That was a wonderful weekend of European action in both the Champions and Challenge Cups. Here is my round up of the action.
European Rugby Champions Cup
Ulster 9 – 27 Saracens
Benetton Treviso 3 – 36 Leicester Tigers
Bath 19 – 16 Leinster
Toulouse 24 – 18 US Oyonnax
Glasgow Warriors 15 – 26 Northampton Saints
Scarlets 12 – 29 Racing Metro 92
Exeter Chiefs 34 – 19 Bordeaux Begles
Clermont Auvergne 34 – 29 Ospreys
Wasps 32 – 6 Toulon
6 from 9, again the later part of the weekend caught me out.
Saracens racked up another impressive victory picking up the TBP along the way. But it didn’t look like that all the time. Rhodes was luckily not to be red carded for taking out a player in the air and Ulster pulled out a 9-0 lead. Saracens only managed an unconverted try before half time. In the sec on half though Saracens turned their upper hand on possession and territory to dominance. It still wasn’t until the hour mark that they took control of the scoreboard ironically when they had a playing in the bin. Ulster struggled with their line out and to contain Saracens, as the Londoners managed 9 clean breaks to 1.
Tigers picked up the expected TBP win in Italy. They controlled the game from start to finish. Whilst the first try was from a penalty try from a scrum, Tigers were happy to spin the ball wide to pick up their next two. It took a while for the TBP try to come in the second half but they finished up with another when their hooker burst through the middle.
Even though Bath dominated the possession and territory in the end it was a battle of the boot. Food beat Sexton by kicking all his points whilst Sexton missed a penalty and drop goal as Leinster were effectively knocked out to the Champions Cup. A penalty try on the hour mark for Bath looked to have broken the deadlock but Leinster came back with a try of their own. Ford held his nerve and kicked the winning points.
Toulouse got their Champions Cup competition back on track. Oyonnax got a couple of early penalties and restricted Toulouse to just the on in reply before halftime. Early in the second half though Toulouse get reward for their dominance with a try and backed it up with another on the hour mark to take a dominant lead. Oyonnax kept on fighting and did pull a try back only for Toulouse to open it back up again. A late consolation try earned Oyonnax the LBP.
Saints picked up an impressive win on the road to show that their season is back on track. Glasgow did get the first points on the board with a penalty but a Pisi try put the Saints in the lead and the boot of Myler stretched that out. So even though there was an exchange of tries before half time, Saints still led by 11 points at the break. Saints picked up an early try in the second half and will be disappointed not to have kicked on for the TBP. Glasgow did have the possession and territory in the second half but were only able to break down the Saints defence once. Whilst the scoreline looks good it was the tireless Saints tackling with Gibson and Wood leading the way that won the day.
Scarlets had started the season so well and with events in Paris we didn’t know what kind of mind Racing would be in. Even though Scarlets had more of the ball Racing were clinical with their attack. 4 tries in the first half blitzed the Welshmen and secured the TBP. Losing Le Roux to a red card early in the second half hampered Racing. When they lost another player to the bin Scarlets picked up their second try but it was always too much to make up the first half deficit.
Exeter looked much more composed at home than their game in Wales last week. An early penalty and try opened up a lead. Bordeaux did pull a try back of their own but Exeter through the boot of Slade and another try opened up a commanding 21-7 half time lead. Exeter then scored first in the second half as tries were traded with Bordeaux able to strike back each time Exeter scored but not close the gap.
Clermont picked up the expect TBP win but it was far from plain sailing. Ospreys tooth lead but were soon behind as Clermont when through the gears to lead 20-3 at halftime. Ospreys fought back into it early in the second half to close within 3. Clermont again pulled away with two more tries and the TBP with everything looking sorted. Ospreys though fought back again and 2 late tries gained them a TBP and LBP as they ran out of time.
Wasps claimed an amazing victory but if you look at the stats the gap wasn’t so big. As we saw often last season Wasps tackled ferociously and made 80 more tackles than Toulon but couldn’t be broken down. Again I wonder how long they can keep up with style over the season. Back to the game and two tries in the opening ten minutes laid the foundation for a large win. Toulon did kick a couple of penalties but so did Wasps and so the lead was 14 points at halftime. Tow tires in the second half sealed the TBP as Wasps managed to hold the champions scoreless for the last 40 minutes!
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Cardiff Blues 20 – 32 Harlequins
La Rochelle 20 – 33 Gloucester Rugby
Agen 6 – 27 Edinburgh
Montpellier 64 – 0 Calvisano
Zebre 27 – 8 Worcester Warriors
Sale Sharks 29 – 20 Section Paloise
Castres 32 – 29 Newport Gwent Dragons
Connacht Rugby 21 – 17 Brive
Grenoble 27 – 20 London Irish
Newcastle Falcons 55 – 7 Enisei-STM
10 from 10, a great week that took my to 113th in SuperBru out of 6,200.
Amazingly Cardiff were the bookies favourites for this one and they did start well with a couple of penalties. With defences on top in the first half that meant a 6-3 lead at halftime. In the second half Quins burst into life scoring three tries to take a commanding lead. Cardiff did manage two late tries but couldn’t stop Quins claiming the TBP right at the death.
In the first half Laidlaw punished the French discipline around a try each to lead 13-19 at the break. An early try for La Rochelle in the second half took the lead but resilient defencing by Gloucester kept them out for the remainder of the half. Then towards the end Gloucester grabbed tow tries to stop La Rochelle from even getting LBP.
This was another case of the winning side tackling their hearts out to the win. Edinburgh made 60 more tackles than Agen in their winning cause. The first 20 minutes was scoreless then Edinburgh got the scoreboard ticking over to lead 0-13 at halftime. An early try in the second half gave them a 20 point lead and effectively the game as they kept Agen out.
Montpellier thumped the visiting second tier Italian side and had the TBP wrapped up in 25 minutes. They took a bit of breather and them kicked on in the second half scoring 10 tries in total.
Zebre picked up a rare victory as Warriors took the opportunity to rest some players. A try in the first minute got the Italians off to a good start and they opened up a 18-0 point a minute lead. After that there was just the exchange of penalties as both sides were happy to kick the ball away.
Sale got their tournament back on track even though they again rested players. This game should not have been close as Sale forced Pau to make 100 more tackles and dominated possession and territory. But with their few runs Pau made good yardage to keep themselves in the game. The lead went back and forth and it wasn’t until a try 3 minutes from time that Sharks sealed the game.
Castles continued Dragons poor season, Jones did his best to keep them in it with the boot. Dragons weren’t able to capitalise on their 29 defenders beaten.
Connacht got the better of a tight first half after going behind to a try. In the second half they managed to control the game by getting the first score and holding Brive at arms length. A late try earned the LBP and made for a tense finish but it wasn’t that close for most of the game.
Grenoble got off to a flier with two early tries but Irish fought their way back into it with two of their own so that they only trailed by 3 at the break. The boot the dominate the start of the second half with Irish clawing ahead only to be brought back to evens. For half an hour they fought with no score until the very end when the French scored a converted try to win the contest.
Falcons totally dominated the Russian side and have the TBP wrapped up in 25 minutes. Things slowed down after that but it was still one way traffic as Falcons racked up an amazing 25 clean breaks!