The first week of the Heineken Cup is in the books and it went even better than we dared to expect.
We start in the RDS, I was lucky enough to make it along and sat in the grandstand in front of the Wasps supporters club president and a few others. Firstly, they were great craic throughout and should be saluted for taking that result on the chin. According to the pre match conversation, they expected a close game with the possibility of a win. A previous win with 50+ points scored in Leo’s first season was their source of positivity. When Leavy was called aside in the warm up their excitement mounted. Without becoming the sports fan that I hate, I tried to remain calm and pointed out that a visiting win was not on the cards, stating how the years have gone since their last win against Leinster and asking 1 quest, how many members of the Wasps team would make the match day squad in blue? They struggled to answer.
The game finished 52-3 to Leinster.
Their banter began waning from the 6th minute Sean Cronin try until the very end. They could see their team wilt and then retreat with fear very early in the game. 8 tries where scored and non where conceded. A quick look at the stats shows just how insane the game was. Leinster ran 671 metres Wasps 123. 227 Leinster passes to 94. 71% possession for Leinster for 75% territory. Leinster made 78 of 86 tackles and Wasps made 181 of 213, believe it or not that isn’t a bad result for the visitors with the amount of ball they didn’t have! With all of those tackles made by Wasps they only gave away 8 penalties to Leinster’s 7, so the skill on show was of a high level. Leinster had 18 clean breaks to 2. That is the tale of the tape right there. Every time Leinster wanted to score they did. The main issue from the grandstand, and it is really first world problems here, was the 10 minutes in the middle of the first half where Leinster just kept the ball, didn’t try and where too comfortable. I think they got a bollocking at half time.
Again the championship minutes was where Leinster killed Wasps. The result was never in doubt, but Leinster had more points in them. Hard to be angry with 50+ point win and sending Wasps home with no tries, but what makes Leinster the great team is the annoyance of leaving food on the table.
Quick daily mention for James Lowe, he made 184 metres off 12 runs. He scared the opposition to death as most of Leinster did. Henshaw had 85 metres off 19 runs, Conan had 55 off 19 runs and Ringrose had 45 metres under the boots too. Everyone worked hard. The missed tackles stat are amazing to see, for Wasps the missed tackles are spread across the entire team which shows Leinster where attacking from everywhere. Sexton had 3 missed tackles with 5 other players missing 1 each. An amazing stat.
Leinster put the marker down and you could hear every other team take a gulp of air watching this.
So we move to Sandy Park and Exeter Chiefs welcoming a Munster team that showed decent scrap last week against Leinster but didn’t have the skill or plan to dent Leinster. Would they show up and meet the perennial English contenders head on or would they continue their dodgy away form shown early season?
Well it was great to see that it was the former. The game finished 10-10 which is a massive result for Munster. The game was even Exeter had 53% possession for 48% territory. They had a similar patch that Leinster had in that they relaxed in the first half and where Wasps where already beaten when Leinster did it, Munster never went away and took the blows with some great defending. Munster made 157 of 185 tackles for 11 penalties, not a bad defensive performance. Exeter’s last score was a conversion on 40 minutes, CJ Stander led the rally and scored a try at 64 minutes which was converted by Carbery. Haley at full back had his running shoes on with 63 metres of 8 runs which was great to see. Munster where able to read the Exeter lineout well and that is something that Exeter must freshen up in the return leg.
Munster where able to weather the storm and get themselves back in, it was a huge result from an emotional standpoint as well as the table.
Ulster welcomed Leicester to the Kingspan and sent them packing. Leicester are another of the really unlikeable English clubs who had early success in Europe but never really evolved with the times and instead of evolving they are one of the clubs moaning about the competition favouring Irish clubs. When it was changed in the last decade to help the English clubs. They are beyond arrogant and to see Ulster send them home with their tales between their legs is really beautiful to see.
24-10 was the final score and in every stat Ulster where worth that return. 56% possession for 57% territory, only 6 penalties conceded and forcing 14 penalties out of the visitors. Much like Munster this was a huge result for Ulster. It went about as well as they could have dared expect and it brings their season back on track. Some of the internationals/big signings made appearances which showed. Onward and upwards from here.
Finally, we fly over to the sportsground where Connacht welcomed the Bordeaux Beagles. Expected was a Connacht fight but to maybe come up a tiny bit short against the French but it in fact ended up the opposite way around. Again every stat favoured Connacht, 75% possession and only giving away 8 penalties. They kept scoring to the end too, 67 minutes was the last try.
This is another great return on what the new coaching setup is doing and Connacht, like ulster are moving forward.
A big week for Irish rugby and I would count it as a clean sweep.