The European competitions took centre stage this weekend, with the third round of Champions Cup and Challenge Cup pool matches bringing joy for some and pain for others. And out in the east we also had the Dubai Sevens.
What a score!
European Champions Toulon came to Welford Road having won their last nine games but Leicester Tigers put a stop to that run thanks to a massive effort from their pack and a gutsy display from 22-year-old fly-half Owen Williams, who kicked 20 points – six penalties and a conversion – in Leicester’s 25-21 victory.
What was so good about the young Welshman’s kicking display in this Champions Cup clash was that he recovered from a couple of first-half misses and the horror of having Bryan Habana scoop up a wayward pass of his to score a try which put Toulon 18-16 up in the second half. Williams regathered his composure to keep racking up the points, and finished with a 50-metre penalty to take Leicester to a memorable win.
Williams is keeping Freddie Burns out of Leicester’s starting line-up and if he continues in this vein, he will hang onto that No 10 jersey.
It is not easy to beat Munster at Thomond Park in a European competition. Only Leicester Tigers and Ulster had done it before but Clermont Auvergne added their name to that exclusive list by winning 16-9 in the European Champions Cup on Saturday.
The leading light in their effort was No 8 Fritz Lee, who set the French club off on the right foot by scoring a try from the back of a driving maul in the first minute.
He went on to contribute in attack and defence, including a great off-load under pressure to set up Wesley Fofana’s try. Of course, other players had their moments of magic, notably fly-half Camille Lopez with a long-range drop goal and flanker Damien Chouly, who stole a lineout from Paul O’Connell when Munster had an attacking lineout at the death, but Lee was deservedly named Man of the Match.
Give him an inch
There are not many better finishers in the game than Tommy Bowe and he racked up his 26th European try in 58 appearances when he squeezed in at the corner to take Ulster from 14-9 up to 21-9 ahead in the second half against the Scarlets and extinguish any hopes the Welsh region had of snatching a win in Belfast.
Even Bowe’s long-time Ireland team-mate Brian O’Driscoll – now on TV duty with BT Sport – doubted that the wing had made it on this occasion, as Liam Williams was doing his best to stop him, but the replays showed he was in. Bowe also gave the scoring pass for a try by the excellent Darren Cave as Ulster claimed their first win of the European season.
Tips is the top
Justin Tipuric turned on the after-burners and combined beautifully with Rhys Webb to create a magical try for Josh Matavesi as the Ospreys came from behind to draw 19-19 with Racing Metro. Hanno Dirksen trucked up around half-way, Webb broke and found Dan Biggar, who linked with Tipuric as he steamed over the gain-line on the 10 metre line. The flanker had the French defence in disarray as he bowled into the 22 and when he was stopped, Webb was there again to take the offload and send the scoring pass to Matavesi and Biggar’s simple conversion tied the scores. It was a moment to savour.
Toulouse get a pat on the back for becoming the first club to win 100 games in European competitions. They did it by beating Glasgow Warriors 19-11 at home on Sunday, and just pip Munster to the landmark as the Irish side are currently stuck on 99 wins. Chapeau Toulouse!
What a shambles Montpellier looked as they slumped to a 30-5 home defeat to Bath on Friday evening. Having gone five games without a win, coach Fabien Galthie made 11 changes to his team but they leaked points and saw skipper Thibaut Privat sin-binned for wiping out Henry Thomas when the Bath prop was lifting at a lineout. Antoine Battut and Charles Geli were also yellow carded but their actions were not quite so brainless as Privat’s extremely dangerous play.
Not even the groundsman at the Altrad Stadium could be proud of his day’s work, as the soccer pitch markings were still clearly visible, making it very tricky to even work out where the pitch was. Get your act together Montpellier!
Time for a scissors move
Regular readers of this column will know that I am not the biggest fan of bizarre haircuts, and checking in for his appointment at the Sinners’ Salon of Shame this week is New Zealand Sevens player Joe Webber. If you haven’t seen his own, unique take on the always comical rats tail, feast your eyes.
Disaster for Drew
Yes, the pass thrown wildly out of a tackle and back across his own 22 by Toulon scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde was a shocker, but Drew Mitchell would still have backed himself to tidy up the loose ball. However, the Aussie wing fumbled and bumbled and it was Leicester hooker Tom Youngs who managed to pick up the rolling ball cleanly and send Brad Thorn in for the try. It put Leicester 13-0 up after 18 minutes of their Champions Cup match and they went on to win.
Harlequins are not having the best season in the Aviva Premiership but Leinster handed them an early Christmas present in the shape of a popped pass from Rob Kearney which was gratefully grabbed by Aseli Tikoirotuma, who ran the length of the pitch to score a crucial try. Harlequins had been 12-9 down at home with 53 minutes gone, then Nick Easter reached over for a try and Kearney threw the interception pass just five minutes later and suddenly they were 21-12 up.
Leinster managed to grab a losing bonus point as the final score was 24-18, but they had hoped for more.
With two wins from their first two Champions Cup games, Glasgow Warriors went to Toulouse in search of more points but came away empty handed, having had their cause damaged by a foolish tip-tackle from Finn Russell on his opposite number, Jean-Marc Doussain. It was a clear yellow card for referee John Lacey to wield in the 37th minute and the Warriors went from 3-3 at that stage to 16-3 down just five minutes later as Toulouse kicked a penalty and scored a try through Maxime Medard. The Scots never recovered and lost 19-11, with Duncan Weir missing a difficult conversion that would at least have brought a losing bonus point.
Scarlet Liam Williams was also guilty of a needless tip-tackle and was duly sin-binned for driving Ulster full-back Louis Ludik into the turf when he was already on the ground.