A weekend with plenty of upsets as teams are rotating their squads and have different priorities. Here is my round up of all the action.
European Rugby Champions Cup
Ospreys 21 – 13 Clermont Auvergne
Munster 26 – 13 Stade Francais
Bordeaux Begles 34 – 27 Exeter Chiefs
Saracens 33 – 17 Ulster
US Oyonnax 32 – 14 Toulouse
Leinster 25 – 11 Bath
Leicester Tigers 47 – 7 Benetton Treviso
Racing Metro 92 64 – 14 Scarlets
Toulon 15 – 11 Wasps
Northampton Saints 19 – 15 Glasgow Warriors
6 form 10, there were a number of upsets and I finished the weekend strongly after a really dreadful start.
The Champions Cup weekend kicked off with what I considered to be an upset. It wasn’t until afterwards that I found out that Ospreys have never lost to French opposition at Liberty Stadium. Early on it wasn’t looking good with Clermont getting an early try. Ospreys came back with a couple of penalties but the talking point was Kolelishvili pushing Barnes when he was in the way of his defensive channel. Barnes was lenient and only blew for a penalty, as you will see below most people think it should have been a red card. It wasn’t long though before ehe spent time off the pick being yellow carded for putting his forearm across a players throat on the ground. Clermont had already got a penalty back before the card and added another after the card to lead 6-13 at the break. Ospreys lost Bigger to injury early in then second half but his replacement held his nerve to kick Ospreys to victory. This was founded on a big defensive shift and being more disciplined only giving up 8 penalties to 15.
Munster owed their fans and themselves a good performance. Qualification was already gone but this tournament has so much history and means so much for this province. They infringed early allowing Steyn to put Stade into the lead. Munster eventually replied with a try only to lose the lead to another Steyn penalty late in the half. Just when it looked like they would trail going into halftime, Earls scored an individual try to give them a 12-6 lead at the break. An early second half try put Munster in control and from there they needed a big defensive effort as Stade got the upper hand. Munster survived losing a player to the bin but soon afterward the pressure told and Stade got a try of their own. Munster though responded quickly with a try of their own to pick up the TBP and seal the win.
We or I have often mentioned when the French sides have fielded weakened teams. This time is was the other way around. Exeter rested, rotated or what ever you want to call it. Chiefs started ok getting an early penalty but two quick tries, the first by AAC, wrestled the advantage. Exeter closed the gap with a converted try but Bordeaux quickly replied with one of their own to reopen the 10 point lead. The Chiefs finished stronger scoring 10 points in the last ten minutes to go in 20-20 at half time. The two sides cancelled each other out early in the second half with Bordeaux breaking the deadlock with a try claiming the TBP after quarter of an hour. Chiefs evened things up quickly but the upper hand that Bordeaux had during the game told in the end with a try ten minutes from time winning it.
Saracens dominated Ulster at home and as usual they got more on top as the game went on. Farrell got the first points on the table with his boot but Ulster replied with a try to lead. Saracens worked their way back into it and a try just before half time gave them a 13-7 lead. After an exchange of penalties Saracens took control with three unanswered tries to claim the TBP. Ulster did pick up a consolation try but the game was well won by Saracens by then.
Oyonnax are struggling in the Top14 and Europe where as Toulouse at at the top end of the Top14 even if they have missed out in Europe. So this was a big surprise as Oyonnax came storming out of the blocks with an early try that was backed up by another on eleven minutes. Toulouse pulled back a try late in the half but still trailed 17-7 at half time. Toulouse struck first in the second half but any chances they had were snuffed out as Oyonnax immediately replied with one of their own. From there Oyonnax closed out the game with a penalty and a 4th try for the useless TBP.
Leinster kicked themselves to victory over Bath, they dominated possession and territory and took advantage when Bath transgressed. Four penalties in the first half led to a 12-3 lead. They stretched that with another penalty before Bath got a try but Leinster responded with one of their own. There was a swap of penalties before the final whistle but the game had been won. The surprise is that with nearly 70% of territory and over 600 meters running with the ball that Leinster only scored one try.
Tigers strolled into the quarter finals and booked a home tie. Three converted tries in the first half hour won the game. Treviso did manage to pull one try back but another for Tigers before halftime already claimed the TBP. With the game already won you could have forgiven Tigers from easing off in the second half but they went on to add another three tries.
Racing put in a dominating performance and a marker that they are serious about winning this tournament. Racing racked up an amazing 865 meters running with ball in hand including 173 from Dulin. Their five tries in the first half were helped by the two yellow cards that Scarlets picked up. Scarlets did rally a little at the beginning of the second half with two tries in ten minutes. That’s as good as it got as Racing reasserted their dominance with four more tries.
Toulon took the early advantage with a try after an intercept from Habana. After a swapping of penalties whilst Smith was in the sin bin, Toulon took a narrow 5 point lead into the break. Gopperth narrowed the margin to 2 points before Thompson looked to have won the game with ten minutes to go. The upset looked on the cards but this Toulon has too many players with so much experience that they know how to handle these situations. With the last play of the game Mitchell took a ball from Nonu and went over for the winning score.
Saints grabbed an early try but after that in the first half Warriors were on top and Russell kicked them back into it. Two penalties was all their reward but that closed the gap to 1 points at the half way point. Russell was on target again early in the second half to take the lead briefly only for Day to score a try and snatch it back. Russell and the Hogg knocked over two more penalties to put Glasgow back in front. Heading into the final stages Saints were trailing but a cool cross field kick from Myler led to the game winning try.
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Section Paloise 3 – 27 Sale Sharks
Edinburgh 23 – 0 Agen
Newport Gwent Dragons 31 – 18 Castres
Enisei-STM 24 – 7 Newcastle Falcons
Calvisano 7 – 47 Montpellier
Gloucester Rugby 20 – 10 La Rochelle
Worcester Warriors 15 – 22 Zebre
London Irish 18 – 28 Grenoble
Brive 21 – 18 Connacht Rugby
Harlequins 34 – 26 Cardiff Blues
7 from 10, an average performance and would have liked to have one more.
The stand out result of the weekend was Enisei’s second win of the tournament. Is this another sign that the European tier 2 nations are ready of the 6 Nations? A lot of you think so.