Red-hot attacking play and ice cool nerves punctuated the third weekend of European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup action. Who shone, and who shocked?
George Ford held his nerve and ignored some off-putting shouts from the crowd at the Ricoh Arena to slot a winning conversion for Bath as the clock ticked over to 86 minutes in their European Champions Cup battle with Wasps.
The chance for Ford was set up by a try from Anthony Watson, the wing taking a pass from Tom Homer who had drawn the defence well as Bath battered the line, with two Wasps in the sin-bin.
Bath had led 15-12 at half-time, then trailed 23-18 after 74 minutes but their determination took them to their second victory out of two in this European campaign, although Wasps still top Pool Five as they have played a game more.
Leicester became the first team to beat Munster twice at Thomond Park in Europe, and the stars of their show were Vereniki Goneva and Ben Youngs, for two great tries.
Goneva took a long pass from Youngs and crashed through two tacklers to score the first, when the match was poised at 6-6, then in the second half, Youngs picked up a turnover ball from the back of a ruck in midfield and cut a searing line through the Munster defence to take the game out of the home side’s reach.
Leicester are now on three wins from three in the Champions Cup as they head for the reverse fixture at Welford Road, while Munster cannot really afford another defeat.
Another Tigers saint was Gonzalo Camacho, who came off the bench to make his competitive debut for Leicester at the end of a nightmare two-and-a-half years out with injuries. The wing chased back to put in a potentially try-saving tackle on Lucas Amororsino at the death, when Munster were hunting for a losing bonus point. The match was won, but Camacho wasn’t going to let Munster have any crumbs from the table.
King of the Kingspan
Ulster inside centre Stuart McCloskey scored the pick of his team’s tries as they walloped four-time champions Toulouse 38-0 in the Champions Cup at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday.
He took a long pass from Paddy Jackson, turned Yoann Maestri inside out and drew the defence to open up a corridor which took him all the way to the line.
In an excellent team performance from the Belfast side, the other Ulster try-scorers were Chris Henry, Nick Williams, Andrew Trimble and Luke Marshall.
Glasgow Warriors thrashed their Guinness Pro12 rivals the Scarlets 43-6 in Champions Cup Pool Three, with wing Taqele Naiyaravoro grabbing the headlines with a hat-trick of tries.
The huge Australian international powered up the right wing for his first try, collected a pin-point kick from Finn Russell for his second and intercepted a loose pass from Regan King for his third.
Naiyaravoro could have had four tries in total, as he caught a high ball and battered his way through several tacklers on a 40-metre run to the line earlier in the game, but the officials disallowed the try, saying he had been in touch when he caught the ball. It was a borderline decision to say the least as, at the very most, one toe was grazing the edge of the whitewash.
London Irish wing Andy Fenby also grabbed a hat-trick as his team produced their best performance of the season to beat Edinburgh 38-6 in the European Challenge Cup. The visitors to the Madejski Stadium led 6-0 before Irish found the scoring touch. Alex Lewington scored one try and created Fenby’s third with a chip over the defence, while Aseli Tikoirotuma and teenage centre Johnny Williams were the other try-scorers.
It is too difficult to pick out a Saint from the Saracens side which trounced Oyonnax 45-10 in France, so let’s just say the whole team are polishing their halos at the moment. Saracens sit proudly at the top of the Pool One table, with three wins from three after this five-try victory, and when you consider they also have a perfect six out of six record in the Aviva Premiership at the moment, they are clearly the form side in Europe. Oyonnax will not be looking forward to next Saturday’s trip to Allianz Park.
Chiefs in charge
Exeter Chiefs are top of Pool Two thanks to a magnificent 31-14 win over last year’s beaten finalists Clermont Auvergne.
Thomas Waldrom put them on their way to victory with two close-range tries which took them from 14-3 down to 17-14 up. Plenty of other Chiefs shone in this excellent all-round team performance, with Don Armand scoring their third try and Mitch Lees wriggling over to secure the bonus point in red time.
Cardiff Blues kept alive their hopes of qualifying from Pool Three of the Challenge Cup as they came from behind to beat Montpellier 37-27, and so stay within reach of top dogs Harlequins. Josh Navidi scored two tries for the Blues but wing Tom James was named Man of the Match.
Congratulations to Enisei STM who chalked up their first Challenge Cup win, beating Brive 10-7. They are the first Russian team to play in the European competition and had lost their first two matches, at home to Connacht and away to Newcastle.
Brive didn’t have to travel right across to Siberia, as Connacht had done, as Enisei are now playing in western Russia, but the French side were still outgunned.
Enisei’s points came from a try by hooker Nazir Gasanov and a conversion and a penalty from Iurii Kushnarev. Can they do the double in Brive on Saturday? Now, that would be something.
Dubious from Dubié
Jean-Baptiste Dubié cost his Bordeaux-Begles team dear in their Champions Cup clash with Ospreys when he was sent off for clouting Dan Biggar. The French side were leading 13-12 in the 44th minute when Biggar collected a high ball and chipped ahead, only for Dubié to plant a late, swinging arm on his chin. Referee JP Doyle consulted the TMO and the officials agreed the wing should be sent off.
While he was gone, Biggar darted over for a try in the right-hand corner and converted it himself to take the Ospreys to a 19-16 win which keeps their hopes of qualifying from Pool 2 alive.
A couple of sinners helped to send Munster to a 31-19 defeat against Leicester at Thomond Park. Hooker Niall Scannell over-threw Donnacha Ryan at a lineout when the Tigers were 11-6 up, Mike Fitzgerald happily accepted the gift of the ball in space beyond the lineout and strode over for a try to stretch the lead to 18-6.
However, before that, the officials got it horribly wrong when they reversed a penalty to Munster, saying one of their players had pushed a Leicester player, who had then crashed into Andrew Conway as he raced forward in attack. Referee Romain Poite awarded a penalty to Leicester, which they kicked for the corner and set up the attacking position that resulted in Niki Goneva’s try, but the video showed Leicester prop Dan Cole had actually started the domino-chain of pushing, so the penalty should have gone the other way. It was a bad call by the officials, including TMO Gilles Cogne and Poite, and Munster boss Anthony Foley was none too pleased, calling the decision “an absolute disgrace” in his post-match interview.
Too good Tou-louse?
What on earth has happened to Toulouse? The four-time European Champions (and twice beaten finalists) are odds-on to miss out on a quarter-final spot this year after losing 38-0 to Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium. It’s the first time the French giants have been nilled in a European match, and this resounding defeat follows a 32-7 thrashing by Saracens on the first weekend of this year’s tournament. Then, we put their lacklustre display down to their shock at the terror attacks which had taken place in Paris the night before, but that cannot apply to their thumping in Belfast.
Toulouse are flying in the Top 14, sitting in second spot with seven wins from their first ten matches, so why they are playing so poorly in Europe is a mystery.
That is one interesting hair style Census Johnston is sporting this season. I prefer the tighthead prop’s old shaggy look – but I don’t want to be the one to tell him! No, honestly Census, it looks great…!