Momentum is key component as Euro tests keep coming
THAT bloke who jumped out of a capsule from the edge of space — on Sunday evening you wondered if it was Blues coach Phil Davies choosing a novel way to end it all after watching his side blow a 15-point lead against Sale in the Heineken Cup.
Felix Baumgartner will forever be known as the man who fell to Earth.
In this rugby season, Davies will remembered as the man whose team needlessly fell at the first in Europe.
The Heineken Cup is all about taking opportunities. Teams that prosper are the ones who cash in when they are at the bank. They don't allow others to pick their pockets, and they certainly don't reach for the rugby equivalent of a double-barreled shotgun, lower it downwards and squeeze the trigger.
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Because foot-shooting hurts.
In losing a game they should have won, the Blues have placed huge pressure on themselves going into their home game with Toulon in round two.
Sides that mean business in Europe tend to start well. Indeed, in 17 seasons of Heineken Cup rugby, only one team, Munster, have managed to lift the trophy after losing in the opening round of games.
It is all about momentum. Come unstuck early on and the road to the quarter-finals turns into an incline. Lose in the second round and you are attempting to make the ascent with your shoelaces knotted together.
Which is why the Scarlets have to do what Saracens, Racing Metro, Leicester, Toulouse, Northampton, Montpellier, Glasgow, Bath, the Blues, Clermont Auvergne, Ulster and Exeter Chiefs have all failed to do over the past 22 months and that is find a way of beating Leinster in the Heineken Cup.
The Irish province are now up to 16 games without defeat, and while they were unimpressive against the Chiefs last weekend, they still managed to eke out a win.
Their failure to secure a bonus point, however, on a weekend when Clermont claimed one in their 49-16 beating of the Scarlets, means they will travel to Llanelli looking to make amends and not only beat the Welsh region but also score four tries.
The Scarlets displayed admirable spirit in the Massif Central, but Morgan Stoddart's sending off shortly before half-time turned mission improbable into mission impossible. You sensed Clermont, with enough firepower on their bench to frighten Nato, would have prevailed even if the visitors had kept a full panel. They can take a game away from a visiting side with ten minutes of irresistible rugby, and they were starting to ask questions of the Scarlets even before Stoddart's exit. Simon Easterby lamented the decision to show the wing a second yellow card, with Peter Fitzgibbon taking exception to his failure to roll away at a tackle. Adam Jones could have suffered the same fate against Treviso the night before. But Fitzgibbon was making a call against a visiting team in the bear-pit of Stade Marcel Michelin, while Neil Paterson was judging a transgression by a home player in Swansea.
The human element matters.
A look at the penalty count for last weekend is revealing. Such was the pressure the Ospreys put Treviso under at the Liberty that the Italians conceded 20 penalties. The Scarlets transgressed 15 times in Clermont, understandable given their depleted numbers, while the Blues and Biarritz offended the same number of times against Sale and Harlequins, respectively.
You don't have to be on the right wing of the Tory party to appreciate that, in some walks of life, discipline matters.
The Ospreys were determined to keep their 38-17 win over Treviso in perspective, but they showed enough to be encouraged ahead of their visit to Leicester this Sunday.
Behind the scrum, Ashley Beck was exceptional, with Richard Fussell and Dan Biggar also catching the eye, while Hanno Dirksen and Eli Walker took their tries impressively.
The forwards also took their league form into Europe, battering the Italians in the scrums, displaying accuracy at the line-outs and a huge work-rate around the field. Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Thomas were all outstanding, while for opposition loose-heads, Adam Jones must resemble a vice.
As Leicester went down to Toulouse in Pool 2, Sky co-commentator Stuart Barnes offered a nod to Steve Tandy's side when he said: "The problem is Leicester do not just need to beat the Ospreys; they also need to get a bonus point.
"But this Ospreys pack is as good a Heineken Cup pack as we have seen come out of the Principality. I think they are players in this pool."
One batch of results offers only so much information.
Round two is when the pools really start to take shape.
If the Scarlets and Blues lose this weekend, hope will start to dwindle. For the Ospreys, there is the opportunity to not only deal a devastating blow to Leicester's ambitions for the season but also make a statement that would reverberate all the way down to Toulouse.
With Leicester, Leinster and Toulon to face, the Welsh regions could be forgiven for feeling it doesn't get tougher.
But that is the beauty of this competition. The tests keep coming.