The return of the English enforcer
October 21, 2013
Cardiff Blues enjoy their win over Toulon © Getty Images
With the dust now settling on the second round of an eventful Heineken Cup weekend, the Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points.
The Blues tickled pink
It is amazing what can change in the space of a week. Last weekend, the daggers were out for Cardiff Blues coach Phil Davies, the guillotine was hovering ever-closer to his prone neck. Fast-forward six days and he was in tears, but these weren't triggered by anger or a feeling of failure, they were of celebration.
Not even the most confident of Blues fans would have predicted they would turn over the Heineken Cup champions Toulon a week after conceding 36 points in the first-half to Exeter. But they did.
The scenes at the end of the match were as if the Blues had won the Heineken Cup and everyone in the crowd had found £10 down the back of their seat as they ran on to the artificially-turfed field and celebrated with their heroes. Rugby's a funny old game and the pink-clad Blues embodied this perfectly on Saturday.
Awards of the Weekend
The return of the English enforcer
Courtney Lawes, so long the man spoken of as the enforcer England needs. Against the Ospreys, he showed why he has to start in the second-row against Australia on November 2. This is no slight on Joe Launchbury, the Wasps lock will be in and around the international scene for the rest of his career it seems but Lawes has taken his game to another level at the start of this season.
Injuries have thrown spanners in various works for Lawes over the past 12 months but he played like a man possessed against the Welsh outfit. From the first seconds of the match he was flying into the Ospreys defence and he maintained this intensity throughout finishing the game with an impressive total of 20 tackles.
"Courtney was sensational, not just in his restarts, but his defence as well," Northampton rugby director Mallinder said. "He was in and out of games a little bit in the past. Now he is the sort of complete player for the full game."
He's hitting form at the right time and Stuart Lancaster will be taking notice.
Lawes on the charge © PA Photos
The fearsome French production line
What do they feed them on the other side of the channel? At the French academy in Marcoussis, you have visions of them herding in tonnes of meat every day, barely showing it a flame and then delivering it to the players who consume it with scant regard for the side dish of vegetables. The next generation of French players are simply huge as we saw at Wembley on Friday.
At hooker, Toulouse had Christopher Tolofua, a 19-year-old who was 120 kilos at the age of 17. At No.8 stood 22-year-old Gillian Galan who, if you squint, resembles the Honey Monster. And they can both play. Both are still slightly raw in terms of rugby nous but that will soon be sorted as they get exposed to more top-level rugby. Europe beware.
Bizarre case of the Ospreys
Always fancied to do some damage in the Heineken Cup before the first ball is kicked in anger, the Swansea outfit have never lived up to their potential in the tournament. Their team is full of quality, Lions are intertwined throughout their outfit. But on the European stage, it just does not seem to click for the Welsh side. Their loss to Northampton is a nail into the coffin of their Heineken Cup aspirations.
Whistling of the crooked feed
Praise be to Greg Garner. The referee correctly sin-binned Castres No.9 Julien Tomas during their match against Leinster for putting in three crooked feeds to the scrum. The decision prompted IRB CEO Brett Gosper to laud Garner on Twitter but ex-England scrum-half Matt Dawson was less than impressed who claimed the rule was ruining the game. We side with Garner here.
Irish clubs flying under the radar
Eight games between the four Irish provinces and six wins to show for their efforts. Leinster have been solid but unspectacular in putting Ospreys and Castres to the sword while Connacht and Munster have both recorded a win apiece. But it is those men from the north of the border who are the shining light for the emerald isle at the moment.
Ulster have suffered their fair share of heartbreak both on and off the field in the past two seasons but they look to be a fearsome, collective unit at present. Ruan Pienaar is probably in the top three or four scrum-halves in the world while Tommy Bowe adds real class whenever he receives the ball. The forwards are ticking over, even though they are without star flanker Stephen Ferris, and they are in charge of Pool 5. Their win away at Montpellier bucked the trend as they had only record one triumph in France out of 14 attempts prior to Saturday's effort.
Quins show plenty of heart
Last week, Harlequins were abysmal against Scarlets. Conor O'Shea gave them a public dressing down and called for a reaction against Clermont. And that's exactly what he got. Harlequins were committed and perhaps unlucky not to get more out of the game than a solitary losing bonus point. Danny Care was a constant nuisance around the breakdown while George Robson lost blood for their cause. A real morale-boosting performance.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.