Champions Cup Review: Gameweek Two

Manu Tuilagi was on the scoresheet for Leicester in their win over Scarlets
©PA

The second week of the Heineken Champions Cup produced more amazing results, talking points and excellent performances. Joe Harvey brings you up-to-date with the action from across Europe.

Friday

Leicester Tigers 45 – 27 Scarlets

There were some brilliant performances from Leicester Tigers players on Friday night as they comfortably beat Scarlets at Welford Road. George Ford was reliable from the tee early on, scoring a penalty and a conversion, the latter following Harry Wells’ try.

Scarlets would draw level soon after following a Gareth Davies try and good kicks from Leigh Halfpenny. Ford would miss his next conversion though as he failed to add the extra two points to Guy Thompson’s score in what was a fantastic game for the flanker.

Ford and Halfpenny traded penalties to end the half, giving the Tigers a slight advantage at the interval.

It was in the second half that Leicester really pressed on. A Ford penalty preceded Sione Kalafamoni’s try which the Leicester fly-half also converted.

Steff Evans and Blade Thompson would both go on to score converted tries that would take Scarlets ahead, briefly. The outstanding Manu Tuilagi would be the next name on the scoresheet as he broke through tackles to score which would have brought a smile to Eddie Jones’ face.

A converted Jonny May score followed a Ford penalty to take Tigers further in front. It was Ford who would end the games scoring with a late penalty, putting the icing on the cake for Leicester.

Far more than just a good win for many watching this game, England fans will be delighted to see Tigers’ contingent doing so well. Tuilagi looks like his old self, Ford seems so much more confident in recent times and Thompson is leaving many people scratching their heads as to why he has no England caps.

Saturday

Castres 29 – 25 Exeter Chiefs

Despite losing this game, it was Chiefs who got off to the much brighter start. Santiago Cordero and Matt Kvesic scored tries early on, both of which were converted by the ever-reliable Gareth Steenson.

Chiefs’ early lead was wiped out by a Castres onslaught. Centre Florian Viaelle started the comeback with a try, allowing Julien Dumora to get two from the tee. Dumora added to his tally as two penalties and a drop goal would follow from the Frenchman.

Yohan Le Bourhis had to come on for an injured Dumora just after the 30-minute mark and took on kicking duties with immediate effect. The fly-half scored a penalty just moments after coming onto the field.

After the penalty, Maama Vaipulu was dismissed after a high tackle. The Tongan received a red-card in just the 36th minute, leaving Castres with work to do. Steenson made Castres suffer first. The Exeter legend scored a try, buy mysteriously missed the kick to bring in half-time.

However, Castres weren’t affected by being one man down. Possibly as a result of early Exeter changes at the start of the second half, Castres drew blood first with a Steve Mafi try that Le Bourhis converted. The game would end with an exchange of penalties. Steenson scored two and his opposite number just the one. Henry Slade sat out the rest of the game after a yellow card.

We’re still waiting for Exeter to burst into life in Europe. They always seem to choke when in the Champions Cup. It’s never a good look for a side failing to beat opposition who are a man down. It does honestly make you wonder whether Chiefs will even get out of their pool. Big congratulations to Castres.

Munster 36 – 22 Gloucester

Yet another game with a red card, Munster beat a Gloucester side fresh from a comfortable victory over French champions Castres. Early on, there was a yellow card for Gloucester second-row Tom Savage and the hosts took advantage as Mike Haley went over in the corner to take Munster ahead.

Joey Carbery would miss the extras, but the games defining moment would come soon after. Danny Cipriani was red carded just minutes after slotting a penalty for his side. Another high tackle in which Cipriani’s shoulder made contact with his opposition’s head.

This probably gave Munster the upper hand. A Carbery penalty was followed by a Rhys Marshall try and the fly-half would convert the score too, making it 15-3 at half-time. There would be a big blow for Munster prior to the break as openside flanker Tommy O’Donnell suffered what looked like a broken ankle, meaning that Arno Botha replaced him off the bench.

Carbery played superbly throughout this game, never more personified than when the former Leinsterman scored and converted a try. Soon after, Carbery would be kicking for two again. This time it was Sam Arnold providing Carbery with the extra points.

There would be a late Gloucester resurgence. Former Munster player Gerbrandt Grobler powered over the whitewash against his former teammates. Billy Twelvetrees drop-kicked the conversion to give Gloucester some hope.

Munster would score another try through Andrew Conway, also converted by Carbery, but Gloucester continued to battle.

Jason Woodward and Ben Morgan both scored tries to possibly let Gloucester have a losing bonus point. Yellow cards for Arnold and Stephen Archer even gave Gloucester a man advantage in the closing seconds, but they were unable to take advantage.

Gloucester will be disappointed after this game. It was sloppiness that meant they couldn’t get a losing bonus point, but they can still hold their heads high. Munster can be very happy though. Joey Carbery has matured already since joining the province, but they did lose all dominance despite a man advantage.

Edinburgh 40 – 14 Toulon

Another shock loss for Toulon as this week they fell to Edinburgh in a heavy fashion. Jaco van der Walt started the game well with a penalty and the South African would be kicking again soon after as he converted Ben Toolis’ try.

Toulon would hit back soon after. A Romain Taofifenua try was converted by French international Anthony Belleau., but it was Edinburgh who finished much the stronger. Henry Pyrgos created his own try for his fly-half to convert. Van der Walt would end the first period with a further two penalties.

Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally was the next player for the hosts to make an impact. A conversion put Edinburgh ahead further and put them out of sight with much of the second period still to play.

The final scores wouldn’t come until after the 70-minute mark. Toulon scored through Daniel Ikpefan, allowing Francois Trinh-Duc to get two points from the tee.

Butm it was former Scotland 7s player Chris Dean who had the final say of the game. The centre crossed the whitewash for a converted try. It was another great game for Edinburgh who look so good under Richard Cockerill. On the other hand, Toulon don’t even look like a shadow of their former selves.

Wasps 35 – 35 Bath

Yet another draw in the Champions Cup, but this week, the fixture was far more high scoring though. Joe Cokanasiga began this thriller in the second minute and Freddie Burns got back on the horse with the conversion early on.

Wasps replied with a Josh Bassett score that was converted by All Black Lima Sopoaga but, Bath would lead once more thanks to young centre Max Wright. The half would end with a Francois Louw sinbinning just after a converted Semesa Rokoduguni score.

Wasps started the second half in impressive fashion. Joe Simpson and prop Zurabi Zhvania both went over the whitewash, giving Sopoaga an extra four points along the way. Ashley Johnson also bundled over for a score that was converted.

Johnson’s try came moments before Charlie Ewels’ converted effort. It was Louw who put Bath ahead with under 20-minutes to play, but his converted score was wiped out by Thomas Youngs’ brilliant team try with under 10 minutes remaining.

Bath could have won the game late on, but experienced fly-half Alex Davies pulled his penalty wide, ending the game as a draw. Bath looked the better side for large periods of this game, but just failed to shut out the contest as they lacked a cutting edge.

Racing 92 44 – 12 Ulster

Ulster did start much better than Racing in this fixture, as an early try from David Shanahan gave Billy Burns two points from the tee. Finn Russell would score a penalty soon after, but a yellow card for Nick Timoney didn’t hold back the visitors.

Instead, Jacob Stockdale would score, this time Burns couldn’t convert and the game would shift in Racing’s direction. Early substitute Teddy Iribaren darted over to score and his effort was converted by Russell who would be converting Wenceslas Lauret’s try just a couple of minutes later. Russell scored a penalty to end the first half.

Juan Imhoff got Racing off to a flyer in the second half. The Argentine gave Russell another two points from the tee and the Scot would get three more soon after. Try’s from Teddy Thomas and Simon Zebo were both converted, giving Racing a convincing victory.

Saracens 29 - 10 Lyon

Another dominant win for Saracens and two from two in Europe as they convincingly beat Lyon at the Allianz Park.

There was an early penalty for Owen Farrell, followed by tries for both Maro Itoje and Sean Maitland. Farrell converted both of his teammates efforts and scoring in the first half was ended with a Lionel Beauxis penalty.

Sarries’ dominance continued in the second half. Brad Barritt scored to give Farrell another conversion. It was Lyon who scored next though. Virgile Lacombe’s try was converted by Beauxis, but it meant nothing, especially when Alex Lewington sped over to secure Saracens’ victory.

Sunday

Newcastle Falcons 23 – 20 Montpellier

Newcastle Falcons got off to a very quick start in their first home game of the Champions Cup. Joel Hodgson landed a penalty in the second minute and Gary Graham would score a try soon after to get Falcons off to the perfect start.

Two penalties from Ruan Pienaar were swiftly followed by two from Hodgson. This gave Falcons a 16-6 lead at half-time, all of which would be chipped away in the second half. Two penalties from Pienaar came before Paul Willemse’s try, but Pienaar was unable to convert.

Montpellier took the lead for the first time in the game following another Pienaar kick from the tee. Logovi’i Mulipola was sinbinned with less than 10 minutes to go, leaving Falcons fans thinking that any chance of victory was over.

Mulipola was in fact back on the pitch when Falcons scored the winning points. Callum Chick was driven over the line in the 88th minute to give Falcons victory. Hodgson converted the score, not that it mattered of course, but Falcons got a thoroughly deserved win.

Cardiff Blues 12 – 29 Glasgow Warriors

Cardiff definitely started as they meant to go in in this fixture. Adam Hastings scored a try in just the first minute, but he failed to convert his own score. DTH van der Merwe was the next Glasgow name on the scoresheet and this time Hastings could convert. He would also kick a penalty soon after, ending the scoring for the half.

Ali Price got the ball rolling in the second half, giving Hastings another conversion to his name. Cardiff finally got on the scoresheet with an Aled Summerhill score that went unconverted by Gareth Anscombe.

Glasgow’s final try was scored by Jonny Gray and was also converted by the fine Hastings. It was the Blues who ended the scoring in that game though as another Summerhill effort was converted by Anscombe.

This was really disappointing for Cardiff after such a good win in Lyon in the last round of fixtures. In comparison, Glasgow played so much better than in their game against Saracens last week. Glasgow starved Cardiff of possession and were simply the better side.

Toulouse 28 – 27 Leinster

Well, this came as a shock to say the least. Toulouse have beaten the current European Champions to go top of their pool.

The French side started in fine form with two Thomas Ramos penalties, prior to a Maxime Medard try and then another Ramos kick.

Leinster would start their fightback from here. Two Johnny Sexton penalties was followed by a converted try from flanker Sean O’Brien. Another Toulouse try, this time from Sofiane Guitoune and converted by Ramos, brought about an end to the first half.

It was Leinster who would start the second half strongest. James Ryan and Sean Cronin made scores early on that Sexton would calmly convert, putting Leinster in front.

Yet again, it was Medard with an influential play in the game. This time a try that had to be kicked in order to put Toulouse in front. Ramos stoked over the ball, giving the French side a big win.

An off day for Leinster to say the least. Arguably, it could be down to the changes that Leo Cullen made and they perhaps didn’t give this Toulouse side the respect they obviously deserved. The pitch could have played a part too, a pretty poor surface, but regardless, Leinster couldn’t find a way to win and Toulouse could.

 

2018-19 European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table