LONDON, ENGLAND – The second round of European Champions Cup action lived up to the extremely high standards set by the first weekend, featuring a few major upsets and nail-biting conclusions. After two matches, teams have a good idea where they stand. For some clubs, such as Bath, their return to the top level of club competition is effectively over before it really began. Others, including Glasgow, now have lengthy runs in their sights.
Munster led off the weekend with an absolutely dominant display in Limerick. The Irish side have only been defeated in six out of 65 European fixtures at home, and Saracens found the going difficult from the opening whistle. The Munster defense strangled Sarries’ backs, who were unable to find a rhythm on a wet and windy evening. The match was tied at 3 at the half, with Munster ruing some missed opportunities and an inexplicable TMO decision that robbed Andrew Conway of a try. The scoreline did not reflect Munster’s dominance until Rhys Gill was yellow carded for a dangerous tip-tackle in the 53rd minute. From there on, Munster controlled every aspect of the game, eventually scoring a try through Dave Kilcoyne off a rolling maul. The final score of 14-3 robbed Saracens of a losing bonus point, and put Munster in the driver’s seat in the pool before their gargantuan clashes with Clermont in December.
Clermont put Sale to the sword at the Stade Michelin, rolling to a 35-3 victory. Sale were unable to replicate their impressive effort against Munster, and looked like they were suffering from a collective hangover. Nick Abendanon opened the scoring with a 14th minute try for the home side, while Camille Lopez put on an impressive display with the boot, firing six kicks through the uprights. Wing Napolioni Nalaga scored two tries twenty minutes apart, in the 53rd and 73rd minutes, before Aurelien Rougerie crossed in the 75th to secure the try scoring bonus point. Sale were clearly exhausted at that point, and limped away with a stinging margin of defeat.
Leinster were able to nab a win in France, prevailing 21-15 over a dogged Castres. The home team started brightly, grabbing a 4th minute try from prop Saimone Taumoepeau, before committing characteristic careless errors, and conceding three consecutive penalties to end the first half. Castres came out firing in the second half, grabbing a 16-9 lead before surrendering fifteen consecutive points. Ian Madigan wound up kicking seven penalties, allowing Leinster to prevail despite their failure to score a try.
Harlequins and Wasps played their final derby before the Wasps’ move to Coventry. Quins pulled out a 23-16 victory at Adams Park, replicating their effort a month ago in the Premiership. The result is a bitter disappointment for Dai Young’s team, who have played well in two consecutive matches, but only have two losing bonus points to show for their efforts. Harlequins’ scrum established their dominance early, eventually being rewarded in the 63rd minute with a penalty try.
Scarlets pulled off the upset of the weekend on Saturday, nailing Tigers to the cross during their 15-3 win at the Parc y Scarlets. The match had started brightly for Leicester, with Owen Williams nailing a 15th minute penalty to give the Tigers an early lead. Things went all wrong from there on, and Scarlets scored tries on either side of halftime through Harry Robinson and Aled Davies. Leicester had appeared to turn a corner with their stirring victory over Ulster at home, but this loss throws the group into chaos. Richard Cockerill will have to go back to the drawing board to find new ways forward for his wounded team.
Toulon were able to hand Ulster a 23-13 loss, leaving the Northern Irish team’s European campaign on life support after two rounds. Toulon controlled the tempo early, and were rewarded for their efforts with two Leigh Halfpenny penalties within the first 15 minutes. Ulster never seriously threatened, and the score was 16-3 at the half after a long phase play for Toulon was rewarded with a Bryan Habana try. Craig Gilroy added a late sheen to the scoreline with a 77th minute try, but Ulster were unable to find another three points, which would have granted them a losing bonus point. Toulon are in control of the group as the only team without a loss thus far, and will enter their December fixtures against Leicester full of confidence.
Glasgow continued their ascent with a quality 15-13 victory over Montpellier in France. Finn Russell proved the hero with five penalties, while Montpellier rescued a losing bonus point thanks to a last minute penalty try. The cagy match was only Glasgow’s second victory in France ever, and gives the Warriors pole position in Pool Four. Once more, rounds three and four will likely be determinative for the pool’s ultimate fate, with the face-offs against Toulouse providing the pool winner.
Toulouse surprised naysayers against Bath, dispatching the English strivers 21-19 at the Rec. Louis Picamoles put in a titanic shift at number 8, making a team high 58 meters with ball in hand. Vincent Clerc, Immanuel Harinordoquy, and Maxime Medard added tries for Toulouse, with Toby Flood converting two tries, but failing in his two penalty attempts.
Racing Metro took care of business against Treviso, running out 26-10 victors. The French side missed out on a try-scoring bonus point however, something which may come back to bite the Parisians when all is said and done. Jonny Sexton kicked 16 points, while Ludovico Nitoglia responded with Treviso’s only try. The match was still close at the half, with Treviso trailing only 6-3. Racing pulled away in the second half, putting the game to bed with a Wenceslas Lauret try in the 74th minute.
Northampton made a major statement after their loss to Racing, blowing Ospreys away with a stunning display at Franklin’s Gardens. George North torched the Ospreys defense, touching down four times to lead the way in Saints’ 34-6 demolition. Luther Burrell had to depart with an injury, and it appears that the center will miss the autumn internationals. Saints will be pleased with the result, while Ospreys need to rebound in their matches against Racing Metro to have a chance to progress through to the quarterfinals.
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