Good rugby, fun travel, new friends this weekend had it all. Here is my review of the Challenge Cup action.
So how did the predictions go?
First up here’s a link to my predictions.
8 out of 10, sounds not bad but as there weren’t any real upsets perhaps I should have done better.
La Rochelle 10 v 36 Exeter Chiefs
Both sides ran the ball from the start, Exeter got into their attacking grove early with some good offloading particularly by the forwards. Initially La Rochelle defended well and were helped when an Exeter try was disallowed of a knock-on. But in three minutes round the half-hour mark Exeter got two tries to take command. La Rochelle pulled back a try before halftime to go in 10 points down.
Where as the first half was attacking offloading rugby, the second was all about Exeter maintaining territory and taking the points on offer to stay in the lead. La Rochelle huffed and puffed but couldn’t breakdown the Chiefs. A yellow card with 8 minutes to go gave Exeter all the advantage they needed to go on and score two more tries to secure the bonus point.
Key Stat: Meters with ball La Rochelle 441 Exeter 648
Over a kilometre of running with ball shows that this was a very entertaining game. I did want to choose offloads but the difference wasn’t as stark. Exeter’s pragmatism in the second half meant that they stopped offloading and kicked for territory. It was a real lesson in game management.
Grenoble 68 v 10 Rugby Rovigo
Grenoble pick up their first try in the fourth minute, but apart from that Rovigo did well in the first quarter of the game. It was the second quarter where this game ceased to be any kind of competition. Starting with a penalty try Grenoble scored 4 converted tries in the second quarter to take a 42-3 lead in at half time.
Grenoble started the second half off in the same form picking up another two tries but a yellow card took the wind out of their sails. Rovigo managed to pull a try back but Grenoble put the hammer down again and picked up another two tries in the last ten minutes.
Having lost their first two games, Grenoble are still 5 points behind Irish in second place so this result doesn’t really mean much.
Brive 22 v 30 US Oyonnax
Oyonnax got an early try and then managed to keep their necks in front. But this was a close game, when ever Oyonnax managed to build a lead Brive would pull them back. Brive managed the yellow card periods the best scoring tries both when Oyonnax and themselves were missing a man. But in the end Oyonnax superior kicking ensured they took the win to keep their hopes of a quarter-final berth alive.
Newcastle Falcons 30 v 23 Stade Francais
State took the lead in the early exchanges but Falcons managed to fight back and score two tries. Steyn’s kicking kept Stade in touch and only trailed by 5 points at half time. The second half was a yo-yoing affair. State took the lead with a try but conceded a yellow card. Newcastle took advantage to reclaim the lead back with a penalty and a try. Once Stade were back to 15 men the whole thing repeated its self. Stade scored a converted try, conceded a yellow card, Newcastle reclaimed the lead with a penalty and a try. That’s how it stayed to the end for a memorable victory. It might seem a bit churlish to point this out but again Newcastle’s kicking was poor only making 50% of their shots at goal. On another day that could cost them and is an area that has been in consistent for Falcons this season.
Key Stat: Yellow Cards Newcastle 0 Stade 2
Falcons scored 16 points during the 20 minutes that Stade were reduced to 14 men. In the end that was enough to see them home after a good first half. Stade’s discipline let them down and now they are effectively out having lost all three of their games.
Newcastle are leading the group but Dragons are keeping up the pressure so there can be no let-up in effort.
Bucharest Wolves 10 v 37 Newport Gwent Dragons
Wolves started the game brightly and managed to open up a 10 point lead by the sixteenth minute. Unfortunately that’s as good as it got as Dragons worked their way back into the game through that boot of Rhys Jones. A try from Smith meant that the Dragons took a 3 point lead into half time.
The second half was all one-way traffic with Dragons stamping their authority on the game with three tries in the third quarter to earn the TBP. One more trying the last 20 minutes sealed the win and means Dragons maintain their pressure on group leaders Falcons. Even if they don’t top the group they are still in with a shout of being a best second place.
Cardiff Blues 24 v 14 London Irish
Irish took an early lead but Cardiff were able to strike straight back to leave it 7-7 at halftime. Both sides coped well with losing a man to the bin, Cardiff didn’t concede any points in the first half and Irish only conceded a penalty. That penalty was enough to give Cardiff the lead on a day when both sides struggled with their kicking.
Just after the hour mark Cardiff took control with a try and another 5 minutes from time sealed the win. A penalty try to Irish at the death was too little too late.
Key Stat: Clean Breaks Cardiff 11 Irish 6
Irish had more possession, territory and slightly more meters run but Cardiff were more incisive with ball in hand. Cardiff averaged 4 meters a carry to 3 meters for Irish also importantly those meters were spread around their players. Over a quarter of Irish’s meters were from full back Fenby with 118 of 419 meters.
Connacht Rugby 42 v 19 Bayonne
Bayonne got the first score of the game and were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over with penalties from Moyano. But two tries from Poolman helped to Connacht to go into the break with a three point lead. An early try in the second half gave the lead back to Bayonne and Connacht then managed to cut the lead to just one point before the decisive moment of the game. Bayonne had a player yellow carded and Connacht scored 10 points before kicking on to score two more tries and in the process bagging the TBP.
Connacht kept up the pressure on Exeter and whilst both French teams are probably not going to qualify now, they still could have a say on who tops the group.
Bordeaux Begles 37 v 29 Lyon
This was a real ding-dong battle, Lyon took an early lead only for the lead to change 4 times in the first half alone. Bordeaux came out of the 48 point half with a slim 2 point lead. The second half was nowhere near as action packed but it was certainly tense, again the lead switched to Lyon and back to Bordeaux. It wasn’t until the 68th minute that Bordeaux’s try scoring could pull away from Lyon’s goal kicking.
Bordeaux are putting themselves in with a good shout of a best second place slot in the quarter finals if they can’t overhaul Edinburgh. For Lyon it should be all over now.
Edinburgh 25 v 13 London Welsh
Welsh had probably their best half of rugby so far this season, definitely from a result point of view. Even though they were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes they got the only try of the half and were leading by 7 points. Unfortunately they weren’t able to score any points in the second half and when Edinburgh’s bench came on they scored two tries in the last quarter of an hour for the win.
Edinburgh now top the group but only by 1 point, their return game against Bordeaux next year could be the crucial game. Whilst Welsh clearly aren’t going to progress with three losses already.
Gloucester Rugby 35 v 10 Zebre
For the first quarter of the game this was tight, then 15 points in ten minutes meant that Gloucester took control. That should have been the platform to kick on from but if didn’t happen. Zebre got the first try of the second half but were still 11 points behind. Neither side could string anything together with plenty of substitutions for both sides. It wasn’t until the final ten minutes when Gloucester managed to assert their authority again and score 2 more tries for the TBP and the win.
Zebre didn’t help themselves by missing all their kicks at goal but also being on the wrong end of the penalty count. These are two areas along with the screen that they are going to have to sort out to have any hope next weekend.
Key Stat: Territory (1H/2H) Gloucester 62% (54%/68%) Zebre 38% (46%/32%)
Once they got their lead Gloucester were able to play in the right areas of the pitch. They would just have liked to have been able to keep the scoreboard ticking over in the second half.
Gloucester are now fully in control of their group and Zebre really have nothing but pride to play for.