We’ve had two weeks of the European Cup and the 4 Irish provinces sit in the top 2 of their pools. On a side note I call it the European Cup for two reasons:
- It sounds vintage and classy, like the kind of tournament that has the 25 year legacy this one does.
- I can’t remember if we are supposed to call it the Heineken Cup anymore or if that will upset some of our Six Nations friends.
It’s pretty amazing that there are 4 Irish teams in the premier European rugby competition. There was a time when Connacht would not have been near qualifying for it unless another Irish side won giving them a place. It shows how far they have come along.
Starting on Friday Ulster beat Clermont in a game that was much tighter than it should have been. On the one hand, a win against Clermont in Europe is always a good win. However one might wonder if Ulster are clinical enough to put teams away. We saw in the previous weekend’s games Toulouse were able to turn the style on in the 2nd half of their game against Gloucester, and I’d fear for Ulster if they have to play one of the top teams in a knockout game. At the end of the day an away losing bonus point for Clermont is not a bad result, all teams can afford to lose one away game. I don’t want to be overly negative, because Ulster have improved, and as we mentioned in this weeks Provincial Jazz Podcast, Ulster are a work in progress at the moment. A worry for them is that they could be without Will Addison for a few games now. Addison is a player, along side Cooney, I was surprised and disapointed didn’t make the Rugby World Cup squad. Addison has that level of versatility and quality at fullback, a position Ireland are absolutely lacking in depth in at international level. With Cooney, if you’re bringing only 5 halfbacks, it only makes sense to bring somebody who can play as a scrum half and a fly half.
Connacht were unfortunate not to come away with at least a losing bonus point . To be fair this was their most difficult game, and not one they would have absolutely had to have taken something from. But it’s still disappointing. It was an encouraging display that will hopefully erase the memories of a very out of character display against Leinster at the Sportsground a little while back. Connacht have a chance of qualifying in what will still be an uphill battle of a pool.
Leinster’s trip to Lyon was not the most exciting of games. It was a slog and Leinster toughed it out. A bright spark is that Sexton looked back to his best. I would be of the opinion that Sexton should be largely left out of the Ireland squad for the Six Nations, both to give him a break, and to develop a bit of depth. I thought he should have been rested for the tour of Australia in 2018,, as it was his only chance for a break leading up to the World Cup. Players need breaks at times, and Sexton would benefit from some time away from the Ireland set up. Leinster look good to qualify from what is a deceptively difficult pool, with Lyon and Northampton on good form domestically and Benetton having greatly improved.
And then we come to Munster. Do Munster have a history of special performances at home in Europe? Because they added to that history on the weekend. It was actually their first ever home draw in the European Cup. Ultimately Racing 92 will be happy with an away draw against what are likely their biggest competitors (Saracens will be more focused on avoiding relegation after their points deduction). Munster will need two big performances against the European champions, with Ospreys an absolute must and should win. Munster may well need a few other groups to be tight to qualify as a 2nd best team, but they are capable of winning the pool.
We have this weeks Provincial Jazz podcast up now, it’s out every Tuesday covering Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster in Europe and the Pro14.
This weeks show is up on PodBean, Spotify, Player FM and MixCloud
Thanks for reading, and as always, enjoy the rugby.