So the Heiny quarters have passed in a frisson of intensity not normally seen in these parts outside of the 6 Nations and even then the action on the weekend before appeared to eclipse that august tournament. I didn’t see the Irish/ USAP match though I saw highlights and gotta say it, Irish qualify as the boors of Northern Hemisphere rugby. Partly based on the experience of them last season, they have an aggressive coach and a set of players, some of whom seem to think they are gawd’s gift to rugby. If Declan Danaher scores in the semis I fully expect him to take his shirt off and whirl it at the crowd, his celebration Saturday week ago was provocative and unwarranted. Hopefully Toulouse will come to the shadow of Twickenham’s gargantuan stands and teach Irish a lesson in the finer points of rugby etiquette and technical finery.
Toulouse, another of that weekend’s winners seem to have shed the previous seasons physicality as epitomised by the rugby ex-communicated milkman and settled for a high tempo game of backs and forwards interlinking with oodles of pace out wide. Not that Guy Noves their coach has set the best example in breaking and entering with intent to do harm in a spectators enclosure. Noves epitomises Toulouse in other ways. Eminently watchable, he eschews radio links, earpieces, stadia seating and suits in favour of prowling the touchline. A character unable to dispassionately view the ongoing affair. On the Sunday against Cardiff the camera panned many times to his craggy features and a hint of a smile appeared towards the end of the match as his team wound up the tempo and Cardiff slowly slid beneath the metaphorical waves of Toulouse attacking prowess. Cardiff eventually failed to live with Toulouse’s natural intensity and ultimately looked a bit out of their depth.
Few teams will live with Toulouse in this sort of form but whether they play like that at Twickenham is one of the conundrums that give Irish a chance of progressing to the final. If there is a team that can compete with Toulouse upfront and at the breakdown if not out wide, it is Munster. Dean Ryan talked post match of test match intensity. Even if Munster weren’t quite in full flight they had enough streetwise nous in the back row to make Gloucester look game but not experienced enough in all positions to ultimately win the game. It was over after 60 minutes, when Munster 16 nil up went into cruise control.
Video analysis appeared to be the biggish thing the Heiny weekend with Munster having done some thorough homework on Gloucester and had their outside backs stepping up quickly to stifle Gloucester’s pace out wide. Afterwards the Glaws fans were claiming Munster’s backs were permanently offside. Notwithstanding the odd blinkered one, they acknowledged Munster had better streetwise cred in the back row.
Saracens, Munster’s semi final opponents had also too much street craft in the back row and front row for the O’s. That and the refs interest in Marty Holah’s activities at the breakdown conspired against them playing their usual game. Interestingly they employed the same rush defence on the O’s outside backs as Munster had on their opponents. Sarries. Gaffney revealed Saracens had done their homework and if the ref. wasn’t going to stop the O’s decoys or more to the point, blockers and shirt pullers near the rucks then they would combat it themselves. This they did very effectively. I occasionally wonder why Ulster’s video analysis doesn’t allow them to do this sort of number on opponents. That’s another story.
As an aside, were Sarries win was hailed as a good win for them. It was interesting to note the Sunday Times yesterday claim that Leicester failed to show against the O’s in the EDF final. This apparently handed the O’s victory on a plate. Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely a reverse logic applies here were the Sarries match is concerned. The Ospreys left their game with the hype that preceded them as potential Heiny winners.
Saracens and Munster should be a very interesting game and one Munster will do well to survive but methinks the combined power of Munster as a team will see them through. They can’t afford though to be outplayed up front the way they were against Leinster.
Leinster are assured of a trophy, I think, after their relative failure in the Heiny whilst Ulster have taken another step to safety at Ravenhill and European rugby next season. If they (Ulster) are to compete in Europe successfully next season then they need to show they can live with the intensity of the big teams, starting this weekend with Cardiff. Although the Blues fell off the pace at Toulouse they are still a level above Ulster’s intensity at the moment I feel.
Another drubbing I fear next weekend and I still do not hear the Ravenhill roar returning.
Last Friday the atmosphere was tense and a trifle flat. Perhaps deep down the Ulsterman knows last Friday’s game wasn’t quite the crunch the Branch had been building it up to be. The roar will return when they see the sort of intensity Munster and Leinster showed when they played each other last Saturday night.
BP in ze bunker!