GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY Gavin Duffy (on ground) does his bit with team-mate Jordan Turner-Hill to stop Connacht’s Daniel Riordan in the recent European Challenge Cup game at the Sportsgrounds, Galway.
Corner turned at the Stoop
HERE at Harlequins our fortunes have changed for the better in the last fortnight. At last! After seven successive defeats we travelled to Galway to take on Connacht in the Challenge Cup. The first game in a ‘new’ competition, albeit in a very tough pool which also includes Bath and Montpellier, offered us an opportunity to change our focus away from the situation we have found ourselves in the Premiership and to get back to winning ways. An opportunity to start afresh, as it were.
From a personal point of view it was great to be back in Galway and meet so many familiar faces and of course family. In particular is was nice to catch up with four out of the five lads I was in school with for six years down in Roscrea and with whom I spent another three years trying to further educate ourselves in UCG.
Due to one reason or another it was over three and a half years since we were all in the same country, never mind around the same kitchen table, so time flew as we caught up on the Thursday evening before the game. It was nearly 11pm before I knew it so I got a lift back to the hotel. God forbid if someone saw us out any later than that the night before a game!
A large crowd of 3,500 created a great atmosphere for the game played in ideal conditions under lights at the Sportsground. It wasn’t the best of games technically by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly didn’t lack in endeavour or drama. The lead changed hands twice in the closing stages with Harlequins out-half Adrian Jarvis ultimately landed the match-winning penalty in the 82nd minute.
Connacht subsequently threw everything at us and after an enthralling passage of play, which started five yards from their own line and ended deep into our 22, the referee blew his whistle. To our relief and to the home team’s dismay, he offered Quins a penalty. Jarvis belted the ball into touch and we finally knew what it was like to win again. Having spoken to some of the Connacht lads after the game they were clearly disappointed with the way they had performed. We didn’t particularly set the world on fire either, but there were elements of our game that we were more than happy with, notably our defence. But ultimately it was our first win and that was the most important thing for us.
Last Saturday we took on Montpellier at the Stoop while Connacht travelled to Bath. Incidentally, Bath beat Montpellier down in the south of France 15-21 in their first round game. French teams can be a bit temperamental on their travels in European competitions, especially if things don’t go their way early in the game, so we knew we needed a big beginning.
Luckily we got the start we wanted and found ourselves 17 points up after as many minutes. A further six tries were to follow in a 57 points to 10 victory and the Quins supporters finally had a chance to celebrate a home win this season. It’s too early to say we have turned a corner just yet. But hopefully consecutive victories will provide a springboard to better things ahead, particularly in the Premiership over the next couple of weeks.
In the other pool game, Connacht were left rueing another missed opportunity as a last minute try and conversion again robbed them of four deserved points at the Recreation Ground. Yet, as I mentioned previously, this is a very competitive group and every team is capable of beating each other on a given day.
The focus may now be turned back to our respective leagues but we all know there is still everything to play for when we return to European action again in December.
As for the underestimated Magners Celtic League versus the over-hyped Guinness Premiership argument, well, it’s four victories to two in favour of the Celts out of the six clashes so far in the Heineken Cup and four victories to nil in the Challenge Cup to the English sides. Draw what conclusions you may, I’m not opening my mouth either way!!
THE last two weekends of European Cup rugby have offered up a mixed bag of results for the Irish provinces. Having set the tone for a memorable opening weekend for the three provincial sides in the Heineken Cup with a 30-3 trouncing of three-times champions Toulouse at Ravenhill, Ulster succumbed to a 21-15 defeat to high flying Llanelli at Stradey Park last Friday night.
Although they were in a position to win the game with a driving maul close to the Scarlets line in the dying moments, the losing bonus point they managed to secure may prove vital in a highly competitive pool. Ulster face London Irish at the Madjeski Stadium when they return to European action in December and although they were the first Irish province to win the tournament in 1999 (a year the English sides decided they didn’t fancy taking part) Ulster have yet to win in England or France in this competition. No better time to buck that trend then!
Leinster also suffered the same fate as the northern province, falling to 24-25 defeat in Murrayfield to an ever-improving Edinburgh side. Having ‘shot the lights out’ with an impressive opening night performance against premiership side Gloucester, Brian O’Driscoll and Co again failed to put back-to-back victories together.
This was despite some high profile wins, the other occasion being against Borders after slaying Munster in the Celtic League. Their two games against pool leaders Agen when they return to European action are now crucial to their aspirations of progressing to the knockout stages.
Much was made of Munster’s stuttering start to the season.
Yet, as former Ireland and Lions prop Paul Wallace said in his prediction on Sky before their opening game in Leicester, even when all around him envisaged a home victory, you should never write off the men from the South. Leicester are desperately trying to recapture the dominance they enjoyed both in the Premiership and in Europe at the turn of the millennium but yet still remain a strong force, especially at Welford Road.
Ronan O’Gara’s superb injury time penalty ensured yet another famous victory for the current champions. Munster then played host to Bourgoin in Thomand Park last Saturday and stamped their early authority on Pool 4 with a bonus point victory. Cometh the hour and all that! The question is not about the champions’ desire to win the ‘holy grail’ in successive years but who is going to stop them?
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