arcy was excellent. Good old Reggie Corrigan and Will Green scrummaged well, they may have been up against it a bit, but they stuck at it. Malcolm O’Kelly was everywhere and Keith Gleeson stood out in an outstanding back row. In a match of that magnitude you have got to pull together and that is exactly what they did.
Leinster felt they could win in Toulouse if they played as well as they did against Bath, but in fact they played even better.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
Paul O’Connell MUNSTER v Perpignan
Out of a mediorce game between Munster and Perpignan Paul O’Connell stood head and shoulders above the rest of the players. O’Connell, and Peter Stringer, were perhaps the only two players that really fired at Lansdowne Road.
O’Connell is fast becoming the new Martin Johnson. He may have a long way to go in terms of winning silverware but the influence he has on a game is getting to the proportion of England’s World Cup winning captain. He stood above the rest of his team that just thought they would win and didn’t need to raise their game a level.
We would have seen a better game at Thomond Park and maybe that is what Munster would have preferred. Be that as it may, O’Connell in Dublin put pressure on on the opposition lineout, won his own ball, carried superbly, scrummaged well and his all round influence was the best on the park.
O’Connell and Stringer were the only two who fired and Munster did just enough against Perpignan who were ok, but no better. Munster will need better in the semi-final but it would be unfair to expect more from O’Connell.
MOMENT OF THE WEEK:
LEICESTER V BATH – JOEL JUTGE SENDS OFF A SECOND BATH PROP
The moment from this weekend may well be the talking point of the weekend too. It came at the Walkers Stadium in our first match as Leicester tried to turn the screw on Bath. In control up front, Leicester punished the Bath scrum and French referee Joel Jutge had a decision to make. Did he bottle it?
First of all he made the right call, Bath were dropping the scrum, but should he have given Leicester a penalty try instead of sin-binning the second prop? He made his decision and what we then saw was a phenomental rear guard defence from Bath. It was schoolboy dream, heroic, body-on-the-line stuff.
Leicester should have won the game with all the ball they had and their domination up front. And they had been here before against Stade Francais and the Ospreys. But it was total panic. For a man trying to break into the England side there was no control from Andy Goode and the backs, when it was easier to pass it, didn’t.
Perhaps the referee did bottle the big decision and in forcing the scrums to go uncontested rather than give the penalty try he favoured Bath but they also went down to 13 against 15 and Leicester should have made it pay. In the end it was Herculean performance from the Bath defence.
VILLAIN(S) OF THE WEEK:
SALE SHARKS v Biarritz Olympique
This is often a difficult one to call but you could say that Sale’s game plan, or lack of one, was the biggest villain of the weekend. I couldn’t work out how they were trying to beat Biarritz.
They were not going for goal – I still can’t comprehend why they turned down so many penalty attempts. Take your points! Charlie Hodgson is a world class kicker. He should be telling Jason Robinson that he is kicking three points.
Instead he kicked for touch and without getting much distance. If you go for the lineout, you have to score, but they tried to catch and drive a maul or pick up and drive and use centres in the rucks. Well that is not the way to beat Biarritz who have backs as big as their forwards.
Leinster showed a day previously how to beat Toulouse and it was the way for Sale to beat Biarritz, by moving those big backs around, but they didn’t do it. In Mark Cueto and Jason Robinson they have arguably two of the best finishers in the game but with Charlie Hodgson sitting so deep and Sale so static and kicking aimlessly, they were never going to give the wingers one-on-ones.
As an ex-Sale player it was frustrating and upsetting to watch a Sharks’ side that lacked any attacking direction. Biarritz did not play well, but did enough, which is what they do in the French Championship; get ahead, sit back and believe in their defence.
Sale played the game so far behind the gain line that Serge Betsen won the contest with Hodgson without trying anything. They seemed so aware of him that he never came into the game because Hodgson was so deep.
It was mystifying because they had an opportunity. Yes it is great how far have come but they had a chance to beat Biarritz in Spain and then they would have been favourites in the City of Manchester to beat Bath. Then of course you are in the Heineken Cup final.
There is no room for hard luck stories in professional rugby. The forwards did their job, Jason White and Sebastien Bruno gave their all, but the lack of direction of behind them let Sale down.