There were some stellar performances in the second round of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, but other players had a weekend to forget.
Wasps produced arguably the performance and result of the weekend, beating three-times European champions Toulon 32-6 at the Ricoh Arena, just a week after kicking off their Champions Cup campaign with an away win at the home of former champions Leinster.
James Gaskell was named Man of the Match but fly-half Ruaridh Jackson got Wasps off to a flying start, throwing a fabulous long, cut-out pass to find Nathan Hughes inside the 22 and the No 8 scored with eight minutes on the clock.
Two minutes later, Jackson chipped the defence in the middle of the pitch, Joe Simpson gathered and offloaded to Gaskell and he found Jackson roaring through to finish off a terrific try which gave Wasps a 17-0 lead.
When Wasps lost playmaker Jimmy Gopperth to suspension just before their first two European matches of the season, it looked like it might be a big blow, but with Jackson pulling the strings the English side have scored over 60 points on the way to beating two of Europe’s top teams.
Wasps boss Dai Young is understandably buzzing. “That’s as good as it gets,” he said. Wasps supporters will hope there is more of the same to come.
What a spirited performance the Ospreys put in against Clermont Auvergne in the Champions Cup. They looked dead and buried at 20-3 down, fought back to 20-17, only to see their French hosts stretch away to 34-17 with two more tries.
However, the Ospreys found the spirit to fight to the finish and two tries in the last two minutes – the first by Sam Parry after a lovely offload from Justin Tipuric, and the second a magnificent run from Tom Habberfield after great work from Dan Biggar – gave the Welsh side two precious bonus points, one for scoring four tries and one for bringing the final score back to within seven points at 34-29.
Farrell and Goode to the fore
Saracens became the first team to beat Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium since Toulon in October 2014, and no small thanks was due to Owen Farrell and Alex Goode for creating scoring chances.
Farrell sent a magnificent cut-out pass to Goode, who then put Chris Wyles over for the first try and in the second half Goode saw some space in behind the Ulster defence, put in a perfect chip and was on hand to collect a brilliant offload from Duncan Taylor, who had chased the chip with him, and score.
A scorching line break from Farrell then made the third try and the fly-half even joined a driving maul to help Billy Vunipola score the fourth.
Marcus Watson equalled a club record by running in four tries for Newcastle Falcons in their 55-7 win over Russian club Enisei-STM in Sunday’s Challenge Cup match.
Playing against tougher opposition in the shape of Bordeaux-Begles, Olly Woodburn ran in two tries in Exeter Chiefs’ 34-19 home win in the Champions Cup, sprinting up the left wing for both and, in the case of the second, capitalising on a wonderful break out of defence by Henry Slade.
Over in France, David Strettle scored two crackers for Clermont Auvergne to help them beat the Ospreys and earn the Man of the Match award. The wing’s first came from a run from half-way, while his second involved an elusive, weaving run through the defence from the 22.
Ah See Tuala scored a brace for Northampton Saints in their excellent 26-15 win at the home of Guinness Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors. Both tries were superbly taken by the Samoan wing.
Harlequins hooker Dave Ward was in the unusual position of covering the back row on the bench for their European Challenge Cup match against Cardiff Blues and he was pressed into service as an openside flanker after half an hour, when Jack Clifford was stretchered off.
Was Ward daunted? No! In fact he positively relished the challenge and he turned in a Man of the Match performance, making a huge contribution to Quins’ 32-20 win.
Ward made 18 carries, covered 95 metres with the ball in hand, crossed the gain line 11 times and beat six defenders. He and Nick Easter played off each other brilliantly and his offloading was first class.
The hooker clearly enjoyed a chance to play a different role and said: “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to hit the scrums!”
Sharp as you like
Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples got the second round of European action off to a stunning start on Thursday with a contender for Try of the Season.
Fielding a kick just inside his own half, Sharples spotted a gap, pinned his ears back and cut through the La Rochelle defence, leaving defenders trailing in his wake, grasping at thin ear. Full-back Charles Bouldoire managed to get hold of his as he crossed the line, but Sharples still grounded the ball.
Watch his try here – complete with brilliant French commentary!
George Ford landed a 42 metre penalty in the 76th minute to take Bath to a hard-earned 19-16 home win over Leinster. The England fly-half’s place kicking becomes more consistent all the time and while it was Bath’s forward dominance which set the platform for this win, particularly in the scrum, without ice-cool Ford to turn the chances into points they would have fallen short.
Sale ended their eight-game losing streak in European competition by beating Pau 29-20 at home in the Challenge Cup, and No 8 Viliami Fihaki put the icing on the cake in the 77th minute when his try earned the Sharks an important four-try bonus point.
The five match points Sale earned keep them in touch in Pool 2, where the Dragons are top with six points after a win and a loss and Castres are also just behind on five points after defeating the Welsh side on Saturday and having their first match postponed.
Red for Rees
This week’s rogues’ gallery is led by Matthew Rees, after the Cardiff Blues hooker raked his boot across the face of Harlequins’ No 8 Nick Easter during their European Challenge Cup clash.
Easter was caught at the bottom of the ruck in the 73rd minute and as Rees joined the fray his boot made contact with his face, leaving Easter in some pain and with what looked like a stud mark on his eyelid.
Rees was quite rightly sent off by referee Alexandre Ruiz. Harlequins were 25-13 up at the time and went on to win 32-20.
Racing 92 flanker Bernard le Roux was also sent off for stamping in his side’s 29-12 win at the Scarlets. His offence was not nearly as severe as Rees’s though, as he just lashed out at Ken Owens’ ankle on the edge of a ruck in the 44th minute. Racing were already 26-0 up at the time, so le Roux’s foul did not impact on the result.
Ulster fans thought Saracens’ blindside Michael Rhodes should also have seen red when he sent Andrew Trimble clattering to the floor early in their clash after Trimble had leapt to catch a high ball. However, the fact that the wing landed flat on his back meant Rhodes was only sin-binned by referee Romain Poite, as players who take out an opponent in the air are generally only red-carded if the tackled player lands on their shoulders or head. It was still reckless from Rhodes and he was lucky his challenge did not turn out to be more significant.
Wrong kind of handiwork
With 49 minutes on the clock, the Cardiff Blues v Harlequins match was evenly poised at 6-6. Two minutes later Quins led 20-6 thanks to the “generosity” of a few Blues players, who handed their visitors a couple of tries on a plate.
Firstly, Tim Visser ripped the ball away from the grasping fingertips of Josh Turnbull after anticipating where a pass from Kristian Dacey was going. Visser raced in for a try, which Ben Botica converted, then two minutes later Botica was stepping up to the tee again, after Lou Reed had the ball torn out of his grasp and Ollie Lindsay-Hague sprinted in for a try.
It was a scoring burst the Blues struggled to recover from and they returned to their generous ways in the last play of the game when, at 25-20 down they were hoping to grab a dramatic win, only for Tau Filise to allow the ball to be stolen from his hands and Danny Care coasted over for a bonus-point try for Harlequins.
Out of line
Leinster desperately needed a win in their second Champions Cup pool match, having lost at home to Wasps last weekend. Late in the game at Bath, with the home side 19-16 up, Leinster had a chance to steal the points when they kicked a penalty to touch to set up an attacking lineout.
However, there was a dreadful mix-up in communication between the replacement hooker James Tracy and the rest of his forwards, as his throw went straight to Bath skipper Stuart Hooper, with no one from Leinster even being hoisted up to challenge for the ball.
Bath weren’t about to give Leinster another chance and the Irish side’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals are all but dashed.