Heineken Champions Cup Review – Thanks For The Memories!
It was billed as a dream final, but Saturday was a bit of a nightmare for Leinster; their drive for a fifth Heineken Champions Cup crown blown apart by the brute force of Saracens. It was the English side’s third triumph in four years, underlining their status as the most formiddable club side in European rugby.
It was a fitting conclusion to the tournament, which was punctuated by titanic tussles and mesmerising matches from word go. As the players enjoy some well-earned rest, we’re taking a look back at some of the most memorable games of the season; this lot won’t be forgotten in a hurry…
SANDY PARK STALEMATE
Exeter Chiefs v Munster, October 13th
All those clichés of irresistable force meeting immovable object turned to reality on the opening weekend, as two heavyweights of European rugby huffed, puffed and ultimately shared the spoil. You could feel the hits through the screen as the hosts pulled ahead, only for Munster to claw their way back to parity. The conditions were less than perfect, and the scoreboard doesn’t look special – but this was a reminder of what cup rugby is all about!
Toulouse v Leinster, October 21st
The reigning kings opened their account in suitably regal fashion, smashing Wasps to smithereens on the first evening of the tournament, and Leinster headed to the south of France as the undisputed team to beat…which meant it was big news when Toulouse beat them! With plenty of panache – and a little bit of pluck, too – the French side sounded a warning of their own intent, as well as showing that even the best sides around aren’t untouchable. Suddenly, the tournament looked like an open contest again…
KINGS OF KINGSPAN
Ulster v Racing 92, January 12th
Having been handily defeated in Paris, nobody needed to tell Ulster the challenge that awaited them in their penultimate pool game – one they needed to win to keep their quarter-final qualification hopes alive. Racing (ahem) into a 13 point lead, they looked to be well on their way, but a game of unbearable tension followed; a fortuitous forward pass on 77 minutes allowed the Irish side to stay a point ahead, with Will Addison putting the exclamation mark on a famous Ulster win minutes later.
Saracens v Glasgow, March 30th
Most of the quarter-final ties were close affairs – one, three and four points the margins in three of the ties – but the men in black clearly missed the memo! Running seven tries past a hapless Glasgow on the way to a 56-27 victory, the English side made it clear that last year’s blip was just that; the star-studded 2017 champions were back to their best, and anyone standing in their way would pay…
THE FINAL WORD
Leinster v Saracens, May 11th
If there’s a right way for a tournament to end, this was it; the two best sides in the competition – and the two most recent winners of the tournament – facing off in the final. And while Leinster drew first blood with Tadgh Furlong bagging a first half try, Sarries would not be denied; their ferocious physicality was too much for the Irish side to handle, and a final score of 20-10 was no less than they deserved. It will take a special side to dethrone them next year, too – so watch this space!
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