Heinken Cup 2012-2013: Week 1 Review

Paul MurphyCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2012

Heinken Cup 2012-2013: Week 1 Review

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    Week 1 of the Heineken Cup is in the books, and such was the intensity on display, that it seems as if it had never been away.

    The action that has made this tournament the premier competition in club rugby was amply showcased, justifying BT and Sky going to war to secure broadcast rights.

    In the Heineken Cup, every game matters, and thus after just one week we have an idea how things are shaping up, and which teams are in danger of elimination.

    You can't win the tournament in Week 1, but you can certainly doom your chances.

    Here's a breakdown of all the action.

Pool 1

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    Racing Metro 22 vs. Munster 17

    The biggest shock of the weekend came in Paris, where Racing ended a two-year wait for a home win by knocking off the two-time champions.

    Munster started brightly, and when Paul O'Connell crashed over the line, they appeared to have raced into a 15-point lead. However, the TMO had other ideas, correctly ruling it a knock-on, and Munster took the foot off the peddle, letting Racing back into the game.

    Munster were their own worst enemies. Committing numerous errors against a pack as strong as Racing's will punish you.

    Simon Zebo scored a magnificent individual try to put Munster 17-16 in front with five minutes remaining, only for Munster to concede two penalties. 

    In such a competitive group every point counts, meaning Munster are on the brink of disaster.

     

    Edinburgh 0 vs. Saracens 45

    Having struggled to score tries in recent weeks, no one expected Saracens to put up a cricket score in Scotland, but they were relentless on Saturday.

    The club has made no secret of their ambitions, and this was a serious statement. Their pack is good enough to take on anyone, so if they can continue to unleash their backs, they will be contenders.

    In true Saracens style, they ground Edinburgh into submission in the first half, before killing the game in the second.

    Charlie Hodgson is relishing playing behind the Sarries pack, and in-form, he has the skills to cause havoc.

     

    Next weekend

    Edinburgh are as good as out, while Munster cannot afford another slip-up. Expect them to unleash all their frustrations on Edinburgh in Thomond Park next Sunday, where a bonus point is required.

    In previous years, Racing have had their minds elsewhere after opening-day defeats, but they will be motivated when they travel to London next weekend. Two titanic packs will go head to head, so don't expect free-flowing rugby.

Pool 2

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    Ospreys 38 vs. Treviso 17

    It was a case of job-done for the Ospreys on Friday night in Swansea, as they overcame a gritty Treviso side, picking up a bonus point in the process.

    In this tight group every point matters, so Ospreys couldn't afford an early slip up. They had to wait until the final play of the game, but they got theirs in the end.

    Talented young winger Hanno Dirksen continued his meteoric rise by scoring two tries, while Eli Walker scored a magnificent solo effort.

    The Ospreys pack held up well against a combative Italian pack, while their young backs showed some serious promise.

     

    Toulouse 23 vs. Leicester 9

    Two European heavyweights came head-to-head in Toulouse in a game that will have huge bearing on the overall standings.

    Leicester will be happy to have escaped Toulouse without conceding a four-try bonus point, but they will need to improve on this display if they are to qualify.

    The Tigers had the better of the opening proceedings before Toulouse upped the tempo to pull away, after Gael Fickou scored the only try of the game.

    Toulouse bossed proceedings, with the weather playing a role in dampening their running game. Their scrum got the upper hand, while their backs looked much more dangerous.

    Leicester were guilty of some poor decision-making, with Ben Youngs being particularly culpable.

     

    Next weekend

    Treviso will welcome Toulouse to Italy, with the French giants sure to be going all-out in search of a bonus-point victory.

    The Ospreys will travel to Leicester in a game the Tigers need to win, and win well, to remain in the hunt. Leicester will need to play sensibly, focusing on winning the game and not worrying about a bonus point, as the Ospreys will know a win here would give them a great shot at progressing. 

Pool 3

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    Zebre 10 vs. Connacht 19

    Given that neither team has a realistic shot at qualification, Connacht and Zebre find themselves in a two-way playoff for the Amlin Challenge Cup, with first blood going to the Tribesmen.

    This was Zebre's major shot at a win this season, so they will be hugely disappointed to totally miss out on the points.

    Connacht showed their greater experience, controlling the second half and allowing Dan Parks to kick them to victory.

    Zebre failed to take advantage of their early dominance, and at this level, complacency will be punished.

     

    Harlequins 40 vs. Biarritz 13

    In a game of two halves, Harlequins weathered the loss of talisman Nick Evans to see off their main group-rivals with ease.

    Quins seemed stunned by the early loss of Evans, struggling to impose themselves on Biarritz in the first half.

    They were a different side after the break, with Danny Care back to his busy best and Ben Botica appearing unfazed by the task of replacing Evans.

    They were made to wait until the very end of the game, but Seb Stegmann's controversial late try secured the bonus point.

    Biarritz are not the side of yesteryear, but they are still a daunting proposition. This heavy defeat is a setback, but they are not out of contention yet.

     

    Next weekend

    Biarritz will welcome Zebre to the Basque country, chasing a bonus-point victory. The poor Italians will be no match for their French rivals, so will have to try keep the game tight.

    Harlequins will travel to Galway, with last year's defeat in the back of their minds. Revenge is a dish best served cold, so expect the Quins to come out all guns blazing.

Pool 4

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    Ulster 41 vs. Castres 17

    In an emotional evening at Ravenhill, Ulster were able to honour their fallen brother with a dominant victory.

    Despite losing their talisman Stephen Ferris to a late fitness test, Ulster scored early to calm their nerves, with Andrew Trimble crossing for his 19th try in the competition.

    Ruan Pienaar returned to pull the strings, while returning hero Tommy Bowe and a healthy Jared Payne added a sense of danger to the back-line.

    With NS printed on their shirts, Ulster seem primed to ride a wave of emotion all the way to Dublin.

    Castres, on the other hand, are probably done for another year, with their focus shifting to domestic action.

     

    Northampton 24 vs. Glasgow 15 

    Glasgow will be kicking themselves this week, as they had this game in the bag after half an hour. Leading 15-0, they took their foot off the gas, allowing Northampton to steal two late first-half tries.

    Once you give a team like Northampton a sniff they will punish you, and they duly bossed the second half.

    The Pisi brothers were electric anytime they got their hands on the ball, while the Saints pack eventually got the better of a dogged Glasgow unit.

    Going forward, the Saints will worry about their issues at 10. Stephen Myler struggled hugely today, with both his general play and with the boot, leaving the door ajar for Ryan Lamb.

    If they are to progress they will need one of these two to step up to the plate. Glasgow, on the other hand, may have thrown away their best chance to progress.

     

    Next weekend

    Castres don't have the squad to fight on two fronts, so chances are they will field a weakened team when they welcome Northampton to France.

    Ulster will travel to Glasgow hoping to continue their hot start. Glasgow will be despondent after a disappointing loss, so they will need a hot start, or they could be done for the year.

Pool 5

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    Leinster 9 vs. Exeter 6

    Followers of the Aviva Premiership will not be surprised that Exeter ran the reigning European champions so close to defeat.

    They have made a habit of exceeding expectations, and were very unlucky to come away from Dublin with just a losing bonus point.

    Leinster have had a poor start to the season, and failed to exert any control over their less illustrious opponents.

    When Ignacio Mieres lined up a last-minute kick to tie the game, pundits were forecasting doom for the Irish outfit.

    His kick drifted wide, and Leinster had got out of jail. With Clermont waiting to strike, they can't afford another slip-up.

     

    Clermont 49 vs. Scarlets 16

    The Scarlets exiting young tyros got a taste of just how far they have to go if they are to join the European giants.

    Clermont are desperate for success, and the Scarlets simply didn't have the power to stay with them.

    The Scarlets showed no shortage of desire or intent, but Clermont had the quality to weather an early onslaught before striking.

    They are the complete package with no discernible weakness, and simply had too much in reserve for the Welshmen,

    The scoreline flattered the hosts slightly, but on this evidence they are hungry to end Leinster dominance.

     

    Next weekend

    Leinster will travel to Wales knowing that they must win, and must do so in style. But the Scarlets gave them a hiding earlier this season, so they must not be underestimated.

    Clermont will be traveling to new territory when they visit Exeter, so they will need to do their research. The Chiefs will not roll over for anyone, so Clermont will need to be at their best.

Pool 6

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    Sale 34 vs. Cardiff 33

    Sale were finally able to end their six-game losing streak in a pulsating comeback win against the Cardiff Blues.

    They spent a lot of money luring Danny Cipriani back to England this summer, and that move finally began to pay off, as he came off the bench to inspire Sale to their first victory of the year.

    Sale had the possession and territorial advantage, but Cardiff were ruthlessly clinical, with powerful winger Alex Cuthbert racing in for three first-half tries.

    Leigh Halfpenny's huge boot was punishing Sale errors, and the Sharks seemed clueless until the introduction of Cipriani.

    His try sparked Sale into life, before Mark Jennings and Tony Buckley scored the tries that gave Sale a narrow victory.

     

    Toulon 37 vs. Montpellier 16

    Many pundits have backed Toulon as a dark horse for the Heineken Cup, and they appeared every inch the potential champions on Sunday night.

    They weren't spectacular in seeing off an under-strength Montpellier side, but did enough to secure the four-try bonus point.

    Montpellier showed the lack of interest that has become common for French sides in recent years, making 11 changes from the side that beat Racing Metro last weekend.

    They appear resigned to fighting for second place, focusing on racking up the points against Cardiff and Sale. 

    They fought hard, but were no match for a powerful Toulon side making a statement of intent.

    Jonny Wilkinson pulled the strings behind a dominant pack, while Delon Armitage looked to have found some form in the South of France.

     

    Next weekend

    Sale will travel to France buoyed by their first success, but will face off against a well-rested Montpellier side knowing they need a big win.

    Cardiff should be no match for the star-studded Toulon outfit, especially if Sam Warburton is out, and will focus on trying to secure a losing bonus point.