The start of a brave new world has happened. Well at least a weekend of european rugby with many of the same old stereotypes confirmed.
So how did the predictions go?
7 of 10 in the Champions Cup and 6 of 10 in the Challenge Cup. I should have been 8 for the Champions Cup but had a brain blank with the Quins fixture. Interestingly there was only 1 away win in the Champions Cup and whilst it’s early days does look like it’s going to be a really tight competition.
The Challenge Cup on the other hand is a bit of a lottery as some clubs select much weakened sides whilst others take it seriously. I don’t know if there is anything that can be done about this as staying in the top-tier competition in France and England is so much more important than this competition. Also to compete in those competitions you need a really strong first team and for the poorer clubs that comes at the cost of squad depth. That first team has to be rested and that’s when you see some strange results.
Starting with the Champions Cup review:
Harlequins 25 v 9 Castres
Quins took a comfortable if hard-fought win to kick-off the new Champions Cup. Quins dominated both possession and territory. In true Quins style they had double the number of offloads. What will be even more encouraging will be the return to form of Nick Evans. There have been people asking if he was on the decline but performances like this put paid to that.
Sale Sharks (23) 26 v 27 (7) Munster
Munster did win it but only at the death with a 40m drop goal, this really was a game of two halves as the old cliché goes. Clearly the score line shows it, but also the territory, 75%-25% in the first half and then 13%-87%. Sale will be kicking themselves for letting this slip but where did that performance in the first half come from? Clearly operating at a level that they have no achieved this season and for that they will be better coming out of this game.
Munster will know that they are not going to come back from behind like that against the other teams and must be much more disciplined going in future.
Saracens 30 v 23 Clermont Auvergne
Clermont may have a new coach but it was still the same result, even if this time it was much closer. All of Saracens tries were by their wingers which is symptomatic of how they have changed their game plan over the last year or so. But it’s a little hard to figure out this game when someone like Steven James in the Telegraph says “Secondly, it was down to Charlie Hodgson’s control at fly-half He kicked quite delightfully out of hand and off the tee”. Really? The stats say there was only a 57% success for Saracens when kicking at goal. Either way this is a great start for Saracens as they got the TBP as well as the win.
Edit: A case of 2 halves again, the wind in the first half made kicking difficult but Hodgson had a great second half.
Glasgow Warriors 37 v 10 Bath
Bath started well and were even in the lead but after 13 mins it was all one way traffic. Glasgow have been an improving side over the last season or so and I thought that they would take this one but not in such commanding style. Bath may have had more territory and possession but could not live with the pace that Glasgow played at as sown by their 18 offloads. A Bonus point win is a great start for Glasgow and maybe this year will see them performing better in Europe.
Racing Metro 20 v 11 Northampton Saints
Racing took a closer win than the score line suggests. A charge down in the last couple of minutes decided it. Until then Saints were in it, you can’t have a go at the players too much, yes the decision making could be improved but you want the players to try things especially when they come of more often than not. Metro got the hard fought win and will look to push on from here.
Leicester Tigers 25 v 18 Ulster
A very good win by Tigers but they will be disappointed with themselves for not pressing on and getting the TBP after 3 tries in the first half. But any kind of win over this quality of opposition is good with the start to the season Tigers have had. It sounds like Ulster also have their injury issues as they only had two fit locks so perhaps a team that have the same issues that Tigers have.
Ospreys 42 v 7 Benetton Treviso
Ospreys completed a regulation TBP win over the Italians, the results was never in doubt with Treviso only getting on the board in the 77th minute. They really did help themselves either with 16 penalties and 2 yellow cards to Ospreys 4 penalties and no cards. Treviso are going to lose all their games but unless they clean up their act they are not even going to be a speed bump in this group.
Toulouse 30 v 23 Montpellier
Toulouse won a real ding-dong battle with this one not being settled until near the end. If Montpellier have any aspirations of making it out of this group they are going to need to tighten up their defence. Missing 27 tackles to just 8 is always going to hurt you. he fact that they were in this game for so long shows you that they are plenty god enough going forward.
On a side note, I know that this was an all French affair and that with 20 games of rugby over the weekend it’s hard for the press to cover all the games. Still you would think that a game in the top tie rod European rugby involving Toulouse the most successful team in European competition of all time would get some coverage. Perhaps there needs to be a look at the amount of rugby that is on for European weekends. Maybe the second tire competition needs to be removed and replaced by a domestic cup competition for those that have not qualified. Clearly it’s not going to change but just a thought.
Toulon 28 v 18 Scarlets
Scarlets were only in the lead for 1 minute of the game so Toulon had this one under control as far as the scoreboard was concerned. A series of errors and Scarlets tenacity kept this one close for much of the game. With Leicester and Ulster also in this group Toulon will have known that they had to own this one and should really have looked for that TBP but it wasn’t to be.
Leinster 25 v 20 Wasps
Leinster showed their knowhow here to make sure that they started the tournament with a win. They have been slow starters in this competition before as I remember them only beating Chiefs at home by a point in the opening round. This is not the all concurring team of old. Gopperth, Reid and D’Arcy doesn’t strike the fear that Sexton, D’Arcy and BoD midfield did but they still have plenty of experience and skill.
Wasps will be kicking themselves, they were 9 points to the good at half-time but couldn’t score any points in the second half. They were just undone by the better team and perhaps having to make 182 tackles and being on the wrong end of the possession and territory took its toll. It’s not the first time this season that Wasps have put in such a hard shift and it might tell later on.
Now the Challenge Cup Review
Gloucester Rugby 55 v 0 Brive
There are relatively easy wins and then there are teams just not turning up. We have become used to French teams not traveling well and concentrating on their domestic game. But this was a poor advert for European rugby especially as it was the opening game of the new tournament. For Gloucester job well done and move on, not much to learn from playing a very poor side but at least it was another 80 mins of “competitive” rugby for this new set of players and coaches.
Brive will be much tougher to play at home, purely because they will not want to be embarrassed like this in front of their own fans.
Newcastle Falcons 43 v 19 Bucharest Wolves
Another job done but at least Bucharest tried and got some points on the board. Bucharest were never going to win this one but it’s all about spreading the game and giving these emerging nations the opportunity to play some top class rugby.
Bordeaux Begles 13 v 15 Edinburgh
Bordeaux may be ripping up the Top14 but they couldn’t breakdown a tough Edinburgh side. Still it took missed drop goal at the death for Edinburgh to win. Even so a very good win for the Scottish side, a shame it was only in front of 2,800 people.
Lyon 28 v 18 London Welsh
A battle between two promoted teams but contrasting starts to the season. Lyon sit mid-table where as Welsh are still looking for their first win. A better performance by Welsh as they managed to get over the whitewash twice. Even though it was after they were already well behind, at least it shows that they could keep their heads up. Clearly they need to look at their discipline as the three yellow cards destroyed their cause.
Cardiff Blues 37 v 14 Grenoble
A good bonus point win for Cardiff but it was against a French team that really weren’t interested in Europe. Grenoble turned up with a second string side where as Cardiff included some of their internationals. Clearly Grenoble aren’t going to put up much opposition and this group is between Cardiff and Irish.
Zebre 24 v 33 US Oyonnax
Oyonnax predictably took the win but they were made to work for it coming from behind at half-time to take the win. Zebre have put up better fights this year even, if their results have not been much better so perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked.
Connacht Rugby 42 v 12 La Rochelle
Connacht took an easy win over La Rochelle, they were in control straight from the start. Another French team that didn’t turn up and fielded a second string team. For Connacht they could only play the team that turned up and TBP gives them a good start to the campaign.
Bayonne 30 v 24 Exeter Chiefs
Bayonne took this at the end after Exeter built up a lead, let it slip and built up another 7 point lead. Yes Exeter did make quite a few changes but it was still a strong side that travelled over the channel and they did put themselves in a position to win. Bayonne’s three yellow cards should have lost this but Exeter’s error count let them down.
Stade Francais 22 v 38 Newport Gwent Dragons
A famous win for the Dragons even if it was against a second string Stade side. Stade did put in a fight but looked a bit disjointed. Dragons were even able to get the TBP and were looking for more but ran out of time. It’s going to be an interesting tussle between these two sides and Falcons in this pool and there is lots to play for.
London Irish 70 v 14 Rugby Rovigo
Finally our cricket score, Irish who have started the season in good form but not getting the results that they deserve due to a very hard fixture list got their day in the sun. A reprieve in the quality of opposition and they enjoyed themselves. Even half of those 14 points for Rovigo came at the death. We don’t learn anything from this and Rovigo will be on the wrong end of a few high scores, but maybe not this high.
Bonus Review: Australia 28 – 29 New Zealand
It wasn’t that long ago that people were saying the New Zealand just knew how to get over the line at the end. It wasn’t always pretty or dominating but they eventually got the job done. It looks like that New Zealand have regressed back to that state and not just plain steamrolling everybody. Well we are on the downward slope to a world cup so the lazy journalism means that the All Blacks must be coming down from their peak. We will see if tis is a blip or trend.
For Australia they were unlucky and it heralds another new start, well at least for a coach. There isn’t a great deal of depth in Australian rugby so who ever is in charge is going to be selecting very similar players to those being selected now. The only question is can he get them to perform better and not be such idiots off the pitch?