Weekend Rugby Review – 21 December

We had a weekend of some good games and some that we will want to forget as quickly as possible. Here is my review of all the action.

European Rugby Champions Cup

Northampton Saints 9 – 9 Racing Metro 92
Saracens 55 – 13 US Oyonnax
Bath 10 – 36 Wasps
Stade Francais 40 – 14 Benetton Treviso
Leinster 16 – 20 Toulon
Bordeaux Begles 33 – 27 Ospreys
Scarlets 6 – 9 Glasgow Warriors
Toulouse 23 – 25 Ulster
Clermont Auvergne 42 – 10 Exeter Chiefs
Leicester Tigers 17 – 6 Munster

7 from 10, a pretty average week picking even though there was a draw.

Saints and Racing battled out a dull draw to kickoff the Champions Cup weekend of games. Saints were happy to put the boot to ball and Racing kicked it back plenty of times. With only 4 clean breaks all game the defences were well on top as both sides only managed 3 penalties each.

Saracens racked up the expected dominating win controlling the game from early on with 3 tires in the first half and only giving up 2 penalties. The TBP was sealed early in the second half and then they pushed on to score another 4 tries. Ashton did his England changes no harm picking up a hat trick of tries. In response Oyonnax managed 1 try after the game was long gone.

Bath started the game brightly and scored the first try of the game through Rokoduguni with 10 minutes gone. After that though it was all one way traffic as Wasps upped the intensity from last week bashing through defenders to have 24 to 14 defenders beaten and enabling them to impressively offload 14 times. Gopperth kept punishing Bath’s poor discipline with the boot between two tries for a 7-23 lead at half-time. Wasps weren’t able to push home in the second half for a TBP but they kept Bath at bay and capitalised on Rokoduguni’s late yellow card to get a third try.

Stade dominated Treviso as expected, the only surprise is that after they had scored 3 tries in the first 20 mins they were unable to add to that in the first half. The TBP came ten minutes into the second half. Treviso did pull a try back but Stade responded quickly with another of their own. There was a late exchange of tries but there was always only going to be one winner. Treviso did force Stade to make as many tackles as they did but they were never able to break down the French defence with only 7 defenders beaten to 30. Stade even turned the ball over 21 times which in other games would be suicide.

Leinster again put up a good fight but couldn’t seal the deal. The Irishmen scored first through a penalty and followed that up with a penalty try to lead 10-0. Toulon did pull back a try but 2 more penalties from Sexton meant a 16-5 half-time lead for the home side. In the second half Toulon didn’t give up a single point. A mass substitution early in the second half led to a penalty try that was quickly followed up with another try around the hour mark. That gave Toulon the lead for the first time in the game by a single point, a penalty 7 minutes from time was icing on the cake.

Bordeaux started at a breakneck pace scoring a try in the first minute. Ospreys evened things up quickly with a try only 2 minutes later. After that though Bordeaux dominated the scoreboard picking up a penalty to take the lead back. They they survived a yellow card before going onto score two more tires for a 25-10 lead at half-time. Ospreys managed the first try in the second half but couldn’t build on it and Bordeaux reopened the lead just after the hour mark. Then Ospreys caused some late nerves with two tries to close within 3 points with 6 minters left. A Bordeaux penalty finished the game sealed the win.

Scarlets and Glasgow fought out another defensively dominated battle. The first half just saw two Glasgow penalties as Scarlets lost a player to a yellow card. Glasgow added another penalty in the second half and then clung on. Scarlets scored their first penalty as Glasgow lost 2 players to yellow cards. Scarlets weren’t able to capitalised and only managed three more points in the rest of the game. Glasgow were the more dangerous of the two teams but turning over the ball 18 times didn’t help their cause.

Ulster managed to turn over the Top 14 2nd placed side again, this time Toulouse put up a much sterner test. Ulster had the better of the early exchanges and pulled out a 10 point lead. Toulouse were only able to get on the scoreboard once Jackson was sent to the bin. Two penalties when they had the extra man narrowed the lead to 6-10 early in the second half. After an exchange of tries a Bezy penalty gave the Frenchmen their only lead in the game. Another Jackson penalty and a Marshall converted try opened up an important 2 score lead. This meant the late converted try wasn’t enough for Toulouse and Ulster have turned around their European campaign.

We received the expected response from Clermont. Initially it didn’t look like that though as they lost a man to the bin and Exeter got the first points on the board after just two minutes. Even down a man Clermont then blitzed Exeter with the scoreboard ticking over with penalties and a try meaning a 16-3 lead with quarter of the game gone. Things calmed down for a while and Clermont only scored again due to yellow card just before half-time. An early second half try whilst Exeter were still a man down set the tone for a second half where 3 tries would be scored claiming the TBP. Exeter managed a consolation try as Clermont lost two players to the bin late on well after the result was already decided.

Tigers put in a physical performance to down Munster for a second time. This time Munster got an early penalty to take the lead and it wasn’t until a quarter of the game was gone that Tigers could respond. A converted try followed by a penalty was looking like a good lead into half-time. A late yellow card and Munster penalty though reduced the gap to 10-6. Tigers saw out the sin bin without giving up anymore points and with quarter of an hour to go scored the only points of the second half through a converted try to maintain their perfect European record.

European Rugby Challenge Cup

Gloucester Rugby 27 – 13 Worcester Warriors
Montpellier 23 – 22 Cardiff Blues
Grenoble 48 – 45 Agen
Edinburgh 18 – 15 London Irish
Brive 33 – 3 Enisei-STM
Zebre 25 – 5 La Rochelle
Sale Sharks 31 – 10 Castres
Harlequins 59 – 7 Calvisano
Section Paloise 17 – 34 Newport Gwent Dragons
Newcastle Falcons 29 – 5 Connacht Rugby

8 form 10, the French disdain for this competition and Connacht’s up and down form did me in this week.

Gloucester kept their defence of their title on track with Laidlaw’s boot doing most of the damage. Worcester were in the lead after twenty minutes but after that Gloucester took it home. Laidlaw scored all of Gloucester’s 16 first half points and another couple of penalties in the second half stretched the lead before a Kvesic try sealed the deal.

Cardiff suffered heartbreak as the only time they trailed was at the final whistle. Patchell’s boot got the score board ticking over and a Cuthbert try opened up a ten point lead. A last minute try by Montpellier closed the gap to 3 at halftime. Neither side could break each other down until the hour mark when Montpellier evened things up. Cardiff pulled away again with two Patchell penalties. Then with the last play of the game Montpellier scored a try and Catrakilis knocked over the conversion for a one point win.

Agen opened the scoring with an early try and then it went quiet before the try fest kicked in. Just before the twenty minute mark Grenoble took the lead with a converted try. Agen struck back with three tries to secure the TBP as Grenoble only managed a couple of penalties. Grenoble came out swinging in the second half with three converted tries to build a ten point lead at the hour mark. Agen came back and racked up three tries of their own in seven minutes to led by 11 points themselves. Grenoble showed their character to come back with two tries in the last ten minutes and seal the game at the death.

Irish struck first in this tight battle with a try but Edinburgh came back with a converted try before an exchange of penalties left Edinburgh with a 13-8 half-time lead. Irish kept on fighting and on the hour mark cross the white wash to take a two point lead. Edinburgh had the final say with a try nine minuets from time sealing the win. The difference in the end was a penalty kick and here Edinburgh won the game giving up only 3 penalties to Irish’s 10.

Brive responded to their shock loss to Enisei with a convincing win. An early try was responded to with Enisei’s only points of the game via a penalty. It took Brive until nearly half time to cross again. Then they sealed the game early in the second half with two more tries in seven minutes and the gaining the TBP. A try just before the whistle was irrelevant really.

Zebre produced one of the surprises of the round by beating La Rochelle. This and Brive losing to Enisei away last weekend shows that the French sides don’t care about this competition. In the first half Zebre knocked over a couple of penalties before scoring the only try of the half for a 11-0 lead. A converted try right at the beginning of the second half put the Italians in the driving seat and a late try sealed it. La Rochelle finally managed to score with the last play of the game.

Sale punished Castres indiscipline in the first half through the boot of Ford to take a 9-0 lead. Initially Sale weren’t able to take advantage of Castres first yellow card and Castres even scored their first points. Eventually the extra man told though and Sale got their first try. After a raft of Sale substitutions Castres pulled back a try but Sale held them out after that. A late try followed up with another try and penalty as Castre were once again back down to 14 men earned the win.

Quins ran with the ball for an amazing kilometre in this game. However whilst Quins scored first they couldn’t pull away in the first half and Calvisano evened things up on the half hour mark. Quins did mange a try just before halftime for a 14-7 lead. Early in the second half two tries claimed the TBP and opened up a big lead. Quins went on to score a further five tries and go a long way to claiming top seed status from the pools.

Dragons got an early try in a first half that they dominated. Pau survived their yellow card giving up only a penalty but Dragons went on to score two more uninsured tries to lead 0-24 at halftime. Dragons scored first in the second half to claim the TBP, Pau did keep fighting and scored three tries but it was all too little too late.

The first half provided only a try each as both sides were happy to run with the ball. Soon after half-time Falcons took control of the game with two tries one of which was a penalty try. Falcons then claimed two more tires just before the hour mark including another penalty try. This was an impressive performance by a team struggling in the premiership against one of the high fliers in the Pro12 and might be the spark their season needs.

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