LONDON, ENGLAND – The Amlin Challenge Cup is sometimes viewed as the Heineken Cup’s unfortunate younger sibling, with most of the truly worthwhile sides entering the tournament in the knockout stages following their elimination from the latter competition. Last year’s champions, Leinster, fulfilled this criteria. However, this year it appears as though some truly worthy sides are in the tournament from the very start, and the first weekend of action revealed much about the prospects of some fringe contenders. Fans of great running rugby can always tune in. This weekend teams touched down for 56 tries, and 490 points were scored in the first round of fixtures.
London Wasps did their part in contributing to the fireworks, scoring an astonishing 14 tries against Arix Viadana. Though Arix hardly represent elite competition, it was still an impressive display from an English side struggling in their domestic competition. The Wasps ran out a second-string side for the most part, and the lopsided result lent some credence to criticisms of the Amlin Cup as an insufficiently competitive tournament.
A nice counterpoint to the one-sided nature of the Wasp’s encounter was provided by Bath’s dogged display against Bordeaux. The Wiltshire outfit managed to secure a result, winning by 9 points, 15-6. George Ford put in another impressive display, and English clubs once again proved their credentials against French opposition.
Onnayax has proved one of the most difficult places to play in Europe throughout the early stages of this campaign. The French side has proven their credibility time and again against Top 14 competition. Worcester proved to be worthy opponents in a gritty contest, drawing 9-9 in France. Though the Warriors led 9-3 at the half, they once again came away without a win. Though Worcester management insists that Dean Ryan’s position is secure, close observers come away from the first month and a half of the season wondering if a change of management would benefit the side. Warriors are having a difficult time across the board, a state of affairs that is unlikely to change in the immediate future.
The Newcastle Falcons scraped by Bucuresti by a 13-12 score, with the margin of victory provided by a last gasp kick at goal. The result represented impressive improvement from Bucuresti, who lack top level competition throughout the year. This tends to manifest in two ways throughout the course of the competition. Though it leaves some sides fresh for the challenges of lesser European sides (such as the Falcons) there is always the possibility of embarrassment, as the Wasps proved. The Romanians form one of the better representative sides in the tournament, having won two games in last year’s group stage.
In other fixtures, London Irish ran out ahead of Italian side Cavalieri Prato 60-11. The Irish scored 9 tries, and Fergus Mulchrone touched down twice in the span of 13 minutes to bag a brace. Newport Gwent Dragons beat down Mogliano by a final of 50-8. Italian international fly-half Kris Burton converted 5 tries and slotted a penalty, giving him 13 points on the afternoon. Sale surprisingly destroyed Biarritz 33-10 behind two penalty tries and some solid forward play. Stade Francais rounded things out with a 61-3 massacre of the Lusitanos XV, with seven different players scoring tries for last year’s beaten finalists.
As ever, comments are always welcome… and please do look for and “Like” our FacebookRugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.