Some tight games and a couple of upsets, yup another good weekend of European rugby. Here’s my review of the fourth round Challenge Cup games.
How did your predictions do?
First up here is a link to my predictions.
9 out of 10, so close to the clean sweep. Happy with that and I know why I got that one wrong, but that would spoil the review.
Stade Francais 31 v 24 Newcastle Falcons
Newcastle took an early lead though an interception try before Stade’s backs benefited from their forwards power. Three tires from the backs plus a penalty try wrapped up the TBP in the first half. But a combination of poor kicking and Falcons grabbing a second try, meant only a 10 point lead for Stade at halftime.
Newcastle dragged themselves back into the game to tie it at 24 all. But Stade’s forward power carried them home with a catch and drive from the lineout leading to their only score of the second half.
Key Stat: N8 Lakafia meters run 97
Lakafia was only the third in meters run in the game but it shows Stade’s forward power that their leader was in the pack, add into that 15 tackles and he clearly put in a shift. The two top meters gain were both from Newcastle, FB Hammersley with 151 and W Cato 104.
Newport Gwent Dragons 69 v 17 Bucharest Wolves
Dragons wrapped up the expected win with 11 tires, but they did fall behind, to an early Wolves try. Even with that early setback, the TBP was wrapped up by the twenty-second minute. It would be interesting to know what the record is for the quickest TBP in European rugby.
This put Dragons top of the group with two games to go. Whilst Newcastle are still probably favourite to top the group in the end, both teams are in with a good chance of qualifying.
Lyon 37 v 28 Bordeaux Begles
A cardinal sin in predicting, I forgot to look at the away verses home form of the sides. Bordeaux have only won once away from home this season and that should have warned me this was coming. So Lyon have beaten Bordeaux at the third time of asking.
Bordeaux did take a good early lead before Lyon scored 3 tries to take control of the half and lead by 10 at the break. Where as the first half was one side in control then the other, the second saw the sides trading blows. Lyon kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties, as Bordeaux scored tries to lead by 1 point with ten minutes to go. But Lyon finally managed to get over the line for the TBP and a penalty at the death denied the visitors even a deserved LBP.
One of these teams could sneak the last best second place qualification spot but they will probably need to improve their away form.
Rugby Rovigo 17 v 20 Grenoble
I was dismissive of Rovigo’s chances in this game but they came out of the blocks fastest. With improved kicking they would have been further ahead at half time, as it was they restricted Grenoble to 1 try and kicked 4 of their own penalties for a 7 point lead.
Grenoble had a player sent to the bin towards the end of the first half but that didn’t slow their comeback. Early in the second half they scored 2 tries whilst still down to 14 men to take the lead. Poor kicking, which was a characteristic of the game, meant that Rovigo were still in touch and an unconverted try by the Italians took the lead back. Grenoble got their noses back in front with another try which also wrapped up the TBP. Grenoble then held onto their lead, even with 2 yellow cards towards the end. This must be one of the more unconvincing wins to take all five points.
London Irish 34 v 23 Cardiff Blues
Irish’s early season form was built on a stronger showing by their pack and front five especially. We saw a resurgence of that in this game against a Cardiff pack with plenty of Lions. The first half swayed back and forth with Irish getting an early score, Cardiff taking the lead only for Irish to pull out a gap and get pegged back to three points at the half.
The second half saw Irish pull away with a couple of tries. The only reply from Cardiff was an Anscombe penalty until a converted try ten minutes from time led to a frantic finish. Both sides pushed for a bonus point but it was all in vain. It means that Irish take a slim 1 point lead in the table.
Exeter Chiefs 41 v 17 La Rochelle
Just like last week Exeter got into the game early, a couple of tries from the forwards set the tone. Exeter then took full advantage of La Rochelle’s two yellow cards to go in ahead by 24 points at half time, with the TBP already in the bag. An early try in the second half for Exeter totally killed off the game as a contest, even if the second half had a 14-14 scoreline. This leave La Rochelle to concentrate on Top14 matters and Exeter with a good chance of qualification.
US Oyonnax 22 v 17 Brive
Oyonnax dominated the scoring in the opening quarter to take a 12 point lead, whilst Brive did fight back they were still 5 points in arrears at half time. A yellow card to Oyonnax lock Lassalle at the end of the half didn’t slow them down. Oyonnax quickly picked up their third try early in the second half top open up what looked like a comfortable lead. But Brive were quickly back in it with a try of their own. It was a tense last half hour where neither side were able to score any points and Brive not helping themselves by having a player sent to the bin.
Zebre 16 v 32 Gloucester Rugby
Gloucester picked up the expected 5 points but it was Zebre that had the better start. A couple of penalties was the return for the Italians having a good first quarter. Gloucester came back with 10 points of their own before having a player yellow carded for retaliation. Just as you thought Zebre would look to take advantage, the turning point of the game happened with Odiete being red carded for taking out the Gloucester fullback in the air.
Gloucester then took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring three tries and picking up the TBP. There was a late wobble triggered by a yellow card to Gloucester hooker Lutui. Zebre did score two tries but it was too little too late to have any impact on the result.
Bayonne 27 v 29 Connacht Rugby
Bayonne were dominant in the first quarter and taking an eleven point lead through two tries. Connacht fought back through the boot of Nikora and a try from scrum half Blade, to trail by just one point at half time. For a half where the Irish men only had 33% of the possession that was a very good result.
The second half was very much the same, with Bayonne starting the better and opening up an 11 point lead. Only for Connacht’s Kiwi flyhalf to keep them in touch with the boot, before a second try by Blade right near the end gave the Irish men the lead for the first time in the game.
Key Stat: Penalties conceded Bayonne 11 Connacht 7
11 isn’t that big a number but it was enough to allow Connacht to stay in touch. Bayonne led or had parity in all the other stats and will be disappointed to have lost this one.
London Welsh 6 v 24 Edinburgh
The first half turned in to a kick fest as Welsh butchered an early chance to get a try with a wild pass. Welsh were then unable to take advantage of an Edinburgh sin binning. When Welsh lost a player late in the first half though Edinburgh capitalised with two penalties either side of the break to take a 12-3 lead. Welsh did pull back a penalty before Edinburgh were finally able to take a grip on the game and score the first try, just before the hour mark. A late yellow card for Welsh and try for Edinburgh sealed the expected win along with Edinburgh’s 100% European record.