Hawkeye Sidekick

Heineken Champions Cup: Reflections

Usual suspects to the fore

The second round of the Heineken Champions Cup is in the books. The round saw thrills and spills with some closely fought battles and an incredibly one sided fixture at Allianz Park. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at how things stand.

Pool 1: Leinster and Northampton Saints out ahead

In my earlier predictions for this competition, I thought Leinster Rugby and Northampton Saints would be the sides to watch out for. Lyon fought gallantly at home but this latest loss to Leinster Rugby signals the end of any interest in this competition.

Northampton Saints comeback win to Benetton Rugby has opened up a significant gap between the two sides. Benetton Rugby will be kicking themselves with this loss; were in control and then lost composure in the second half with defensive and discipline lapses. Biggar was ice cool at the death.

Leinster Rugby worryingly for other foes are still looking for that cohesion. This was a notable win in Lyon; not many sides go to Lyon and get a road trip win. Leinster Rugby though have the opportunity to blow this pool wide open and I sense that their performance will ball in hand will improve significantly when the Northampton Saints fixtures come around. Ronan Kelleher and James Ryan were stand outs for Leinster Rugby.

Pool 2: Exeter Chiefs hit the front early

A key home win for Exeter Chiefs against Glasgow Warriors; pack was clinical in the set piece and they showed nice passages of play out wide. Ten points from two games. They are halfway to getting a playoff berth and their fixtures against an interesting Sale Sharks outfit next month could provide huge clues on Exeter Chiefs.

Sale Sharks beat La Rochelle but the performance was a mixed bag. No bonus point try was disappointing given that La Rochelle were down to fourteen players for a good stretch. Tom Curry outstanding again. La Rochelle are gone and Glasgow Warriors may reap the benefits with a couple of bonus point wins. Glasgow Warriors are in playoff win or bust mode already.

Pool 3: Ulster Rugby in great position

The Dan McFarland era in Ulster Rugby continues to progress nicely. A thoroughly deserved victory over a misfiring ASM Clermont last Friday night. John Cooney showed yet again is superb form with another standout cameo from the tee and in open play. Coetzee was a monster in ball carrying duties.

ASM Clermont on the road are a true enigma; never sure what you will get with them and this result is a perfect case study. Hapless and ponderous for three quarters of this contest before a last quarter salvo to secure a loser point. Bath Rugby are next for ASM Clermont and a chance to get back to winning ways.

Harlequins and Bath Rugby cancelled each out with a kicking contest won by the hosts at the Stoop. Ulster Rugby have a superb opportunity to secure playoff rugby with two good performances against a Harlequins side whose talent is undoubted but their cohesion and performance consistency is. Bath Rugby look vulnerable with a trip to ASM Clermont in round three.

Pool 4: Thomond Park thriller

21-21 draw at Thomond Park. If there was any doubt that this was the pool of death, then the Munster Rugby and Racing 92 tussle was the perfect answer. Excitement, quality, physicality. It had it all. Munster Rugby somehow withstood several potential knock out blows to get into field position in the closing quarter to secure a draw. The Saracens double header becomes even more massive for Munster Rugby and conceivably looking to win both fixtures to keep tracks with Racing 92.

Ospreys are in an awful spot; the absence of their internationals and a squad who are bereft of confidence. The 44-3 loss was excruciating to watch. Saracens were given field position with Ospreys pen count in the opening period and with Daly looking the part, tries came at regular intervals. Saracens squad selection for the Munster Rugby fixtures will be interesting. The squad players have put up their hands for selection. Manu Vunipola is a super prospect and the back three threat at the weekend also caught the eye. Racing 92 will seize control of this pool.

The question is whether Munster Rugby or Saracens can realistically win both fixtures to keep pace. I have my doubts. Only one team looks likely to come up of this pool. Racing 92 look in prime position right now.

Pool 5: Toulouse stride out in front

Heartbreak for Connacht Rugby in Toulouse. Their expansive style caused Toulouse issues and if Matt Healy could only secure the ball in the closing minutes, who knows what may have happened. Toulouse on the other hand were clinical at the death, their fourth try a hammer blow for Connacht Rugby. Fine margins.

Montpellier beat Gloucester Rugby. The pool looks intriguing for the December round robin fixtures. Toulouse vs. Montpellier will be tasty in the pack exchanges.

Could their be two home wins there which could then open the door for either Connacht Rugby or Gloucester Rugby to make a charge for playoffs? All to play for those behind Toulouse but this Toulouse side looks quite good and they will only improve when the tournament heads into early Spring.