LOS ANGELES, CA – The European Rugby Champions Cup served up a treat this past weekend with a lightning round of fixtures rescheduled in wake of the Paris terrorist attacks back in November. The weekend had the potential to create shakeups within each pool unlike anything ever seen in European Cup rugby before, and it most certainly delivered in classic fashion. Now that all teams throughout the competition have played four matches, read along and relive the weekend’s action before the penultimate round of fixtures takes place throughout Europe this upcoming weekend. More on the Expert Picks Panel to come in the Round 5 Preview later this week…
Bordeaux-Begles 10 – 28 ASM Clermont Auvergne
With the aim of claiming first place in Pool 2, Clermont Auvergne stormed into Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas and claimed four invaluable points to put them two points clear of the now second place Ospreys.
The first half was indicative of a Top 14 rivalry, tight with moments of flair and brilliance. Bordeaux fly half Lionel Beauxis opened the fixture’s scoring after notching a penalty in the 10th minute, but a 17th minute try from Clermont’s former European Player of the Year Nick Abendanon and subsequent conversion from fly half Morgan Parra set Claremont ahead 7–3. The half eventually ended 17–10 in favour of the visitors after Bordeaux’s Clement Maynadier and Claremont’s Camille Lopez swapped tries before the break.
The second half ended up being played all in Claremont’s favour as the Michelin Men (my nickname for Claremont) answered a red card to Bordeaux’s replacement lock Julian Le Devedec with a 70th minute try from winger Noa Nakaitaci to seal the wind and all four points.
Head coach Franck Azéma and his Claremont side travel to Wales next week for a battle with the Ospreys for first place while Bordeaux will take on the Exeter Chiefs at home in Bordeaux in a battle that could send either team on a Cinderella story trip towards the top of Pool 2.
Racing 92 34–10 Glasgow Warriors
Racing yet again proved their might in this year’s European Rugby Champions Cup by maintaining their unbeaten record after a dazzling victory against Glasgow in Paris.
Glasgow had the opportunity to move ahead 9–0 within the first 25 minutes, but fly half Finn
Russell, in for the injured Peter Horne, and centre Stuart Hogg missed two of three combined kicks before Racing even registered a single point, relegating the Warriors to just three points after 25 minutes.
Racing’s account started from the boot of Dan Carter, eventually going on to score 12 points, and was added onto after a powerful front row drive and subsequent try from tighthead forward Ben Tameifuna to make it 10–3 after half an hour.
Glasgow were held at bay by a ferocious Racing forward pack that was both staunch on defence and fluid in attack. They worked the ball into the wide channels brilliantly and used to the speed of the pairing of scrum-half Maxime Machenaud and fly half Dan Carter to perfection, stumping the Glasgow defence and brutally shutting down the Warriors’ attack. Racing were rewarded for their efforts in the 80th minute when second rower Manuel Carizza crossed to the whitewash in the corner, earning the Parisian club another four try bonus point to put them seven points clear of current Pool 3 runners up Northampton. Glasgow can only hope they play better at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend as they take on Northampton in a do-or-die match that could see them exit the competition in the pool stages.
Oyonnax 23–24 Ulster
Ulster showed up 40 minutes late (figuratively) to their European Rugby Champions Cup clash with Top 14 side onion and somehow managed to pull out one of the finest come backs in their club’s history.
By halftime, being Irish province has been absolutely savaged by the Frenchman, ending up an amazing 23-0 down after tries from hooker Jeremie Maurouard and winger Uwa Tuwalo, both of which were converted, and three successful kicks at goal from fly half Nicky Robinson. Onion use the gusty and rainy conditions to their advantage perfectly, playing Ulster the fool and putting them to the sword well before the break.
I don’t know what happened in the halftime dressing room, but Ulster Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, where some sort of witchcraft or magic and most of instilled the fear of God in his players. The Ulstermen came out a completely changed team, and the comeback started in the 43rd minute after winger Rory Scholes dashed 30 m along the touchline for a score after being set up by center Stuart McCluskey.
Although onion responded with immediate pressure, Ulster managed to bounce back with two back to back tries from winger Craig Gilroy and prop Kyle McCall to draw the score up to 21–23. A 77th minute penalty from replacement fly half Paddy Jackson gave the Ulstermen a narrow victory that sees them cut the gap behind Saracens down to 6.
This weekend, ulster travels to London to take on Saracens while Toulouse travels to the French Alps to take on Top 14 rival onion.
RC Toulon 12 – 9 Bath
In yet another close game, Bath pushed Toulon all the way through 80 minutes in an effort to salvage their European Rugby Champions Cup campaign, eventually losing by three in what ended up turning into a kicking battle/chess match.
George Ford and Toulon fly half Eric Esconde navigated the chess match rather well, trading off
penalties (Ford’s second score was a drop goal) in the first half to head into the break 6–6 with no clear-cut team to predict a winner. Ford opened Bath’s account in the second half as well, giving his team a 9–6 lead in the 41st minute that was promptly answered by yet another Esconde penalty to again tie the fixture up.
Bath’s downfall came from the 15 penalties they conceded throughout the game, the final of which was scored bye replacement fly off Freddie Michalak an opportunity on a silver platter. Toulon will take on current pool 5 leaders, Wasps, in France while Bath will head to Dublin to take on Leinster at the RDS. With Leinster already long out of the running, all three teams left in Pool 5 have the opportunity to make it to the knockout stages, whether that be by winning the pool of getting one of the second place spots.
Stade Francais 27–7 Munster
Munster’s hopes of European Cup glory are all but gone after receiving a heavy defeat at the hands of Stade over the weekend. Stade’s dominance resonated throughout the stadium, the fans feeding off the energy they hadn’t seen from their team in quite a long time. Munster had their share of opportunities throughout the game, but lacked the clinical edge needed to put points up on the board so my: everything from knock-ons to offside, you name it. Despite all of the mistakes and the proper beating they will be in doubt, the Munstermen were only behind 10–0 at break. In the second half, the home side laid down even more pressure after 2-subsequent tries that put Munster to the brink. There was a shimmer of hope for Munster when Stade’s Josaia Rasique was red carded for an eye-gauging incident, but Stade Francais were amazingly resilient. The Irish province was never able to recover and sadly look as though they are going to follow in lieu of Leinster and exit the European Championship in the group stage.
That’s it for now! Stay tune for Round 5 coverage! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber,James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Ronan Nelson, Kaitlin McCabe, Kyle Phillips, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.