The Scrumdown - Champions Cup roundup
The Scrumdown – European Champions Cup Round One
A mixed bag in week one of the northern hemisphere’s premier club competition. The nature of the pool stages, where only the three best runners-up qualify for the knockouts, means that a bad performance in week one can have you fighting for your life from the start. This was evident in many cagey and tight affairs this week. That’s not to say there wasn’t some nerve shredding moments, or some scintillating running rugby.
Especially from the Champions, who moved to 19 games unbeaten in the competition with a thumping 13-57 against a tired looking Northampton. Saracens were in irrepressible form, running in eight tries and comprehensively tearing the Saints defence to shreds time after time. They have put the other 19 teams on notice that they are not going to give their title up without a fight. Northampton have now conceded 112 points to Saracens in two games, and must be thrilled they don’t have to play them again for a while.
Ospreys came into their home game against Clermont as the underdogs, and were close to pulling off a remarkable comeback after the French team raced into a 7-20 halftime lead. Ultimately, though, the Swansea team fell short, as Clermont held on to record a 21-26 win, but the Ospreys will be buoyed by their 2nd half fight back. They might not get out of their group, but they could potentially cause some upsets and make their mark on the competition.
La Rochelle began their life in Europe’s top competition with a thrilling 27-34 win over a lively Harlequins team. Former London Irish and Northampton fly-half Ryan Lamb was instrumental in getting the new boys on the front foot, and Quins struggled to deal with La Rochelle’s impressive midfield. The Londoners, for their part, will feel like they left a few points on the table, and will hope to bounce back next week away to Wasps.
The weekend’s first fixture between Ulster and Wasps was a low quality affair with a few moments of brilliance. Ulster came from behind to win 19-9 at Ravenhill through two 2nd half tries, the pick off the bunch, scored by McCloskey, coming from an outrageously speculative offload from Stockdale.
Exeter finally made a winning start to a European campaign with an excitable 24-15 win over the unbeaten Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park. Exeter were patient for their tries, all of them coming from close range push overs, and defended well to contain the lively Warriors, who played some fantastic rugby in defeat. It was just the start the Chiefs needed as they attempt to negotiate their way out of the group of death.
Montpellier’s poor away form reared its ugly head once more as they were put away 24-17 by Leinster in Dublin. Despite the close score-line, Leinster never looked in too much danger, and their performance was indicative of their form this season; Nothing particularly flashy, just ruthless in execution. They will take some beating in this competition.
Leicester were left to rue missed chances as they were defeated 22-18 by Racing 92 in Paris. The Tigers got off to a flyer, with Hamilton crossing in the opening minutes. However, the power of the French team soon became apparent, and despite fighting back, Racing just had too much.
Nothing could separate Castres and Munster in Pool 4’s other game, as they played out a 17-17 draw. Castres had a chance to win the game with the last play, but Urdapilleta pushed his drop goal wide. On the balance of play, a draw was probably a fair result, but Munster will likely be the happier of the two sides coming away from France with 2 points in what is sure to be a tight group.
Scarlets will be proud of their 21-20 loss away to Toulon, but it could, and probably should have been a famous win for the Welsh outfit. They started at a glacial pace, with two quick Toulon tries putting them on the back foot. They were the much better side for the final two thirds, taking the lead with 20 minutes to go, but a Trinh-Duc penalty to put the hosts ahead was the final score of the game. Time will tell if a losing bonus point will be useful or not for the Scarlets.
Bath have to be the luckiest team of the weekend. They spent the majority of their 23-0 win over Treviso tackling and going backwards in the scrum, but somehow kept the Italians out and scored opportunistically, with Mercer’s effort probably being the try of the weekend in the whole competition. They will have to improve quickly if they hope to get anything out of their visit to Llanelli next week.