The #Scrumdown – Champions Cup Roundup and Australia find some form
Rugby: Jonathan Hatch rounds up a busy weekend of Rugby Union.
Champions Cup – Seven teams move to two wins from two
This weekend saw the standard of rugby creep up, as the Champions Cup entered round 2. Leinster, however, showed that sometimes substance beats style as they bludgeoned their way to an 18-34 bonus point win over Glasgow. The Warriors played some terrific stuff, with European player of the year Stuart Hogg returning from injury to score the pick of the bunch, but Leinster’s dominance up front and at the breakdown won out. Leinster are now sitting pretty on top of pool 3 with two bonus point wins. Their double header against Exeter in December should be monumental.
Exeter remained unbeaten with a closely fought victory away to Montpellier. Despite the home side’s giant Fijian winger Nadolo scoring twice, one of which genuinely defying the laws of physics in the corner, Exeter did what they do best, controlling possession, going through the phases and striking when the time is right. They ran out 24-27 winners, and will be thrilled with their start to a European Cup they want so badly to win.
I’ve mentioned the potential of Leicester’s back-line many times in this column, and I believe we are just starting to see what they are capable of. The Tigers ran in seven tries, including a hat-trick from full back Veainu, in a 54-29 demolition of Castres. The pace with which the home side got the ball wide was startling, and if they get going on a regular basis the Tigers could be the team to beat in the competition. Despite their week one loss they moved top of Pool 4 with this bonus point win.
Munster won 14-7 over Racing, in a match that deeply contrasted the other Pool 4 tie. The scores remained 0-0 after an hour, and it took a moment of magic from Conor Murray to break the deadlock, after he charged down his opposite number and controlled the ball beautifully to score. This pool is going to be incredibly tight, with only three points separating the four sides.
La Rochelle are loving their first season in the competition, and their avid home fans witnesses a shellacking as the French side flattened Ulster 41-17. The home side played arguably the most complete rugby of the weekend, and looked formidable when afforded the space. La Rochelle went unbeaten at home last season, and a couple more wins there could see them top the group in style. Ulster will need to pick up a couple of wins against bottom placed Harlequins to keep in the hunt.
Wasps put in a much-improved performance with a comfortable 41-10 win over Quins. The away side won in Coventry just a couple of weeks ago, but they were completely outplayed on Sunday, as Wade ran in a brace and Nathan Hughes put in a stellar shift. Harlequins are effectively out of the competition now barring a miracle, but Wasps are very much alive and kicking. Their supporters will hope for rugby like this going forward rather than the stodgy performances they’ve witnessed in recent weeks.
There was absolute heartbreak in Italy, as Treviso thought they had pulled off the mother of all upsets against Toulon. In a back-and-forth and error strewn encounter, the home side looked to have won it with a 78th minute penalty. But the three-time champs came back, and were awarded a penalty with the clock in the red, and French international Trinh-Duc held his nerve to win the tie for Toulon 29-30. It was cruel on the Italians, who looked well worth the win. Toulon will feel very lucky, having won their first two ties by a single point.
They will go in to a double header against Bath in December, who won a tight encounter 13-18 against the Scarlets in Llanelli in dreadful conditions. Steff Evans scored arguably the try of the weekend for the home side, finishing off a devastating move made all the more inexplicable by the seemingly gallons of rain pouring down. But Bath’s pack were dominant, and Rhys Priestland managed the game wonderfully, slotting in all six of his penalties and picking up man of the match against his old club. A fine win for Bath who ended the weekend on top of Pool 5. It’s not all over for the Scarlets, but they will need to pick up two dominant wins against Treviso to remain in the hunt.
Saracens were given an almighty scare against Ospreys, but held on to win 36-34 in a thrilling game. Like last week against Clermont, Ospreys would not stay down, and gave the champions a hell of a game. Saracens, led by a huge performance by centre Tompkins, just held on to keep their unbelievable unbeaten streak in the competition alive. Their double header against Clermont will surely be the stuff of dreams for any avid rugby fan.
Clermont, for their part, were comfortable victors over Northampton, who will now have to focus on the Premiership after another heavy defeat. The French side dominated for large swathes of the match in front of their fantastic fans, and won the match with a comfortable 24-7 score line, picking up the bonus point in the process. They sit a point behind Saracens, and their December 10th trip to the English capital can’t come soon enough.
Bledisloe Cup – Australia dish out some revenge in 23-18 thriller
This is a strange old tie to play. It started as a money spinning exhibition tie to be played abroad, but now continues by alternating between the two countries, and it does feel slightly pointless for two teams who have literally just played each other twice to play again for a one off. Australia will not mind a bit though, after they picked up a great win, their first over the All Blacks in 8 attempts.
It was a game of high quality and bruising hits, and is well worth the repeat viewing for those who haven’t seen it yet. Reece Hodge was the hero for Australia, scoring a fantastic interception try and booming over two late penalties to ensure the victory. New Zealand weren’t at their best, but take nothing away from the Wallabies, who are showing signs that their time in the wilderness is over.
Australia seem to have Wolverine levels of regeneration, historically, swinging from a ‘team in crisis’ to world-beaters in a relatively short space of time. Most recently, it happened before the 2015 RWC, when Michael Chieka defied all expectations in leading the team to the final. The news of the Aussie resurgence will not be welcome in the northern hemisphere, where the Wallabies will head in November. If they play like this against Japan, Wales, Scotland and England then they could be on for a clean sweep. As for New Zealand, following their drawn series with the Lions in the summer and this loss, they are looking (whisper it) beatable, and France, Scotland and Wales will relish the chance to pick up a famous win.