LONDON, ENGLAND – The Amlin Challenge Cup provided its expected share of offensive fireworks this weekend, as the sharks of England and France ate the minnows of Romania and Italy in expected fashion. However, there were a few marquee matchups this weekend that produced dramatics, including a tense affair between London Irish and Stade Francais. Irish cemented their grip at the top of Pool 5 with a 24-13 victory on Sunday, defeating a Stade side that featured American Scott Lavalla. The Irish now sit on 14 points from 3 matches, lacking only the try scoring bonus point from this contest. Tom Fowlie’s first half try and Shane Geraghty’s three penalties put the Irish ahead 14-3 at the half, an insurmountable deficit for Stade, who now look unlikely to repeat their finals appearance of last year.
Worcester remains without a victory this year, though they did pick up a losing bonus point in their loss to Biarritz. This loss will hurt more than most for the Warriors, as they led 12-0 in the first half, and only lost because of a last minute try from flanker Tanguy Molcard. The hosts scored two first half tries through Dean Hammond and Alex Grove, but American Takudzwa Ngwenya provided a try from the wing, and Molcard crossed with no time left to break Worcester hearts.
Sale remains in first place in Pool 1, despite falling to Oyonnax 16-10. The French giant slayers made use of their accustomed formula, holding the Sharks to a mere 10 points on the evening, and Sale was continually frustrated moving forward. A mere point separates the Sharks from Biarritz, and the pool will likely come down to the pair’s return fixture in Round 5.
The Newport Gwent Dragons, as the lone Welsh side left out of the Heineken Cup, were looking to do themselves proud. With rumors swirling that the WRU may eliminate a side, the Dragons look to be on the chopping block, so each victory may be seen as something bigger to the club with a point to prove. Newport showed flash in comprehensively defeating Bordeaux 40-24. The Dragons had pulled ahead, 40-17 before a late try made the scoreline more respectable.
In the other Pool 2 match, Bath destroyed Mogliano 55-8, running in nine tries, including one from Kyle Eastmond in his return to first team action. Tom Heathcote kicked five conversions, while Mogliano scored once through Enrico Ceccato at the beginning of the first half, though the match was already far out of reach. Bath remain in pole position in their group with 13 points, with their match against Newport looming large.
Cavalieri are proving that they are not solely in the competition to make up numbers, as they scored six tries in beating the Lusitanos XV. Cavalieri lost in agonizing fashion last round to Stade Francais, falling 16-15 after playing an hour with 14 men. Lusitanos gave their most respectable display of the campaign, and actually led 10-7 early in the first half. The Portugese club refused to go down without a fight, and they scored tries through Vasco Fragoso Mendes in the 69th and 78th minutes.
In other matches, Brive overcame a brave Bucuresti side 18-13 thanks to five penalties and a drop goal, while London Wasps dispatched Grenoble with ease 47-7. Rounding out the week’s matches, Newcastle beat Calvisano 37-15, behind five tries from five scorers. Next weekend will see the return fixtures, and viewers can expect the tries to continue flowing through the New Year.
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