New European era brings familiar scenes for Munster

The European Champions Cup may be an entirely new competition, but for Munster it must have seemed like déjà vu. The first game of the new completion for the Irish province ended as countless European matches had done before, with a last gasp drop goal from an Irish fly half to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The result was in fairness harsh on recipients Sale who dominated the first half – however Munster’s legendary resilience brought them within touching distance before the dramatic moment when Ian Keatley landed the nerveless drop.

Elsewhere in pool 1 French giants Clermont Auvergne were slain by a competent Saracens in a performance which saw Sarries wingers Chris Ashton and Dave Strettle produce finishing master classes in a bonus point 30-23 victory. The Champions Cup kicked off in London on Friday night where Harlequins comfortably saw off a below par Castre, a result which was desperately needed for out of sorts Quins.

Another team to turn the form guides on their head was Leicester who produced their best 40 minutes this season to take a 19-3 HT lead over Ulster and although the Irish side came back in the second half the Tigers held on for a 25-18 win and eased some of the pressure building on director of rugby, Richard Cockrill. Defending Champions Toulon did not seem to be missing a certain Jonny Wilkinson too much as they eased to a 10 point victory over the Scarlets and cemented their label as pre tournament favorites.

Wilkinson’s old Newcastle prodigy Toby Flood seems to have settled in at his new club, Toulouse, and the 4 time champions began with a win in the all-French encounter with Montpellier. Leinster were taken close by soon-to-be Coventry club (London) Wasps but the Dubliners’ emerged with a hard fought 5 point victory. Surprisingly Glasgow top pool 4 after producing the performance of the week in their 5 try demolition of an in form Bath side, a result and certainly a 37-10 score line not many would have predicted.

Ospreys and Racing Metro will feel aggrieved not be given the best performance tag. With Ospreys thrashing sole Italians Treviso 42-7 in Swansea and Racing denying English champions Northampton even a bonus point in a brilliant 20-11 win in Paris, both will be thrilled with their respective performances.

The story of week one has definitely been the reinforcement of home advantage. It’s often been stated, but as only one of ten matches was successful for the travelling side this weekend it really is becoming very clear that victory at home is essential and teams who can snatch those precious away wins really will be in a great position to progress through the brutally difficult pool stages.


Chris Chadburn


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