While the European Challenge cup gave fans their fair share of blowouts, the European Champions Cup presented its following with closer games and greater level of play.
The weekend got off to a good start for the English-side Harlequins. The boot of Nick Evans and the lone try by Danny Care overcame Rory Kockott’s Castres, 25-9. The French side had signs of life evening the score at 6-all 50 minutes into the affair. But Care’s 65 minute try put them out of reach of victory.
In the first 30 minutes of the Sale-Munster match, Danny Cipriani kept the scoreboard ticking with his boot, and his teammates, Johnny Leota and Magnus Lund, assisted with 1 try each. However, after being down 23-7, Munster replied in kind with tries from Andrew Conway and Conor Murray. Down by one in the dying seconds, Ian Keatley coolly slid back into the pocket and delivered a stunning drop goal that secured the Munster victory.
The excitement continued into the Saracens-Clermont meeting of European giants. Chris Ashton, much maligned for his lack of defensive prowess, and Zac Guildford got the game off to a frenetic pace, each securing tries for their respective teams within ten minutes of the opening whistle. Going into the half at 10-apiece, neither fan base could have stated their team had the clear upper hand.
Zac Guildord ran in his second of the match at the 47th minute, but David Strettle evened the scores with his 49th minute try, at 20-20. Chris Aston proved to be the hero of the match when he ran over the try line 63 minutes into the game. With the game at 30-23, Saracens’ defense stood strong and repelled all of Clermont’s attacks to hold onto the victory.
Glasgow brought down high-flying Bath, 37-10, behind Duncan Wier’s boot and a team effort by the rest of his teammates. Jonathan Joseph continued his scoring ways, running across the line in the 12th minute to give his team a 10-7 lead, following the conversion.
From there, the game was well in Glasgow’s hands. Mark Bennett’s brace, and tries from Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, and Niko Matawalu highlighted the class at which Glasgow have played this year.
In a relatively low scoring, yet close, affair, Racing Metro defeated Northampton, 20-11. While the match was close, Northampton never held the lead, with Racing’s center, Alexandre Dumoulin, running over for the 5th minute try. Phil Dowson, of Northampton gave his side a chance to level the scores with his try in the 75th minute, but Stephen Myler, who had kicked his previous two shots at goal successfully, could not convert. A Marc Andreu try at the 80th minute and Johan Goosen’s subsequent conversion put the game truly out of reach for Northampton.
A Craig Gilroy yellow card in the 31st minute, for tackling a man in the air, gave Leicester enough of an edge to assume an unassailable lead before the break. Owen Williams and Graham Kitchener scored a try apiece for Leicester to lead 12-3 before Gilroy’s ill-timed yellow card. From their, Burns took advantage of Gilroy’s absence and used space to score the third Leicester try of the half. Despite a spirited comeback, courtesy of tries by Tommy Bowe and Franco van der Merwe, created a respectable scoreline. Ultimately, it was not enough as they lost to the Tigers, 25-18.
In the blowout of round one, the Ospreys ran circles around Treviso. Dan Biggar set the tone for the match by giving his side a 9-0 lead 14 minutes into the game. From there his team found their attacking flair and ran in five tries, one each for Jef Hassler, Rhys Webb, Dan Baker, and a brace of tries from Dan Evans. With their pride on the line, Treviso were able to breach the Osprey defense as Ludovica Nitoglia scored after 77 minutes of being shut out.
In the all French affair of the weekend, Toulouse encountered Montpellier. The first half showed no clear leader until Yoann Huget crossed over. The conversion gave Toulouse a 13-10 lead going into halftime. South African, Wynand Olivier, gave Montpellier the lead as he scored his first try of the match, but Yoann Huget secured his brace shortly after to wrestle the lead back into Toulouse’s hands.
Scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain, of Toulouse, gave his team the victory in the 66th minute with a darting try out wide. From their, Tobby Flood and Benoit Paillague traded penalty goals, and Toulouse left the victor, 30-23.
Reigning European champions, Toulon, returned to their winning ways, minus retired talisman, Johnny Wilkinson, against the Welsh side, Scarlets. The first half saw the Scarlets give Toulon a real fight, thanks to Rhys Priestland’s boot and a try from flanker John Barclay. Two tries from Australian Matt Giteau and Maxime Mermoz saw Toulon go into the break leading 18-13.
Steffon Armitage, currently Europe’s best player and England’s top loose-forward, despite not having played for the Rose since 2010, rumbled over the line 72 minutes in to give Toulon a 28-13 lead. Kristian Phillips dotted down over the line for the Scarlets in the dying moments of the match, but it was not enough to stop Toulon from winning 28-18.
Leinster versus the London Wasps finished off the European Champions Cup opening weekend in style. Wasps jumped out of the gate fast, with Alapati Leiua scoring a try and Andy Goode finishing the conversion and two penalties to give the Wasps a 13-3 lead 24 minutes in.
Four minutes later Darragh Fanning, of Leinster, ran across following a kick from his teammate, Jimmy Gopperth. Not to be outdone, Christian Wade showed us just how fast he is by racing to another of his many tries for the Wasps. Down 20-11 at the beginning of the second half, Leinster took control of the game and shut out the Wasps in the final forty minutes of play. In that time, Darragh Fanning won himself the second of his brace of tries and Dominic Ryan dragged three Wasps players across the line for the final score of the game, 25-20.
We didn’t see the 55-0s and 70-14s that highlighted the Challenge cup campaign, but we did see top dogs Saracens, Toulon, and Leinster show why they deserve to be in this competition. Next week might solidify who the pool winners are, but as with any European rugby season, we won’t know until the full 80 minutes are up.