Leinster won ugly. A 21-16 win in France and a match where, after an early Castres try, players rarely troubled the opposition 22. Coach Matt O’Connor will have been pleased with his players’ discipline in the first 40 minutes as they conceded just one penalty. That good work was undone by six penalties conceded in the first 17 minutes of the second half, which helped Castres take a 16-9 lead.
No. 8 Jamie Heaslip again led the way with ball in hand; 23 carries against Wasps, 20 in Castres.
But the Leinster set piece was again on a shaky foundation. Three scrums and two lineouts lost, two crooked throws against Sean Cronin’s name a second consecutive week.
On the positive side, Leinster’s 97% ruck retention was superb.
In Limerick on Friday, Munster dominated territory and possession in beating Saracens 14-3. Only three teams have held Saracens to a single figure scoreline in Heineken or Champions Cup: Clermont, Toulon and now twice by Munster. Saracens’ three points scored matches their lowest ever score in the competition, a 3-22 home quarter-final to Clermont in 2012.
Munster played Saracens at their own game, kicking the ball 36 times (Saracens kicked 27 times, matching their average through six Aviva Premiership games this season) and winning the penalty battle, conceding eight to Saracens’ 12. Fans at Thomond Park saw the most kicks in play by a Munster side since November 2, 2012 when they kicked 41 times away to the Cardiff Blues in round eight of the Pro 12.
The tactic worked, making Saracens play where the home team wanted them to be. Munster’s clinical nature on the night was summed up by their winning turnover battle (10 conceded to Saracens’ 14) despite Anthony Foley’s men having more than five extra minutes of active possession (19:18 to 13:56). It was cup rugby, not easy on the eye but superbly effective.
Two rounds gone and four wins from six for the Irish provinces, but none of those went Ulster’s way. In the 19-year history of the Heineken Cup, two losses to start the competition invariably meant missing out on a quarter-final. It’s not mathematically impossible for Ulster to break that streak, but it’s far from probable.
Two weeks into the new European Rugby Champions Cup and sides of the much ballyhooed Premiership have not travelled well.
In six matches on the road against teams from a different league, Wasps are the only English team to take home so much as a point. In contrast, Pro 12 and Top 14 sides have each taken 13 points from such fixtures. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, I’m sure.