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The Heineken delivers once again as Cipriani thrills in Sale comeback

The Heineken Cup seems to have an unusual ability to provide memorable matches. In the first weekend of this season’s tournament, it has once again lived up to the reputation.

Be it from Sale’s Danny Cipriani inspired 34-33 comeback against the Blues, or Leinster scraping past Exeter, the Heineken Cup is always engaging.

It was a shock to see the champions struggle to that 9-6 win against Exeter, it was a game that most pundits agreed had ‘bonus point victory’ written all over it. We should have known better. Underestimate Exeter at your peril, countless Premiership Director’s of Rugby would testify to that.

Cipriani’s cameo will steal the headlines, but Sale’s was not the only inspired comeback. Northampton were two scores down against Glasgow, and after a humiliating defeat last weekend were staring into the abyss, that meaty, and indeed mighty, pack of theirs came to the rescue though, taking control of the game with their pick and go’s and the awesome power of Manoa and Lawes.

It was, in fact, generally a pretty good weekend for English rugby with Harlequins giving Biarritz a bit of a lesson, while Saracens travelled to Edinburgh to take on last years semi finalists and came away with a 45-0 victory and the momentum of the pool in their favour after Munster lost at Racing Metro.

For Leicester Tigers though it was a disastrous weekend. A 23-9 away defeat at Toulouse may not in itself be a disaster, but the way they threw away a bonus point mainly due to their own ill discipline is concerning.

Every last point will count in their pool and they cannot afford to give away penalties for daft infringements, nor can they afford not to take their own points as the chose to do when Ben Youngs took a quick tap penalty from under the posts with the scores at 14-9.

Winning these games generally comes down to who is playing the smartest rugby, Tigers were so woefully not smart that Toulouse almost didn’t have to be smart themselves.

The same could not be said of Toulon, who managed to seal the win against Montpellier and the bonus point with plenty of time left, allowing themselves to rest some of their key names.

The depth and talent of their squad is quite simply outstanding now, any side that can bring on players like Jenkins, Shaw, and Bastareaud has a serious chance. What’s is even more promising for them is that their star names are now starting to gel and play as a team, rather than the collection of bright individuals that they have been in recent years.

Elsewhere, Ulster, the Ospreys and Clermont recorded big wins against Castres, Treviso and The Scarlets respectively, while Connacht won away against Zebre to round of a fantastic weekend of Heineken Cup rugby.

The late show with Danny Cipriani will grab the headlines, with chatter of an England return already circulating in the blogosphere, in the meantime though he ought to concentrate on getting back the starting shirt of Sale.

It is the Leinster v Exeter result that I find most fascinating though, perhaps the worst game to watch of the entire weekend, it was a genuine shock to see Exeter perform so well, despite the fact that we all know by now that we shouldn’t be shocked.

What was more surprising though was the lack of sharpness of Leinster. Their policy of resting players so much in the Pro 12 looked as though it had been taken too far, with some players looking out of touch and short of practice.

That being said, if they can make sure to negotiate their way out of the pool, that lack of early season game time will pay off in the energy saved for the knockout stages.

As ever, you can’t help but be enthralled by the Heineken Cup.

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