Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs
The opening weekend of Heineken Cup action saw a largely predictable set of results, if not some of the margins.
Exeter’s proud home record always meant they stood a fine chance of beating Cardiff, but no one expected a demolition job on the scale of the first half thwacking they gave Lions captain Sam Warburton’s pink-clad troops.
The one major shock was at Murrayfield, where Edinburgh turned their PRO12 form on its head with a home win over Munster, who had looked in good form in the victory over Leinster just a week earlier.
And so, it was a weekend where the order of big names straightened itself out a little.
The Heineken Cup, perhaps for the last time, is under way, and it’s great to have it back.
10. (Last Week 10) Ospreys, PRO12
Ospreys have never quite stepped up to the plate when it really matters in Europe, and despite their starting lineup being studded with Lions, they could do nothing about the power and precision of Leinster.
If there is a pool of pain in the year’s tournament, the Ospreys are in it. Northampton and Castres promise no easy days ahead.
The Welshmen’s pack needs to assert itself far more aggressively than it did in this opener, and its back line cannot afford to be manhandled in the fashion Leinster dealt with them on Saturday night.
9. (7) Northampton, Premiership
A bonus point defeat away to the champions of France seems, on the face of it, a decent outcome.
But Northampton may have viewed this as their best chance of victory on the road in a pool containing Leinster and the Ospreys.
Castres are 11th in the Top 14 at present and were by no means firing on all cylinders at Stade Pierre-Antoine.
For the Saints, it was a story of plenty of bark but not enough bite when it mattered, repeatedly dogging their way into the opposition 22, but lacking the ferocity to make territory count.
An interception score from Romain Martial after a wayward pass from Luther Burrell was a rare moment of pulse-quickening rugby in a forgettable game.
8. (New Entry) Clermont Auvergne, Top 14
Clermont stay in the top 10 despite an away defeat to Racing Metro, 13-9.
Last year’s beaten finalists deserved more than a losing bonus point from their visit to the French capital, after dominating territory and possession for long periods. The form in particular of former All Black wing Sitiveni Sivivatu was a highlight for Clermont.
It was his burst on which Clermont failed to capitalise, instead suffering a turnover that led to Marc Andreu’s try, the only five-pointer of the night.
With the hapless Harlequins visiting Stade Marcel Michelin next weekend, the men in yellow will be hoping to vent their frustrations on Conor O’Shea’s side to reassert themselves in the pool.
7. (4) Leicester, Premiership
Judging by past performances at Ravenhill, this wasn’t a bad night’s work for the Tigers.
Having lost 33-0 and 41-7 in their last two visits to Ulster, a bonus-point-securing 22-16 defeat is an improvement. Head coach Richard Cockerill will know he needs to keep 15 men on the field after seeing the way Ulster took advantage while Jordan Crane spent 10 minutes in the bin.
Paddy Jackson nailed three penalties while the No. 8 cooled his jets.
A decent mauling of Treviso at Welford Road next weekend is now required to get the Tigers in the hunt for qualification.
6. (8) Munster, PRO12
Defeat in Edinburgh was not the start Rod Penney’s men were looking for.
A fired-up Edinburgh were hungry to make amends for a poor start in the PRO12, and they were aided by a litany of Munster errors that left their fans tearing their hair out.
Tries from Casey Laulala and Dave Sherry looked to have established Munster in the box seat at Murrayfield, but scrum half Greig Laidlaw was in inspired form for the hosts and amassed 19 points to get Edinburgh back in front.
With Gloucester on a high after conquering Perpignan at Kingsholm in Round 1, Munster will have a job on its hands reestablishing itself at home next week, and with away trips to Gloucestershire and Catalonia still to come, a pool that looked a relatively easy route to the top for Munster now appears a more mountainous challenge.
5. (5) Montpellier, Top 14
Mission accomplished for Montpellier in Round 1 of the Heineken Cup.
A potential banana skin at Treviso, who have lost just one of their last nine at home, was avoided in businesslike fashion.
Leading only 12-3 in the second half, the introduction of the in-form Jonathan Pelissie saw the Frenchmen stretch their lead with a penalty and converted try from the scrum half.
Control of the pool is up for grabs on Saturday, when Ulster visit the south of France.
4. (New Entry) Leinster, PRO12
The Dubliners were on song in a soaking Swansea on Saturday night to leap on to this list with an impressive display.
Shorn of Jonny Sexton and missing Brian O’Driscoll, they faced an Ospreys pack with five Lions in the starting eight, and they battered them.
Sean O’Brien looked every inch the player who became a test Lion in the summer, while Sexton’s absence went unnoticed with a sublime showing from new boy Jimmy Gopperth.
The kiwi No. 10 looks to be enjoying having a higher caliber of colleague around him than he played with at Newcastle, and his late penalty also confiscated a losing bonus point from the Welshmen.
3. (3) Toulouse, Top 14
The aristocrats of Europe were unlikely to be troubled by the novices from Italy, and it proved a regulation five-pointer for Toulouse.
Yoann Huget nabbed another couple for himself, while a brace for Maxime Medard plus tries from Yannick Nyanga and Gregory Lamboley ensured a straightforward night's work.
All of Toulouse’s big-game players need to be on their mettle next Friday night as they walk into a wall of Wembley noise to take on the English league leaders.
2. (1) Saracens, Premiership
Mark McCall’s men got their European campaign underway at the Galway Sports Ground with a functional, if not fashionable, 23-17 win over Connacht.
The Irish minnows aren’t a powerhouse by any means, but on a soggy night in the West of Ireland they are a tough nut to crack.
So, job well done for the English pace-setters, who had Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton to thank for their tries. All eyes now turn to Wembley on Friday night with the visit of Toulouse.
Last year, the Fez Heads broke the world record for attendance at a club match when 83,761 watched them play Harlequins there. Friday’s clash is worthy of similar attention.
Check out their Wembley highlights here.
1. (2) Toulon, Top 14
This column predicted a thumping for Glasgow by the champions of Europe, and Toulon duly delivered, 51-28.
Their first-half display supported their 4/1 status as favourites to retain their crown with a combination of forward power and coruscating back play that left Glasgow spinning like a top.
Doubles for Matt Giteau and Maxime Mermoz were accompanied by a try from Chris Masoe and another from England's forgotten man, Delon Armitage.
Credit to the Warriors for going down swinging with a four-try bonus point of their own.
Looking around Europe, it’s very hard to see anyone coping with the weaponry at Bernard Laporte’s disposal. Ali Williams, Bakkies Botha, Giteau, Mermoz and that fella from England reaching the fag end of his career. Decent kicker in his day by all accounts.
Their team sheet reads like the queue outside the IRB Hall of Fame, and it's a good deal longer than the line of pundits and armchair fans who think anyone will touch this lot in Europe this year.
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