Magners League - Round 17 Review
Blues win to guarantee Heineken Cup berth
May 10, 2009
The Blues' Jamie Roberts has handed Lions head coach Ian McGeechan another injury concern © Getty Images
The Blues secured their place in next season's Heineken Cup with a hard-fought 20-12 victory over champions Munster at the Arms Park on Sunday.
However, injuries to two of their number provided further scares for the British Lions management following the loss of Tom Shanklin last Wednesday. Even before kick-off, Leigh Halfpenny felt a twinge in his hamstring and opted to pull out.
Then, early in the second half, centre Jamie Roberts - wearing the same No.12 shirt occupied by Shanklin in midweek - left the field with a shoulder injury, though he did so at a trot and unaccompanied by medical staff. Roberts will see a shoulder specialist on Monday for further tests.
"It's the same shoulder I've had an operation on before so I'm seeing the specialist to make sure everything is Okay," said Roberts. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's just a 'stinger' injury but of course it's a concern with the Lions so near. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried."
Halfpenny was withdrawn as a precautionary measure and Blues head coach and Dai Young does not anticipate there being any serious issue with the youngster's fitness. "Leigh felt his quad muscle before the game so we didn't want to take any risks," said Young. "It was purely a precautionary measure to pull him out."
The Blues commanded the opening exchanges, but lacked the finishing touch. Fly-half Nicky Robinson even missed two kickable penalties, before spurning a third opportunity and going for position near the flag. It paid off, superb handling along the line - particularly by Chris Czekaj, an emergency full-back following Halfpenny's withdrawal - let Tom James trot in on the left.
Munster, a man short after flanker Nick Williams was sin-binned, were under pressure for long periods. But the broke downfield, with full back Denis Hurley leading the way, and battered at the home line until number eight Denis Leamy stretched over.
Robinson finally landed a penalty in first-half injury time, but the three-point interval margin did not reflect the Blues' dominance. Early in the second half, the home side lost Roberts and then almost conceded a try when flanker Niall Ronan raced clear, but a knock-on ruined Munster's chance.
The Irish province were showing greater urgency and the Blues needed the TV official to rule that first Leamy and then centre Barry Murphy were held up over the line. Their efforts were eventually rewarded when right-wing Kieran Lewis crossed in the corner and Jeremy Manning converted. But, in a mirror image of the first half, the Blues scored on their first visit to the Munster 22 since the break, prop Gary Powell claiming the touchdown.
The video official then voted against the Blues, ruling that Robinson had knocked on after winning a chase after a Martyn Williams kick. But replacement Ceri Sweeney made sure of the win with an interception try, converted by Robinson.
Elsewhere, the Ospreys celebrated the signing of former New Zealand international Jerry Collins with a 34-23 victory over Glasgow in their final home Magners League match of the season.
Collins will join the Ospreys from French club Toulon next season on a two-year deal as the region look to make up for a barren 2008-09 season. With the Celtic title having gone to Munster, this match was all but meaningless although the three-try win meant the Ospreys moved level on points with second-placed Leinster.
Tries by Filo Tiatia and Gareth Owen and 14 points from the boot of fly-half James Hook saw the hosts go into the break 24-15 ahead but the visitors remained in touch thanks to scores from Bernardo Stortoni and Lome Fa'atau.
Hook and Ruaridh Jackson exchanged penalties at the start of the second half before a converted try from Jamie Nutbrown put the game beyond doubt. The bonus point evaded the Opsreys and Fa'atau crossed for Glasgow's third try late on.
On Friday, Connacht's luck deserted them at the Sportsground as they slumped to a narrow 14-12 defeat at the hands of provincial rivals Ulster.
Although they are adrift at the bottom of the Magners League table, Connacht came into this game gunning for a hat-trick of interprovincial wins at home this season. Michael Bradley's men overcame both Leinster (19-18) and Munster (12-6) earlier in the campaign in Galway, but Ulster ended their hopes of completing the full set.
Having scored 11 points in the opening 18 minutes - Simon Danielli snuck through for a try and Ian Humphreys converted two long-range penalties - Ulster made seriously hard work of their sixth straight victory over the westerners.
Tries either side of half-time from Fionn Carr and Andrew Browne saw the hosts barge into a 12-11 lead and their tails were up as Muldoon and company forced the issue up front. However, Ulster were able to snap back into the lead thanks to a Clinton Schifcofske penalty and Connacht, despite a spirited effort right to the final whistle, were left cursing three missed penalties from Ian Keatley in the second half.
There was no sign of a Heineken Cup hangover at the RDS, just champagne rugby all the way as Leinster ran seven tries past a ragged Scarlets side in a comprehensive 45-8 victory.
Wing duo Shane Horgan and Luke Fitzgerald scored two tries apiece as Michael Cheika's men sent out a clear warning to their European final opponents Leicester - last weekend's semi-final dismissal of Munster was no one-off. The Scarlets, who won 52-23 on their last visit to Dublin, were simply overwhelmed in the second half as Brian O'Driscoll, man-of-the-match Jonathan Sexton, Horgan and Girvan Dempsey helped themselves to tries.
Sexton proved himself an able deputy for the injured Felipe Contepomi against Munster and he hardly put a foot wrong six days later, producing magnificent direct play and scoring 15 points. He did spend time in the sin-bin in the first half and, while he was off, the Scarlets closed the gap to 14-8 thanks to a great individual try from winger Mark Jones.
But Fitzgerald and O'Driscoll scored either side of half-time, leaving the visitors out of the running with over half an hour remaining.
On Saturday, Edinburgh crushed Dragons 43-3 at Murrayfield with fullback Chris Pateron weighing in with 28 points. As a result coach Andy Robinson smashed his Dragons jinx as his side rattled up a record fifth Magners League triumph on the trot.
For an hour, they had to rely on the boot of Paterson to keep alive their hopes of a top-three finish to their campaign. But the Welsh resistence was broken when substitute John Houston pounced for the first try - and then it was an avalanche.
Paterson collected a remarkable haul of 28 points, including a touchown to help make sure of the precious bonus - and coach Robinson's first win against the Dragons since joining the club. The Dragons' only points came from the boot of Jason Tovey.