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Heineken Cup produces magic once again

Another weekend of Heineken Cup rugby goes by and once again it was another weekend of absolutely compulsive viewing.

The weekend began on Friday night with Biarritz looking to avenge their surprising loss to Connacht in Galway last week, a loss that President Serge Blanco found so displeasing that he sacked coach Jake Isaac and his assistant Serge Milhas.

Biarritz managed to win the return leg 17-0 under the guidance of athletic director Laurent Rodriguez to leave them with a slim chance of qualifying.

It will require two bonus point victories for them to have any real chance though and even then it looks likely to only be as a top runner up after Harlequins smashed Zebre 53-5 the following day to take a commanding ten point lead in the Pool 3 with just two games to play.

The other Friday night game saw Racing Metro make the trip to Murrayfield to play Edinburgh. Bottom of the group without a single win or bonus point and only nine in their points for column, hopes of a repeat of Edinburgh’s 48-47 victory over the same opposition last year were not high.

Rightly so as it turned out as Edinburgh were once again outplayed, losing 15-3 and looking an absolute shadow of the free spirited and vibrant side that reached last season’s semi final.

The main draw in Pool 1 though this weekend was Sunday nights match between Saracens and Munster at Vicarage Road. It was a game right out of the old school Heineken Cup mould, played in the driving rain.

Saracens ran out winners by 19-13 with four penalties from Owen Farrell making the difference after his shaky performance with the boot last week. Mark McCall showed faith in him though by moving him to 10 this week and Farrell repaid his faith in style. Though the interception that led to Doug Howlett’s try was a bit of a shaky moment.

It means that Saracens sit top of Pool 1 on 14 points with Racing second on 12 while Munster lie third with 11, making it all to play for at the top.

Saracens were not the only side making a statement against tough Irish opposition, Northampton travelled to Ravenhill to take on Ulster having been rather humiliated by them last week at Franklin’s Gardens.

The Saints were inspired though as they put on a mature and composed display against the form side in Europe up to this point. It means that while Saints still lie third in Pool 4, they are right back in the hunt with Ulster only five points ahead now at the top of the group.

It is third and not second at the moment for Northampton because in the other Pool 4 game Castres notched up their third win of the campaign with a 10-8 victory at home against Glasgow. The defeat at least game Glasgow another bonus point but means that the Scottish sides are yet to win a match in this seasons Heineken Cup.

Sunday was a pretty good day for the French as after Castres edged past Glasgow, Toulon welcomed Sale to the South of France in one of their most dominant displays in Heineken Cup history.

Toulon put 9 tries past the Salford based side as they won by an embarrassing 62-0, despite the likes of Wilkinson, Fernandez-Lobbe, Hayman, Shaw and Bastareaud being left on the bench.

It leaves Sale second bottom and unable to qualify from Pool 6, but perhaps more importantly even more devoid of confidence than before, while Toulon look comfortable at the top of the group with only Montpellier having a slim chance of catching them.

Montpellier stayed in the hunt with an exciting 34-21 victory over the Cardiff Blues after Scottish number 8, Johnnie Beattie, scored a try to seal an all important bonus point for the French side. It was Cardiff’s fourth defeat from four but in truth it was a brave performance that probably deserved a losing bonus at the very least.

The Ospreys showed Cardiff how to do it against French opposition though as they rejuvenated their campaign with a surprising home win over Pool 2’s previous leaders, Toulouse.

A 17-6 win was more than even the most optimistic Ospreys fans would have predicted after what had been a poor campaign up to that point. Hopes of qualification were further raised as news filtered though that Treviso had almost beaten Leicester.

As it was Leicester just won but a 14-13 away win was far less than the Tigers were hoping for in a pool where every bonus point counts with just five points covering the top 3.

All of which leaves Pool 5, the pool containing the two best sides in Europe over the last few years, Leinster and Clermont Auvergne.

Clermont had won at home against Leinster last week but the Irish side clung onto a losing bonus point to give them confidence for the return fixture this weekend.

Clermont were simply outstanding though, with Morgan Parra completely bossing the game from scrum-half and scoring 23 of his sides points as they won 28-21.

Leinster managed to grab another bonus point though and it could just be crucial if Clermont slip up or they hope to grab one of the best placed second place spots.

Leinster showed the true spirit of champions though after being 25-9 down at one point and looking completely down and out. To salvage a bonus point from that was an impressive feat.

Just in case you thought this one was a two horse face though, Exeter pulled out another marvelous win against the Scarlets, as they just missed out on a bonus point with a 30-20 victory.

It leaves the Chiefs on 9 points just one behind Leinster, and in with a shout, albeit a small one.

Results:

Friday:

Biarritz 17-0 Connacht

Edinburgh 3-15 Racing Metro

Saturday:

Exeter Chiefs 30-20 Scarlets

Harlequins 53-5 Zebre

Leinster 21-28 Clermont Auvergne

Montpellier 34-21 Cardiff Blues

Ospreys 17-6 Toulouse

Treviso 13-14 Leicester

Ulster 9-10 Northampton

Sunday:

Castres 10-8 Glasgow

Saracens 19-13 Munster

Toulon 62-0 Sale

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