WESTWOOD, CA – We asked, they delivered! What a brilliant weekend of European rugby on display in Round 6 of the European Rugby Champions Cup… And such a great lead-in to the RBS Six Nations! And while we’re still a week out from the #6N, our Expert Panel is doggedly researching all data in the hopes of picking the winners in all the upcoming matches, as with the Champions Cup. You can see the odds and make your picks here. And if you want a taste of the juicy subplots, check out ESPN Scrum. But keep in mind, much of what’s transpired in the #ERCC will have an impact on the upcoming international tests. With that, let’s take a look back with our Champions Cup Round 6 Review:
Ulster 56 vs 3 Oyonnax
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
23 January 2016
Ulster, Ireland’s only hope of qualification to the European knockouts, missed out narrowly on a spot in the play-offs despite thumping French side, Oyonnax, 56–3 at Ravenhill.
From the opening kickoff it was a landslide of possession and attack favouring the Ulstermen, the home side scoring eight tries in total through Rory Scholes, Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Ian Humphreys, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, and captain Rob Herring.
Oyonnax’s only points came from the boot of Rory Clegg after a 9th minute penalty, but the French side where beaten badly by a courageous Ulster squad looking to squeak to the knockouts..
Ultimately, the Irish province placed fourth amongst the best pool runners up throughout the competition, one spot shallow of a quarter-final berth. It’s off to the Pro12 and Top 14 for Ulster and Oyonnax, respectively, and both sides will look to use this European championship as a set of lessons for domestic play ahead.
Toulouse 17 vs 28 Saracens
Stade Ernest-Wallon, Toulouse
23 January 2016
North London Aviva Premiership side, Saracens, kept their perfect record in this year’s European Rugby Champions Cup after silencing four time European champions, Toulouse. Travelling to France looked like the perfect opportunity to bring on players normally sitting on the bench, and, having already secured a home quarter-final, head coach Mark McCall did just that. The entire forward pack was made a new, except for the continuing inclusion of South African international Jacques Burger.
The first half was much maligned by penalties and plenty of ballhandling errors to go around, with the score reading 9–7 going into the break after Charlie Hodgson kicked three penalties for the Saracens and Luke McAlister, with a Toby Flood conversion, scored Toulouse’s only points of the half through a well worked corner try.
After a promising first half for the home side, the second half ending up in a struggle for decent possession and relentless defence in the face of overwhelming Saracens attack. Owen Farrell came in for Charlie Hodgson at the half for the Saracens and made a great impact, knocking over five penalties in the space of 35 minutes and producing two try-saving tackles. He did however have a spectacular failure that could have sealed the game for Sarries, you can find it here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nNCIu4zbTuU.
Despite tries a piece for Luke McAlister and Maxime Medard in the second half, Toulouse couldn’t find their way back into the game, relegating to one of their worst European championship campaigns in the last decade. Saracens will play back at home against English rivals Northampton in their quarter-final in early April.
Exeter Chiefs 33 vs 17 Ospreys
Sandy Park, Exeter
24 January 2016
The Exeter Chiefs somehow managed to burst their way onto the European Rugby Champions Cup knockout stages as they managed to produce a bonus point victory over the Ospreys to amazingly win Pool 2!
Not two minutes had passed before the Chiefs were on the board through a score by second row Kai Horstmann. The Ospreys quickly responded five minutes later by scoring a try their own through winger Hanno Dirkson, but the home side’s hunger for victory was palpable and Exeter Captain Thomas Waldrom powered his way over in the ninth minute for his first of two tries in the match. The game ended up evolving into a chess match and the Chiefs went into the break ahead 14–7.
The Ospreys drew first blood in the second half as Dan Biggar to cut the gap to 4 points after a penalty, but Chiefs winger, James Short, scored two amazing breakaway tries 10 minutes apart to essentially put the victory in the bag.
Chiefs big man Thomas Waldrom had to have the last say, icing the cake with a try with two minutes left to both sink the Ospreys’ hopes and guarantee Exeter a quarter-final.
ASM Clermont Auvergne 28 vs 37 Bordeaux-Begles
Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont
24 January 2016
It was a French and European classic at the Stade Marcel-Michelin as Bordeaux took on Clermont Auvergne. Typically a powerhouse of their domestic and Continental competitions, Clermont only needed a losing bonus point to qualify for the knockouts, but a ruthless Bordeaux-Begles side ensured that the Exeter Chiefs were to top Pool 2 and send Clermont out at the end of the pool stages.
Clermont’s resident Welshman Jonathan Davies scored a try within the opening seconds to shock the visitors, and the game began to look like it would be a landslide victory for the home side when, not two minutes later, winger Noa Nakitaci cross the white wash to put the Michelin men ahead 14–0.
The visitors bravely fought back with tries from Berrand Botha and Sebastien Taofifuna to bring the score level after 20 minutes, surprisingly heading into the break ahead by three after Bordeaux scrum-half Baptiste Seren kicked a penalty as time went red.
The second half was line breaks and full stakes, and with the visitors confoundingly getting better of the Clermont defensive line over and over again, Bordeaux once again overcame a two try deficit to eventually pull ahead of the Michelin men by 11 points, stealing away a losing bonus point from Clermont and wiping away Clermont’s hopes of a third straight European final.
Glasgow 22 vs 5 Racing 92
Rugby Park, Glasgow
23 January 2016
Having already been knocked out of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the Glasgow Warriors decided to ramp up a bit of Round 6 pressure and play for pride against undefeated Racing 92, winning by score of 22–5 on the 4G pitch at the Rugby Park.
The first half was an awful display of competition rugby, the only points coming from the boot of Glasgow fly half Finn Russell after seven minutes had passed.
What are you as head coach, Gregor Townsend, must have gave a hell of a half-time speech because his Warriors came out focused and alert in the second half, rising to the ascendancy against a Racing team complacently unwilling to play defence.
Finn Russell successfully put over a 47th minute penalty before Scottish international Stuart Hogg beautifully danced through the Racing defenders to touchdown for Glasgow’s only try of the game.
Racing replacement hooker, Davit Khinchagashvili, provided the visitors with their only point of the game, and example of just how bad the French side came out and played against Glasgow.
Kudos to the Warriors, though, for going out on a positive note and stealing away a precious victory from the visitors. Racing will have to forget their loss as they continue on to the knockout stages.
Scarlets 10 vs 22 Northampton
Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
23 January 2016
The hopes of yet another Guinness Pro12 team in the European Rugby Champions Cup were extinguished as the Scarlets were easily manhandled by the Northampton Saints.
The Saints scored tries through Harry Mallinder and George Pisi before half-time to give them a 12–3 lead.
After the break, Northampton eight man Sam Dickinson scored a try to put the visitors up by 15 before Welsh winger George North joined the party to bring the gap out to 20 points.
The Scarlets were lacklustre the whole match, playing to a disappointingly small crowd that reflected the not-so-successful campaign this spring both domestically and continentally.
Northampton managed to squeeze through as one of the best place runner ups in the competition, drawing Saracens for the first quarter final.
Treviso 5 vs 28 Munster
Studio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso
24 January 2016
Munster once again ran up a bonus point victory over Treviso to end this year’s European championship with a solid win. For Treviso, another disappointing campaign finally came to an end, unfortunately for them in the not so comforting hands of defeat.
Munster got on the board early through a try from winger Ronan O’Mahony, the conversion successfully taken by fly half Ian Keatley. 10 minutes later prop forward David Kilcoyne rumbling his way over for Munster’s second try of the game.
Ronan O’Mahony scored another try in the second-half alongside a score from Irish international scrum-half Conor Murray, providing the sagging Irish province with a little bit of dignity to end their European campaign.
Stade Francaise (SF) 36 vs 21 Leicester Tigers
Stade Jean-Buoin, Paris
24 January 2016
With a bonus point victory the only way of securing a quarter-final spot, Stade Francaise (SF) put on a clinical display to beat the previously undefeated Leicester Tigers.
Even after putting up the match’s first points through a Manu Tuilagi try and Freddie Burns conversion, the heavily injured Leicester Tigers succumbed to the outstanding fervour of SF’s rigid defence and smouldering attack.
SF end of the first half in blistering fashion, running around the Tigers defenders as though they were helpless children, allowing the home side ahead 19–7 going into the break.
The second half was no different for SF in terms of dominance, for when Leicester would put points on the board, the Parisians would respond almost immediately with a score of their own.
With this bonus point victory, SF secured a birth in the knockouts as one of the better runner-ups in the competition, Leicester moving forward as winners of Pool 4.
Bath 14 vs 19 Toulon
Recreation Ground, Bath
23 January 2016
The champions are the champions are the champions… There really is no other way to put it. Toulon put on yet another class performance as they topped a feisty Bath side looking to avenge the narrow defeat on the southern French coast only weeks earlier.
Playing in place of the injured Dylan Armitage, Toulon’s James O’Connor opened the festivities with two well struck penalties to put the visitors ahead by six after 12 minutes. Bath’s George Ford replied with a penalty of his own to cut the gap to 3, but was so rudely interrupted when Stefan Armitage smashed his way over the white wash for Toulon‘ first and only try of the first half. The two sides ended up going to the break with the visitors ahead 11–6.
The home side came out with passion in the opening 10 minutes, putting on a brilliant attacking display and sending over Anthony Watson for their first and only try of the match to bring it all level at 11 points. Brian Habana wanted a different score line, though, and stretched away for a brilliant individual try just before the hour mark to give the champions the edge going into the final 20 minutes.
In the end, a class display of defence and patience paid off for the champions, eventually ascending to victory after a very hard fought 80 minutes. The only difference for Toulon moving onto the knockouts this year is that they will have to play away in the play-offs thanks to Wasps securing first place in Pool 5 with their win over Leinster.
Wasps 51 vs 10 Leinster
Ricoh Arena, Coventry
23 January 2016
Wasps put on a seven try bloodbath in their victory over Leinster to secure first place in Pool 5. The Aviva Premiership side where in top form and look very well poised to take on whoever they face in the quarter-finals.
Although Leinster were the ones to open the scoring thanks to a try in the corner from winger Zane Kirchner, it was the Wasps who were absolutely ruthless in victory. Wasps fly half Jimmy Gopperth and centre Elliot Daly were tours de force, commanding dominance over the field while also managing to score a try a piece.
The home side’s other tries came from fullback Charles Piatau, winger Frank Halai, Second row Joe Launchbury, and replacement prop Ashley Johnson.
For Leinster fans, it was a disappointing end to the European season after finally managing to win a game back in round 5. For the Wasps, The last time they won their pool group in the European Rugby Champions Cup they went on to win the whole competition, and are hopeful to do the same this year with the amazingly powerful team they have on hand.