Wow what a weekend of exciting rugby and it was all up in the air until the last moments. Here is my review of the weekend’s action.
European Rugby Champions Cup
Ulster 56 – 3 US Oyonnax
Toulouse 17 – 28 Saracens
Bath 14 – 19 Toulon
Wasps 51 – 10 Leinster
Glasgow Warriors 22 – 5 Racing Metro 92
Scarlets 10 – 22 Northampton Saints
Benetton Treviso 5 – 28 Munster
Stade Francais 36 – 21 Leicester Tigers
Exeter Chiefs 33 – 17 Ospreys
Clermont Auvergne 28 – 37 Bordeaux Begles
7 from 10, I didn’t pick the upsets but I did get the 50/50 right.
Ulster kicked off the weekend known that they would have a long wait to see how things panned out. They did everything that they could to get a best 2nd place finish. A try in the first minute got them off to a great start. It took a while of rate second to come and by then Oyonnax had knocked over their only points of the game. Ulster were dominating the game and the second, third and fourth tries all came before halftime to have the TBP in the bag. Ulster continued to dominate after the break and added another four tries in the third quarter. With the game and bonus point already in the bag it’s not uprising that they didn’t add any points in the last quarter. Ulster racked up over a kilometre of running with ball in hand which is double what you might see in some games by both teams.
With Toulouse already out of the tournament and Saracens having the home quarter final wrapped up there wasn’t much riding on this game. Saracens had a top two seed to make the semi final in England in the back of their minds though. In the first half Saracens kicked themselves into a lead only to hauled back by a late try from Toulouse to only lead 7-9 at the break. A quick blitz at the beginning of the second half saw Saracens stretch the lead to 7-19. From there Toulouse had the lions share of possession and territory but Saracens kept them at a distance despite missing 31 tackles. Toulouse got a try only for Farrell to knock over a penalty, it happened again but Toulouse never got back with a score. Saracens were the only team in the Rugby Champions Cup to come through with 6 wins and duly secures the top seeding.
Toulon had the better of the early exchanges and knocked over two penalties as a reward. Bath pulled one back before Armitage powered over out wide for the opening try. Ford managed to narrow the gap to 6-11 before half time. Bath then started the second half strongly first with Watson getting over from the back of a ruck after a good break and then Ford taking the lead with a penalty. Bath had the ascendancy but Toulon grabbed a try back through Habana from an interception that came from scrappy play after a cross-field kick. A late penalty for Toulon opened the gap but this was another scrappy win and they still have a lot to improve on.
Wasps qualified for the quarter finals with a massive win over Leinster. However it was Leinster that got the better start with an early try. They then suffered the loss of Sexton to a head injury and there have to be doubts over his 6 Nations availability. Two tries in 5 minutes put Wasps in control, Leinster did pull one back but still trailed 15-10 at half time. Wasps put the game to bed with 10 points in the first six minutes of the second half. After that even though Leinster had more possession and territory Wasps kept racking up the points and tries so that they broke the half century just before the end. Leinster had more territory and possession in the second half but if they turn over the ball 19 times to 9 and give up 14 penalties they will always struggle.
Racing might have rotated a few players but Glasgow know that they have the ability to take on anyone on their day. The first half was a relatively even affair with Russell’s penalty being the only score. Galasgow got another penalty early in the second half but it was just before the hour mark that they pulled away. Dominating the possession and territory they got the first try of the game and followed it up with a penalty for a 16-0 lead. Racing did pull a try back but the boot of Wier who had come on for Russell closed out the game.
Scarlets have been going well in the Pro12 but have found Europe a step too far. Against Saints they had plenty of possession and territory. But Saints were comfortable with their defence and to kick the ball away until the right opportunity to presented it’s self when the would strike. A couple of tries in the first twenty put Saints in control, Scarlets did pull back a penalty to trail 3-12 at half time. Saints kept Scarlets out and picked up a couple of tries by the hour mark to secure the TBP and have the game in the bag. Scarlets got a consolation try at the death to make the scoreline look something like respectable.
Munster picked up the expected win over Treviso who are the worst team in the competition by a country mile. The only surprise is that they scored so few points in this dead rubber. A couple of early tries put Munster in control. Treviso though did have the lions share of possession and did pull back a try before half time. Munster did manage to get more possession and territory in the second half but only manage another couple of tires for the TBP and win.
Stade have not been in Top14 champions form this season but were still in with a shout of qualification partially due to being in a pool with Treviso. They still had to win against Tigers to go through and early on it didn’t look good as Tuilagi picked up a try. Stade though got into their groove and ran in three quick tries to lead 19-7 at the break. With Youngs in the bin Stade took advantage to get with fourth try and the TBP. Tigers fought back and a late try closed the gap to eight points. State though closed the game out with another try to seal the match.
All the talk in the Clermont game has been around Parra choice to tap and go late on rather kick the sticks to claim a LBP. With this pool being so close nobody seamed to know what was required to top the group. But the game wasn’t lost on that one moment. Clermont started the game strongly with two tries in the first four minutes. Bordeaux weathered the storm and fought back into the game with two tries and a penalty on halftime game them a 14-17 lead. Another penalty stretched the lead before Clermont scored two tries to lead by 8 points. Bordeaux again fought their way back into the game and with just over ten minutes to go scored two tries. A late penalty denied Clermont the LBP they needed to quality for the quarter finals.
Exeter somehow managed to qualify with 16 points and a negative points difference. Amazingly the only team in the pool that had a positive points different was Clermont who came last. Many people including the players didn’t realise that they had qualified after the game at first. But we should talk about how they got there. The game started a a million miles an hour, Chiefs got their first try with only two minutes on the clock. Ospreys struck back fave minutes later. Only Waldrom to rumble over again two minutes later. Ten minutes on the clock and twenty one points scored! It calmed down from there and Ospreys got the first points if the second half through a penalty. Then it was the backs turn with Short running in two tires to open up a 16 point lead. Ospreys got a penalty try but were still two scores behind. Waldrom picked up a late try to give Exeter the points difference they needed to make the quarter finals for the first time.
So that means our quarter finals consist of 5 English and 3 French teams.
Leicester Tigers v Stade Francais Paris
Racing 92 v RC Toulon
Saracens v Northampton Saints
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs
People on twitter think that there is fair chance that it will be an all English final.
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Sale Sharks 38 – 5 Newport Gwent Dragons
Castres 24 – 7 Section Paloise
La Rochelle 35 – 11 Worcester Warriors
Cardiff Blues 74 – 6 Calvisano
Montpellier 42 – 9 Harlequins
Zebre 11 – 14 Gloucester Rugby
Connacht Rugby 47 – 5 Enisei-STM
Newcastle Falcons 27 – 23 Brive
Agen 17 – 31 London Irish
Grenoble 34 – 23 Edinburgh
9 from 10, I thought that Quins were going to make it a perfect set of wins.
After all those games that means our quarter finals consist of 4 English teams, 2 French, an Irish and a Welsh side.
Grenoble v Connacht
Gloucester Rugby v Dragons
Harlequins v London Irish
Sale Sharks v Montpellier