Imagine Rugby Blogs

Champions Leave it Late for Heineken Cup Draw

First round of European Cup matches

Posted Nov 14, 2011 by Chris White

The reigning champions started with a draw

The reigning Heineken Cup champions Leinster left it late to rescue a draw away to Montpellier in the opening round of European Cup matches, while there were some thrilling matches elsewhere in the competition.

A last minute penalty from Jonathan Sexton levelled the scores, after the French side had raced into a 13-6 half-time lead. Montpellier took the lead when Benoit Paillaugue kicked an early penalty, but Sexton levelled shortly after, before adding another to give the champions the lead. Lucas Amorosino’s interception led to the first try of the match, eventually off-loading to Fulgence Ouedraogo to run in unopposed. Paillaugue added the conversion, and followed it up with a penalty before the break to extend the lead.

That lead was enhanced by a Francois Trinh-Duc penalty, making it 16-6, but Sean Cronin barged his way through the defence to touch down Leinster’s first try just after the hour to put them back into the match. Sexton kicked the penalty, reducing the deficit to just three to set up a nervy final quarter. Both sides failed to add to the scoreline, add it looked as though the French had held out for the win until Sexton stepped up to slot home the last minute penalty from out wide with the final kick of the match to make it 16-16.

There was another last minute score in the other Pool Three fixture, with Richie Gray of Glasgow Warriors taking advantage of the kind bounce to score the winning points in a 26-21 victory against Bath. The first half was a battle of the two kickers, as Duncan Weir kicked three penalties, and Tom Heathcote kicked two as the first half ended 9-6 to the home side. Heathcote kicked four more after the break, and Stephen Donald added another as Bath edged into a late lead, after Stuart Hogg scored a converted try.

Then came the dramatic late change of events as Weir’s high kick went from innocuous, to in favour of the Warriors as Gray raced in to grab the ball and touch down, with the television match official needed to confirm the try. Weir kicked the easy conversion to make sure of the win for the Warriors.

Gloucester were denied a famous victory on French soil by a late Clement Poitrenaud try, rescuing Toulouse, who had trailed 10-0 after a penalty from Freddie Burns, who then converted a try from Charlie Sharples.  A penalty from Luke McAlister had the home side on the scoreboard, and Timoci Matanavou scored a try before the break. Two more penalties from the All Black after the break made it 14-10, but Henry Trinder looked to have won it for the Cherry and Whites as he burst through to score. With just eight minutes left on the clock, Poitrenaud was released to capitalise on the growing pressure on the Gloucester line, and the conversion from Lionel Beauxis sealed the win.

Harlequins took their domestic form into Europe and top Pool Six, with a 25-17 win against Connact in the other Pool Six match, setting a record for the club’s best start to a season. With both sides exchanging penalties early on, the visitors scored the first try through Tiernan O’Halloran, but Karl Dickson went over for the home side before the interval converted by Nick Evans, making it 19-10 to Quins.

Gavin Duffy put the Irish side back in contention, but two Evans penalties made sure that Harlequins sealed their 11th straight victory of the season, their best start since the 1954-55 and 1996-97 seasons.

In Pool One, Scarlets made a good start to their European campaign with a 31-23 victory against Castres.  In a relatively quiet first half, it was the home side who went in ahead at the break, leading 9-6, but the game sprung into life early in the second half as first Sean Lamont, then Ben Morgan and finally Jonathan Davies scored tries for Scarlets. With the Welsh side comfortably ahead, things were looking rosy, but Marc Andreu and Chris Masoe scored in quick succession to rattle the home side, but a Rhys Priestland penalty settled any nerves, securing the win.

In the other match in the Pool, Munster were grateful to an injury-time drop goal from Ronan O’Gara, as they beat Northampton 23-21 in a thrilling encounter. Damien Varley scored an early try for the Irish side, only for Chris Ashton to strike back for the Saints. Doug Howlett scored a second try for the home side to make it 13-7 at the half time whistle.

James Downey replied for Northampton to put them back in front, with both sides then exchanging penalties. Then came the crucial moment in the match, as a 41-phase move from Munster resulted in O’Gara dropping the winning goal to settle it, giving Munster the points.

Aviva Premiership champions Saracens had a relatively easy day out against Treviso, with Owen Farrell scoring 22 points in a 42-17 victory at Vicarage Road. Farrell’s try, subsequent conversion and three penalties were the home side’s only points of the first half, but the champions showed their pedigree in the second half as their opponents visibly tired. Chris Wyles, David Strettle and Ernst Joubert all crossed in the second half, before debutant John Smit added a fifth try. With the game virtually over, Alberto Scarbi and Gonzalo Padro scored tries for the visitors but it was all too little too late, as Sarries got the maximum 5 points.

Ospreys are hot on their heels in Pool Five, thanks to a 28-21 victory against Biarritz at the Liberty Stadium. A Tommy Bowe try and eight successful kicks from Dan Biggar were the difference between the two sides, extending the Ospreys’ unbeaten home record in Europe to 17 games. Iain Balshaw scored two tries for the visitors, who simply couldn’t deal with the continuous scoring of Biggar and the Ospreys.

Ian Humphreys scored all of the Ulster points in their 16-11 win against Clermont Auvergne, converting his own try and kicking three penalties, as they came from 11-6 down at the break. Clermont controlled the first half, and a sixth minute try from Noa Nakaitaci was the perfect start, but the decisive moment came in the 70th minute as Adam D’Arcy broke away and found Humphreys to touch down in the corner.

Leicester were victorious buy frustrated in Italy against Aironi, narrowly missing out on their bonus point, having moved into a 20-0 lead thanks to two penalties from Toby Flood and converted tries from Tom Croft and Alesana Tuilagi. Luciano Orquera pulled back two penalties for the home side before the interval, and added two more in the second half. Niall Morris scored in the last minute, but it was too late for the Tigers to press for a fourth try for the bonus point.

A sensational second half fight back from Edinburgh saw the Scottish side take the points from the Madejski Stadium, beating London Irish 20-19. When Tom Homer kicked his fourth penalty for the Exiles shortly after the break, the score was 19-10 to the home side, but tries from Lee Jones and Stuart McInally, and then a late penalty from Greig Laidlaw ensured that Edinburgh went second in Pool Two.

They site level on points with Cardiff Blues after the Welsh side came away from their trip to Paris with a 26-20 victory against Racing Metro. Dan Parks kicked 16 points in the 26-20 victory, with Tau Filise and Alex Cuthbert scoring a try apiece. Juan Imhoff went over for Racing, Juan Martin Hernandez scored a drop goal and Gaetan Germain kicked 12 points.

Which was the pick of this weekend’s Heineken Cup fixtures? Share your thoughts here, on Twitter @ImagineRugby and on Facebook by clicking here.

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