A massive weekend of European rugby is over. Toulon were definitely a hit whereas Munster and Ulster will want to forget about their matches as soon as possible.
The best rugby referee in the world has become known for some of his one liners out on the paddock and he was at it again on Saturday as Quins entertained Wasps at the Stoop. When Quins lock, George Robson and Wasps’ Bradley Davies, started to grapple with each other, Owens responded majestically. After asking them to stop, he said “if you want a cwtsh (Welsh for cuddle) do it after the match.” Needless to say both players desisted pretty quickly.
— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) January 18, 2015
Head coach, Mike Ford, hailed it as a special victory as the West Country side obliterated Toulouse’s perfect European this season to pieces. Tries from Matt Banahan, Chris Cook, Jamie Joseph and Francois Louw contributed to the 35-18 bonus point win which gives Bath a real opportunity of reaching the last eight. Up front Bath’s scrum was outstanding and secured the foundations for the win. It was Toulouse’s heaviest ever defeat in Europe at the Stade Ernst Wallon.
The champions are the first team to qualify for the knockout stages after they put 60 points on a brave but limited Ulster side. The first half was a tight affair with Toulon having a three point advantage. However, two tries right before the interval from wing, Bryan Habana and centre, Mathieu Bastareaud, allowed the Toulonnais to relax and cut loose in the second half. Steffon Armitage plundered himself a hat-trick of tries, along with a score from Martin Castrogiovanni and a try of the tournament contender from replacement, Mamuka Gorgodze. Coach, Bernard Laporte, will no doubt be unhappy conceding four tries but it will take something special for Toulon to be stopped as the first team to do three in-a-row.
The Coventry side (still seems strange saying that) produced a showing full of grit to get the better of their Premiership rivals at the stoop. Only thirty percent of the possession and territory would normally result in a heavy loss but led by Captain, James Haskell, Wasps tackled everything and took the few chances that came their way. The four points set up a winner takes all clash with Leinster at the Ricoh Arena next week. On this performance few would bet against the Wasps pulling off another seismic shock.
Munster: There was much build up to the contest in Allianz Park. We were told that Munster would be ready to produce another memorable European Cup showing against all the odds. What we got was Anthony Foley’s men capitulating to a well drilled Saracens. The Reds were awful as the English side won comfortably 33-10, scoring three tries in the process. Rob Penney was never popular amongst the Red hordes notwithstanding two European Cup semi-finals. One can only feel that Foley will start to feel the supporters’ wrath if he does not deliver in the Pro12.
Neil Doak: It was a brave effort from a depleted Ulster side as they were eventually crushed by the mighty Toulon. Injuries have ravaged the Northerners this season contributing to their poor form and early elimination from the continental competition. However, Doak’s decision to rest key players like Rory Best and Tommy Bowe was ill-advised against such a powerful outfit. His questionable selection decisions meant Ulster started with two scrumhalfs on the bench. Paul Marshall and Michael Heaney had to come on and replace the injured Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson after Ian Humphreys ran out on to the pitch for winger Louis Ludik. Doak will leave the head coaching role at the end of the term but the question must be asked; will he last that long?
Nigel Wray: The Saracens chairman made a big blunder in his column in the programme before Saturday’s game with Munster. He welcomed the “orange hordes”. D’oh!
Rovigo: The Italian part-timers are not one of the bigger names in European rugby but their name was up in lights for all the wrong reasons. Rovigo had 104 points put on them by the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park. Their try line was crossed 16 times in total on a night they probably wish to forget. Sure there is always next week!
By Matt Cassidy
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