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five days that shaped the 2011 Heineken cup journey

Oct 8: Northampton 18 Castres 14

Not a great start: Bruce Reihana's kicking tee melted in front of him and after four missed shots he handed over to Shane Geraghty who made such a hames of his first effort that Saints fans felt they had used up all their chances. Enter referee John Lacey who made two huge calls in favour of the home team. It saved them. Who knows what would have happened the Northampton challenge if they had lost first up at home?

Oct 16: Saracens 23 Leinster 25

The headlines were made by Brendan Venter with his post-match comments about refereeing and how it was wrecking his head, but the underlying message was that Leinster were going to be contenders again. The quality and timing of Jonny Sexton's try was first class.

Dec 12: London Irish 13 Toulon 19

This effort in the Madejski gave us the first sign that Toulon were not going to take a few goes at the Heineken Cup before they would make an impression on it. Their forwards, led by the rampaging Joe van Niekerk, were dominant and Jonny Wilkinson did the rest as Toulon won pulling up. A new contender had arrived.

Dec 18: Bath 22 Ulster 26

Win or bust for the Norn Iron brigade. And they won. Biarritz had been installed as favourites in the pool but getting past Bath in the back-to-back rounds was essential if Ulster were to be in with a shout against the Basques, having lost over there in round two. Nevin Spence's try was illustrative of a team that had something to offer the tournament.

Jan 16: Toulon 32 Munster 16

The second sign that Toulon had bigger ambitions than easing their way into the top competition. If they could do a job on Munster -- having been hammered in Thomond -- then they would deserve a place in the last eight. With another huge forward effort it was job done with lots to spare.

-- Brendan Fanning

Sunday Indo Sport