Le Mans 24 Hours reaction: Hülkenberg win adds yet another string to his increasingly large bow

AFTER taking victory in the 83rd Le Mans 24 Hours in his first ever appearance, Nico Hülkenberg’s reputation as one of the most versatile drivers of all time has been well and truly justified.

But now the question Hülkenberg should perhaps be asking himself is whether his future lies in Formula One or sportscars.

The fact that the 27 year-old still hasn’t challenged for the F1 title in a leading team is, quite frankly, a sad reflection of the pinnicle of motorsport.

Hülkenberg’s CV in single seaters was the determining factor in Porsche’s initial approach for the German. Winning the A1GP title in convincing fashion in 2006-07, driving the Zytek V8 to nine wins, he showed his class in front of season veteran’s Robbie Kerr, Nicolas Lappiere and future Porsche LMP1 team-mate Neel Jani.

A year later, Hülkenberg swept to seven victories as he strolled to the F3 Euroseries title in only his second season in the category.

Nico Hulkenberg celebrates winning the 2009 GP2 Series championship

Two major titles in two years for the then 21 year-old was just the tip of the iceberg as 12 months later, Hülkenberg bagged yet another series win. More impressively he took the GP2 Series in his rookie season – with 5 wins and beating future F1 drivers Vitaly Petrov, Lucas di Grassi, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjesan – and ended 2009 with a Williams race seat in Formula One.

This should have been the opening of the floodgates for the German. But a difficult debut year at the top left him looking elsewhere for a drive, as Williams struggled with budget issues. A maiden pole position for Hülkenberg in changing conditions underlined his immense talent behind the wheel, but his F1 career was put on hold, at least temporarily.

Successive season at Force India – first as test and reserve drvier in 2011 and then race driver for 2012 – produced yet more evidence that Hülkenberg was set for career stardom. Leading the season ending Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012 and proving more than a match for the in-form McLaren of Lewis Hamilton could have yielded his first ever podium, but for a crash dropped him out of contention.

Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India F1

In his search for the crucial breakthrough, Hülkenberg  was in danger of developing a reputation for constantly changing teams. One year racing for Force India, he then jumped ship to Sauber, who had showed promise in 2012 – with podiums for Sergio Pérez and Kamui Kobayashi. Again, in a poor car initially, Hülkenberg dragged the team back to the fringes of the podium by the end of the year.

2014 saw him return to Force India where he has stayed ever since. That year brought him and the team relative success with a ecent car throughout the year. But despite rumours linking the German to the soon to be vacant Ferrari seat of Fernando Alonso, a top line drive eluded him once more.

With Hülkenberg seemingly resigned to remaining in the midfield as far as Formula One was concerned, Porsche came knocking on his door.

#19 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber

He signed at the start of the year and took part in his first race at the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Prior to the start of the mammoth endurance race, he drove in the pre-race official test day two weeks before.

Qualifying a superb third on the gird – due in part to a far superior Porsche 919 Hybrid machine and a lack of real qualifying intent from Audi – proved exceptional, especially given that he had teamed up with fellow rookie Earl Bamber.

Luck plays a part in any endurance race and even more so at Le Mans. The 13km Circuit de la Sarthe and the 24 hour duration makes it impossible not to encounter or be the victim of luck.

Porsche Team: Nico Hulkenberg

First piece of luck: The #19 Porsche of Bamber, Nick Tandy and Hülkenberg drove sensibly and stayed out of trouble. Trouble that hit the leading #7 Audi of past winners André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer ands Marcel Fässler early on – a puncture force them to pit soon after their scheduled stop – and the #8 chasing Audi of Loïc Duval – smashing his car against the barriers after avoiding slow traffic – which ultimately helped clear the way for the #19 lead as dawn neared.

Second piece of luck: Team-mate Mark Webber in the #17 Porsche had been the early beneficiary of Audi’s bad luck but this car too had luck play a cruel part in their fortunes. A one minute penalty for passing under yellow flags meant Hülkenberg hit the front.

#19 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber

Third piece of luck: the safety car then came out to retrieve the #46 LMP2 car of Tristan Gommendy after being hit by a GTE car. Hülkenberg’s #19 car was one of the cars separated from one of the three safety cars deployed, ensuring he took a big lead into the night.

But luck has but a scarce infuence on the overall result. Without the pumping in of lightning speed lap times from the German and his two team-mates Bamber and Tandy, as well as precise pit work from the Porsche mechanics, victory in the most prestigious race would not have been possible.


Speed, shock and disappointment – Le Mans 24 Hours Qualifying reflection (LMP2/GTE)

RED flags and potential heavy rain threatened to curtail Thursday’s second and third qualifying sessions respectively, and in turn put an early end to an enthralling pole dual in both LMP2 and GTE Pro categories.

LMP2 – KCMG shock big guns to take pole

While stoppages and inclement weather are expected at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the shock pole for the Oreca-Nissan KCMG machine of Nico Lappiere, Richard Bradley and Matt Howson was undoubtedly the surprise of the week so far. The inexperienced British pairing and the canny and well versed Frenchman took top spot from under the noses of formidable competition with aplomb.

#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nicolas Lapierre

The fancied G-Drive Ligier of Bird, Rusinov and Canal were the closest challengers as they got to within 0.02s while early contenders Dolan, Evans and Turvey battled to keep their Greaves Motorsport Gibson Nissan in third in class.

#41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S-Nissan: Gary Hirsch, Bjorn Wirdheim, John Lancaster

Contrary to their LMP1 effort, the Nissan engine performed superbly in LMP2, with the #36 Signatech Alpine of Panciatici, Gommendy and Badey making it a 1-2-3-4 for the Japanese firm. The Ligier HPD of Kévin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Chris Cumming split two further Nissans, while there was disappointment for the Dome of past victors Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane in the Strakka car.

GTE Pro – Comeback miracle for Rees but Corvette out after crash

What an amazing comeback for Brazilian Fernando Rees. Ruled out of last year’s race after a crash in practice, the 30 year-old from Sao Paolo would have been forgiven for returning to the North of France with some trepidation. Instead, he stuck his Aston Martin V8 on pole, beating 2014 GTE Pro winners Bruni, Villander and Fisichella in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and team-mates Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Rob Bell. Team-mates in the #71 car struggled to keep the car on the track as Olivier Berreta twice found the gravel trap, eventually getting toed out of Indianapolis.

#99 Aston Martin Racing V8 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowall, Richie Stanaway

But in between the GTE Pro battle will GTE Am pole sitters Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy – who came down with chicken pox during the week – and Paul Dalla Lama.

Corvette’s race winning challengers will not take part due to heavy accident damage and a lack of spare chassis. The #63 of Jan Magnussen, Ryan Briscoe and Antonio Garcia had to be withdrawn after Magnussen crashed in the Porsche Curves with an apparent stuck throttle. The Corvette careered into the armco barrier before being jetted back towards the concrete wall where irreparable damage was done.

Jan Magnussen crash

Porsche’s night in LMP1 may have brought smiles to the Bavarian squad’s faces but GTE Pro class performance brought mixed feelings. Neither the #91 of Bergmeister, Leitz and Christensen or the #92 of Makowiecki, Pilet and Henzler could find enough pace to trouble the leading times and will have to rely on their impressive long race pace and reliability if they are to taste glory on Sunday afternoon.

All to play for in all classes

While qualifying fills the short term headlines of La Maine and other publications, history always has a way of remembering Le Mans legends. All 56 competitors on the grid on Saturday know that getting to the flag on Sunday is the first aim, and that the hare doesn’t always reap the glory.

It’s all to play for!

Speed, shock and disappointment – Le Mans 24 Hours Qualifying reflection (LMP1)

PORSCHE dominated qualifying for the 83rd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, securing a 1-2-3 and their first pole position for 27 years. Switzerland’s Neel Jani’s second flying in Wednesday’s opening session proved not only to be the pole time, but the fastest ever lap around the 13km Circuit de la Sarthe.

2015 24 Hours of Le Mans Pole Winner #18 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb

And with the ACO’s plans to reduce the speeds of LMP1 machines from 2016 onward, this historic feat is likely to remain intact for eternity.

LMP2 pole was won by the KCMG Oreca run car of Nicolas Lappiere and British team-mates Richard Bradley and Matthew Howson, sensationally beating 2014 class winners Jota Motorsport (Mitch Evans, Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey) to top spot. Strakka’s comeback after missing last year’s edition progressed but Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane failed to challenge the front runners.

GTE Pro served up a mix of emotions. Ecstasy was the port of call for Aston Martin as they secured the pole but Corvette’s chances in the enduro were dealt a harsh blow as the #63 of Jan Magnussen, Ryan Briscoe and Antonio Garcia was withdrawn with crash damage after Magnussen acquainted himself with the Porsche Curve’s barriers in the second session.

LMP1 – Jani strikes early for record pole

It may not have been much of a surprise that Porsche won the pole, but the way that Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas achieved it raised eyebrows considerably. On just Jani’s second lap, the Swiss managed the now famous 3’16.887 time at an average speed of 154.846 mph; a staggering feat.

#18 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb

The closest anyone would get in the remaining sessions were, naturally the other three Porsche 919 Hybrids. The #17 car of Webber, Bernhard and Hartley got to within 0.8s of their #18 team-mates, while the sister #19 of Hülkenberg, Tandy and Bamber settled for an impressive 3rd fastest, some two seconds further back.

“It feels good, very good,” Jani told Motorsport.com after the final session. “The team have done a brilliant job with giving us a phenomenal car for qualifying. Now though we look to the race which is the most important thing. This pole will feel great for a few hours but the important work starts now for the race on Saturday.”

Audi admitted that while they had attempted to fight for pole in the first of the three qualifying sessions, it accepted there was little to no chance of beating the imperious Porsches by nightfall on Thursday. Instead, there three cars shifted focus to setting up their cars for the race. The leading challenger to Porsche lay in the hands of the #8 of di Grassi, Jarvis and Duval – the latter returning after his mammoth practice smash in 2014, which ruled him out of the race.

Behind them came the #7 three time winners of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer who trailed over 3.5s adrift of Jani’s time and the #9 of Albuquerque, Bonanomi and Rast.

Toyota have struggled all year with a car that simply lacks the overall pace and torque of their German opponents in front. This trend continued throughout practice and qualifying and ended up over 6 seconds down of the overall fastest, and 2.5s on the slowest Audi. The #2 of Alexander Würz, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin heads the reigning WEC champion #1 of Davidson, Nakajima and Buemi.

#2 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway

The battle in the ‘half class’ is shaping up nicely with the Rebellion #13 of Heidfeld, Prost and Beche securing top honours ahead of team-mates Kraihamer, Abt and Imperatori. Close behind though is the ByKolles #4 of Monteiro, Trummer and Kaffer who successfully got in front of the Nissans.

Nissan, by their own reckoning have struggled for pace, and even surprised themselves. Having had to rush to get night laps in, ex-Formula One driver Max Chilton slotted his #23 car – shared with Mardenborough and Pla – into 13th place behind team-mates Buncombe, Krumm and Tinknell in the #22. The #21 of Matsuda, Ordoñez and Shulzhitskiy just failed to beat the leading LMP2 car and will line up 15th overall and last in class. However, all three Nissan cars will have to make their way through the field on Saturday, after receiving grid penalties for failing to set times within the 110 per cent ruling.

#22 Nissan Motorsports Nissan GT-R LM NISMO: Harry Tincknell, Alex Buncombe, Michael Krumm

Le Mans 24 Hours – An LMP1 Re-birth at last

IT seemed that for years, LMP1 at the Le Mans 24 Hours was suffering from a degenerative sickness. It was on life support and no doctor or cure could be found to reassure the concerned motor racing family.

But now as practice for the 83rd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours gets underway, there is an air of ubiquitous renaissance surrounding the Sarthe region. A cure has been found by those whose decisions threatened to kill it off. The manufacturers.

In an implicit sort of way, the lack of incentive to compete at Le Mans saw a plethora of manufacturers leave the top flight – Le Mans Prototypes – in search of other ventures. Toyota pursued an unsuccessful Formula One career from which it took a further four years to make their return to endurance racing in 2012. More recently, Peugeot abruptly pulled the plug on their endurance programme just before Toyota returned. During this time, it seemed the Audi juggernaut would continue their dominance in the face of mass and inexplicable resignations from the sport.

2015 sees all this change, for the better.

For the first time since 2011, there will be 14 cars competing together for LMP1 honours. What makes 2015 different? 2011 produced just four cars capable of taking overall victory. The lackluster Aston Martin LMP1 project hardly got off the ground and embarrassing unreliability anchored the car towards LMP2 times. The rest were largely made up of privateers with no where near the budget of the main teams.

#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer

The return of Porsche in 2014 and subsequent improvement in form and reliability has ensured it enters this year’s edition as one of the favourites for overall victory with at least two of its three entries. Toyota have the pace to challenge with two cars and Audi’s initial WEC form suggests they are the team to beat among the Hybrid class cars.

#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley

Behind the Hybrids, there is a ‘half class’ involving the Rebellion and Kolles entries. Despite its Hybrid status, Nissan’s Nissan GT-R LM Nismo may not have the race pace to compete with the three top manufacturers in 2015 and will likely remain best of the rest once it finds its form and pace.

#23 Nissan Motorsports Nissan GT-R LM NISMO: Max Chilton

One week, five huge smashes? Call the Indy 500 off

THE Indianapolis 500 is the pinnacle of US motor racing which has had its spot on the calendar firmly cemented in the month of May since its inception in 1911. It has been part of the Indycar Series season since 1996 and is regarded as one of the greatest races in the world.

It is also a race that has seen its large share of danger and tragedy throughout its illustrious history. In total, there have been 45 deaths at the Indy 500; the most recent being that of Scott Brayton in 1996 during qualifying for the race.

Indycar has since known of three fatalities since Brayton’s passing: Tony Renna in 2003, Paul Dana at the 2006 opener in Homestead, Miami and Dan Wheldon during the Las Vegas season finale in 2011.

The latter played a large role in the development in the new generation of Indycar, which had been billed as a far safer car than its preceding versions. A defining feature of the DW12 was the introduction of rear wheel covers, used in an attempt to prevent situations whereby the car was pitched into the air in the event of a collision.

The tragic irony being that in the final race before the baptism of the cars so heavily influenced by Wheldon, the Briton lost his life after an accident launched his car into a catch fence.

Four years later and we are potentially facing a new crisis. New for 2015 is increased aerodynamics used to make the cars faster in the corners and possess far greater downforce – and less drag. The concoction is, on paper ideal for the Indy 500 where qualifying positions are determined by average speeds over four laps.

The problem? The aero is risking lives.

One week: five major accidents. Four car flipped – fully or temporarily – as a result of the impacts and a further crash seemingly caused by driver error.

Penske’s Helio Castroneves’ spectacular aerial crash last Wednesday – the Brazilian lost the rear of his car, hit the wall and lifted into the air – caused by the air getting underneath the winglets situated on the rear wing certainly caused a ripple in the paddock. The same day, Pippa Mann also spun her car at the final corner; she hit the inside wall before being spun back towards the track, the front of the car hitting the pitlane entry barrier, violently spinning the car into the far track perimeter wall.

Castroneves flips during Wednesday’s practice session. Source: Guardian

Both were shocking accidents but nothing Indycar has not seen in the past. Early Skepticism of the new aero kits had been resurrected.

The next day, Josef Newgarden lost his car in a similar fashion going into turn one. An almost carbon copy of Castroneves’ smash, the American’s car lifted into the air immediately before scraping along the hallowed tarmac of the Brickyard and coming to a stop several hundred yards later. Again, Indycar breathed a sigh of relief but the murmurings of safety concerns began to increase. But again, nothing was changed.

The damaged car of Ed Carpenter returned to the pits. Source: http://www.motorsport.com

Oval circuit specialist Ed Carpenter then lost control of his car in turn three and hit the wall with the front left wheel – after spinning a full 360 degrees. The car immediately lifted off the ground and, traveling backwards and upwards contacted the catch fence before following a similar route to Newgarden and Castroneves.

Changes had to be made. And after complaints were made by drivers and team alike, they were.

Carpenter told the Indianapolis Star after his crash, “”I think we all have opinions on what that is. “I definitely think we have an issue going on that we clearly didn’t have in the past.”

“Hopefully this series will be smart and react sooner rather than later so we don’t have to keep seeing things happen like this.”

Engine horsepower was reduced as a result of the impacts and returned to normal level. The result of this meant lower speeds for qualifying and the race.

Monday saw the most serious accident of the month so far and although car failure and not aerodynamics are seemingly to blame, Indycar came close to losing a second driver in four years after Schmidt driver James Hinchcliffe suffered a horrendous crash. The Canadian failed to turn into the corner and careered directly into the barrier, causing significant damage. Hinchcliffe sustained “life threatening” injuries due to a piece of suspension going through his right leg before carrying on through his left thigh and entering his pelvis. He lost a significant amount of blood as his car came to a rest after losing very little speed after the initial impact. The quick response from the Indycar medical staff from Methodist Hospital in Indiana ultimately saved his life.

James Hinchliffe is in a ‘stable condition’ but remains in intensive care in Indiana after his heavy crash on Monday. Source: USA Today Sports

Solution? Cancel the race. Make aero changes and reschedule.

Indycar need to look at the causes of these crashes and this will take time. For the credibility of the sport and its organisers, it cannot afford to make aero changes during a race meeting. It would be far too risky to experiment with vastly intricate and volatile structural components on cars that have reached a top speed of 230mph – 226mph in qualifying.

They can also afford to put their stubbornness to one side and call the race off for the first time since the Second World War. The risk of human life is too high. And avoiding the real possibility of further injury or death is worth the cancellation.

Hamilton sweeps aside Ferrari challenge in Bahrain

LEWIS Hamilton romped to a third victory in four races in the Bahrain Grand Prix, fending off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W06 at the start of the race

Mercedes battled hard with Ferrari, with Vettel twice getting past Rosberg in the pitstop phases. A late front wing change for Vettel prevented him from challenging for the podium and eventually finished fifth. Raikkonen closed on Rosberg in a late surge and profited from a late mistake from the German to take a deserved second place.

Hamilton made the perfect start from pole position and easily led from Vettel into the first corner. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen made the most of a heavy attack from Rosberg to swoop round the outside and take third from the German.

Rosberg did not stay behind the Ferrari of Raikkonen for long; the Mercedes driver came from a long way back to superbly out-brake the Finn into turn one at the beginning of the fourth lap.

The German, who was criticised in Malaysia for lacking overtaking instinct compared to Hamilton made an almost identical move on Vettel on lap nine; Vettel ran wide at turn one which allowed Rosberg to close. Rosberg then made use of the DRS to pull past Vettel under braking to take second place.

Between the start of the first round of pit stops on lap 11 – Hulkenberg, Nasr and Massa – and Vettel’s opening stop on lap 14, Rosberg had begun to extend his lead over the Ferrari. But Ferrari’s strategy of switching to fresh rubber combined with rapid pit work allowed Vettel to undercut Rosberg after the latter’s stop on lap 15.

Hamilton made his first stop on the following lap but rejoined fractionally ahead of a frenetic pit straight battle. Rosberg again using the DRS pulled alongside Vettel. With sparks flying, the two cars nearly touched but Rosberg re-took second place, and began his pursuit of Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W06 leads out of the pit as Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W06 and Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T

Meanwhile, Raikkonen had taken the lead, but this too was to be ceded one lap later. Rosberg had renewed vigour and set fastest lap as Hamilton looked to consolidate a much reduced lead.

Sauber made a promising start to the Grand Prix but outside influences seemed bent on limiting their progress. Marcus Ericsson jumped from 13th on the grid to run 9th in the opening laps. The Swede held this position for the large chunk of the opening stint but lost time after a wheel gun issue in his second stop. Ericsson would eventually finish 14th.

Team-mate Felipe Nasr continued his strong form with a number of quality overtaking manoeuvres. The 21 year-old battled compatriot Felipe Massa and made a sweet switch back move on the Williams before he too lost ground after a slow pit stop. Nasr’s comeback thereafter was impressive, overtaking Alonso’s McLaren before pulling off a sublime move on Hulkenberg round the outside of turn four en route to 12th at the finish.

Felipe Nasr, Sauber C34

Try as he might, Rosberg could not quite use the pitstops to his advantage as yet again Vettel re-took a net second after the second set of stops. Rosberg’s overtake was inevitable with the faster car, but Vettel’s second error of the day made sure Rosberg was past before start-finish line. Vettel reported front wing damage after running wide at the final corner and pitted the lap after to replace it, dropping to fifth.

Raikkonen, so often the faster of the two Ferraris in the race moved up into third place. The Finn was running a longer final stint and stayed out despite track conditions hampering his overall grip. Raikkonen made his final stop on lap 41, leaving him some 19s behind second placed Rosberg.

Behind the top three battle, it was a relatively quiet race. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas stayed out of trouble for the large portion of the race and found himself ahead of Vettel after the German’s wing change. Vettel struggled to get close enough to make the pass despite having use of the DRS.

There was an unusually low number of retirements, given the heat in Bahrain. Both Toro Rosso drivers suffered mechanical issues which caused disappointment for rookies Carlos Sainz – who had earlier served a five second stop-go penalty for spending too much time doing reconnaissance laps – and Max Verstappen. Maldonado’s Lotus suffered an engine cut out while McLaren’s Jenson Button’s miserable weekend culminated in an ERS problem preventing the Brit even taking the start.

Raikkonen, now on the softer Option tyre was turning in some impressive lap times. Despite a mammoth task in hand, the Finn took five seconds out of Rosberg in as many laps. Before too long, Raikkonen could just about see Rosberg at the end of the pit straight. The gap came down to just over four seconds heading into the final five laps.

Bottas was showing great resilience in his effort to keep Vettel at bay; the Mercedes power in the Williams helped the Finn to pull out enough of an advantage down the straights. And despite nearly careering into the back of the Williams into turn one, Vettel could not find a way past and Bottas held fourth until the end.

With just two laps remaining, Rosberg suddenly ran wide at turn one, allowing Raikkonen to finally move into second place. The two went side by side on the exit of the first corner but Rosberg could not hold him off.

Hamilton was as imperious as he has been all season long and despite a late Brake-by-Wire scare for the Mercedes driver, cruised to victory over Raikkonen by just over five seconds with a dejected Rosberg in third.

Podium: second place Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari and winner Lewis Hamilton and second place Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG

Behind Bottas and Vettel, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished a sixth – despite a massive Renault engine failure on the line –  ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who continued Lotus’ return to form with a second consecutive seventh place. Sergio Perez scored points for Force India in eighth ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Massa. The Brazilian suffered a tumultuous Grand Prix, having started from the pit-lane after an electrical glitch on the grid.

Hamilton’s third win out of four leaves the Brit in charge of the championship standings. The defending champion takes a 27 point lead from Rosberg as the Grand Prix circus head to Barcelona and the start of the European season.

Solomons and Watson left frustrated by Munster power

FOR Alan Solomons, Saturday night’s 34-3 defeat to Munster may have seemed like a case of ‘two steps forward and one step back’ as his Edinburgh side fell to a second consecutive home loss in the Guinness PRO12 at BT Murrayfield.

The home side had come into the match in fine fettle after their European Challenge Cup quarter final victory over London Irish last week, but were blown away by a considerable Irish pack who comprehensively secured the bonus point.

Solomons – while giving deserved credit to the Munster side – bemoaned the lack of strength in depth of his Edinburgh squad and maintained that the latest injury toll may have been a contributing factor in the final result.

“I think when Denton went off, it made a massive difference to us. We ended up with three openside flankers playing, and that was huge,” a frustrated Solomons said post match.

“We had no lineout presence, we couldn’t contest theirs and we battled to stem their maul. They scored three of their tries from the maul and they scored two tries when we were down a man to a yellow card.”

“We don’t have that kind of strength in depth [as Munster possess] so when we have six players out, that is massive.”

“Having said that, take nothing away from Munster, because I thought they played really well tonight,” Solomons said.

Edinburgh’s chances in the match had already sustained a major blow when Number 8 David Denton left the field after 12 minutes with a head knock. But as Solomons admitted after, one loss did little to prevent the inevitable Munster dominance.

“We were under pressure the whole time because we lacked possession and territory and we made silly mistakes which cost us. Tonight was very difficult for our lineout because we were left with two lineout forwards,” said Solomons.

“But the truth is that they dominated territory and possession tonight and the difference is that we need to be at full strength to be able to compete with these sides.”

A shining light for Edinburgh in an otherwise inferior performance was flanker Hamish Watson. The 23-year-old back row was one of the very few Edinburgh players to compete admirably with his opposite number [Tommy O’Donnell]. According to Watson, Munster’s physicality was the determining area in the heavy defeat.

“The first 10 minutes we obviously dominated the game, but then for large amounts of time in the game we weren’t physically good enough and they out muscled us,” Watson said.

“When our set piece is working and we’re playing well, we physically dominate and it’s very hard for the other team, and they dominated the set piece tonight.”

“The pack defending the maul obviously had an off-day but it’s not a concern. We’ve got one of the best mauls in the league.”

Looking ahead to Friday’s crunch semi final encounter against Newport Gwent Dragons, both Watson and Solomons – while admitting careful analysis is required – remain unperturbed at the recent loss.

“We’ll have some questions asked on Monday but after that, it’s concentration on the Challenge Cup  and then it’s all about that.”

Solomons added, “Yes we were compromised by the number of players that we had out, by going down to 14 men and losing Denton in the 12th minute, but it doesn’t make any difference to next week.”

“We know we have to lift our performance for next week. For those on the field, we didn’t do justice to ourselves tonight.”


Image: Edinburgh Rugby (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CCdpWxCWMAAY7qa.jpg:large)