Who excelled themselves in the first European action of the season, and who will be doing extra drills this week?
Hot stuff in the cold
Connacht deserve absolutely all the plaudits in the world for playing through temperatures of around -20 celcius and managing to beat Enisei STM 31-14 at the Central Stadium in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
The Russian side are in the European Challenge Cup for the first time and Connacht are the only side which will have to make the long journey across six time zones to Enisei’s Siberian home, as their December and January “home” matches will be played in the warmer climes of Sochi, on the Black Sea.
Connacht gave themselves a couple of days to acclimatise and recover from their jetlag but the temperatures just got colder and colder leading up to match day and the pitch was covered by a dusting of snow during the game.
Somehow Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Darragh Leader and skipper John Muldoon all managed to keep enough feeling in their fingers to score a try apiece for Connacht and the Irish side headed home with five points.
Leicester’s new openside Brendon O’Connor has received plenty of praise for his performance in the Tigers’ 33-20 win over Stade Francais in Friday evening’s European Champions Cup clash, but wing Adam Thompstone deserves a big pat on the back for the part he played in O’Connor’s try in the first minute of the second half.
When O’Connor scooped up a loose ball on halfway and headed for the try-line, Thompstone ran an incredibly clever and totally legal support line, a couple of metres inside Connor, thereby stopping Morne Steyn from getting to the ball carrier as he covered across.
Steyn gave Thompstone a frustrated shove as O’Connor honed in on the line, but the legality of the Leicester wing’s play was confirmed after referee John Lacey consulted the TMO. Because Thompstone was always half a stride behind O’Connor he was doing nothing wrong and the try extended Leicester’s lead to 17-8
In the same game, Ben Youngs scored an important try for Leicester with a quick tap-and-go while the Stade players were arguing with Lacey about a penalty he had awarded. Leicester were 20-15 up at the time, with 55 minutes gone, and the try gave them a bonus point and some breathing space.
There was a suspicion, however, that Tom Youngs could have had a penalty awarded against him for hitting the ruck with his shoulder just as the penalty was being given.
No ordinary Joe
Wasps took Leinster to pieces in their 33-6 win at the RDS Arena in Dublin and scrum-half Joe Simpson was a key figure in that magnificent performance.
Simpson scored a super try after 47 minutes when Frank Halai made a strong break and the No 9 took the ball on from outside the 22, powered through a tackle and dashed over the line.
Wasps were immense in defence, sharp in attack and ruthless about taking their chances.
Foden on fire
Northampton Saints got their Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start against the in-form Scarlets, scraping home 15-11. Full-back Ben Foden was not among their points-scorers but he did have a big effect on the scoreline as he made a superb try-saving tackle on DTH van der Merwe.
The Canadian wing came sprinting through the line and into the 22 like an express train and Foden recovered from being wrong-footed to start with, and brought his opponent crashing to the turf.
Share and share alike
There were some high scores in this weekend’s European games, but unusually no one managed to score a hat-trick of tries as the spoils were shared among team-mates in many of the matches.
There were six different try-scorers for Harlequins in their 41-18 walloping of Montpellier, and six more for London Irish as they beat Agen 48-10. Alex Lewington and Gerard Ellis managed two each but couldn’t grab a third.
Cardiff Blues also shared their try-scoring six ways in their 50-9 victory in Calvisano.
Leinster were so poor in their 33-6 home defeat by Wasps on Sunday that half a dozen of their players, or more, could be among the Sinners this week. It was their heaviest home defeat in the history of the European competitions and they were unbelievably sloppy, making a succession of unforced errors.
Dave Kearney had no luck with the bounce of the ball as he chased back to tidy up a probing kick from Joe Simpson. The Leinster wing took a quick glance over his shoulder to see which Wasps player was looming behind him, then he slipped and left Christian Wade with all the time in the world to dive over and score a try which put Wasps 16-6 up on the half-hour.
Kearney made another mistake 40 minutes later, when he tried and failed to catch a long penalty attempt from Elliot Daly which fell short. However, Kearney’s error was compounded and trumped by Jack Conan, who then thoughtlessly played the loose ball from a clearly offside position and gave Daly the chance to kick a much simpler penalty, which he duly did.
Putting his foot in it
George North was sin-binned during the first half of Northampton’s match against the Scarlets when he caught Michael Tagicakibau with a sharp, backwards stamp on his shoulder. North had been tackled in the build-up to what would have been a magnificent try for Luther Burrell, but Tagicakibau hung onto his shorts to stop him continuing to support the attacking move.
As Burrell was diving over the try-line a few metres away, North was lashing out with his boot in frustration. His Saints team-mates hadn’t needed any further help from him, as they already had an overlap, but North didn’t have time to think of that.
As referee Romain Poite wielded his yellow card (and disallowed the try), North complained that the Scarlets wing had been holding him back, but the referee was rightly unmoved, as players have to know they cannot mete out their own punishments. Considering this was a stamp, not many inches from a player’s face, North might consider himself lucky to have seen yellow, not red.
Cherries gone bad
Gloucester got their defence of the European Challenge Cup off to great start in the first half of their match against Zebre at Kingsholm and were 23-0 up after 37 minutes thanks to some fluent attacking play and slick offloading.
Whatever was said at half-time did not exactly have the desired effect, as Gloucester proceeded to lose the second half 10-0 with an error-strewn, lacklustre performance. Yes, they still won the game comfortably, but they failed to get a four-try bonus point and those are precious in the European pool stages.