Los Angeles, CA – After two consecutive weekends of Europe’s most exciting rugby competition, the first two rounds of the 2015-16 European Rugby Champions Cup are in the books. It was a mixed weekend for the Top 14 clubs, a bad weekend for the Pro12 sides, and an amazing weekend for the Aviva Premiership teams as ALL English teams beat their opponents, a sweep that last happened in 2008. Before looking forward to Round 3 (11-13 December) let’s take a look back at the captivating performances from last weekend and see how our experts faired with their Round 2 picks.
The Experts Panel:
Declan Yeats: Currently in last in the pool, Mr. Yeats made the brave decision to choose Treviso over Leicester in Saturday night’s game, a decision that ended badly for the Italians and for Declan. Choosing the Ulstermen, Glasgow, Bordeaux, and Toulon surprisingly all turned out to be bad decisions as all of them greatly underperformed in their fixtures. But at 7-8 overall, there’s still plenty of time for him to move up in the standings.
Ronan Nelson: After an atrocious first round of picks I was able to redeem myself by going 6–3 this week to pull my overall score 8–7. I once again wrongly put my faith in the Scarlets, and decided to go with Bordeaux and Toulon in their first games of the European Rugby Champions Cup, both turning out to be bad decisions in the end. I did however manage to bring my PoW tally to 2-0 after siding with Leicester in their tie against Treviso.
James Harrington: The resident Top 14 expert was let down this week by Ulster, Glasgow, and Scarlets, pulling him overall to 10-5 after starting off with a 4-2 record after Round 1. He also registered his first PoW win by smartly choosing the Leicester Tigers over Treviso.
Jake Frachette: in third place sits Mr. Frachette with a fine record of 7-2 on the week and 10-5 on the season overall. Unfortunately the Pro12‘s failure to register a win in Round 2 of the European Rugby Champions Cup pulled him out of the running for a perfect week, but his correct backing of Leicester over Treviso earned him a win in the PoW column.
Junior Blaber: 7-2 this week but a second week of disappointment in the Pick of the Week. Glasgow and Ulster let him down with poor performances, but he was only 12 seconds away from his first correct PoW until the Ospreys battled their way back against Clermont. Mr. Blaber currently sits in second place with a distinguished 11-4 record.
JWB: Mr. Barberie sits atop RugbyWrapUp’s famed (yes…famed) Expert Panel Picks Pool (EPPP) with an impressive 8-1 record this week and a 12-3 record overall. Had Toulon not been such a disappointment against Wasps, JWB would have claimed the first sweep of the season in the EPPP. He also tallied his first correct PoW prediction by backing an Exeter side that performed very well against Bordeaux.
Ulster 9 – 27 Saracens
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
On and atrociously cold and wet night at Ravenhill, Sarries continued their amazing run of form with a comprehensive bonus-point victory over an unprepared Ulster squad.
Weather conditions worsened as the game progressed and made ballhandling exceedingly difficult, but while Saracens made the most of Ulster’s mistakes, the Ulstermen confined themselves to a poor performance by not taking advantage of playing a man up.
The home side got the scoring underway after 15 minutes through a close-range Paddy Jackson penalty called for Brad Barritt’s high tackle on Darren Cave.
Five minutes later, Jackson calmly used a penalty advantage to kick through a short range drop goal to put his side up 6–0.
In the 25th minute, Jackson again slotted a penalty to make it 9–0 after referee Roman Poite reversed a penalty called on Ulster number eight, Nick Williams, to instead penalise South African Jacques Berger for a no-arms tackle.
That’s when Sarries started dishing out dominance over the Irish side.
On the half-hour mark, American Chris Wyles received the ball on the wing after a full field switch of play and crossed in the corner uncontested for the game’s first try. Saracens fly half, Owen Farrell, missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty just before the half to send his side into the break four points down to the Ulstermen.
The second half started with Ulster playing with their backs against their own try line as Saracens blitzed the Ulster defence for the better part of six minutes. It was only by the outstanding defensive efforts of Irish internationals Rory Best and Iain Henderson that Ulster were given some respite from the Saracens attack.
Henderson took the ball from the floor after a Rory Best turnover at the ruck and ran down field towards Billy Vunipola. As Vunipola and Henderson collided, Vunipola lead with his shoulder into Henderson’s head and was subsequently sin-binned for a high tackle.
Being down a man was no deterrent for the Saracens, though, who managed to strike through brilliant kick chase work between Chris Wyles and Alex Goode, Goode eventually dotting over for the try. The Sarries went up 12–9 as Owen Farrell hit his first kick of the game through the sticks with the conversion.
The visitors struck again with Vunipola in the bin as Farrell put on a skills clinic and evaded several tired Ulster defenders to put Duncan Taylor through for an easy five-pointer. With the score at 17-9 and with Vunipola’s return to the match, Ulster fans began realising their team’s fate and began streaming out of the park.
Rory Best was later binned for repeated team offences, allowing for Saracens to score their bonus point try with less than a minute to go, securing the full five points as Billy Vunipola crossed over on a driving maul from a lineout.
In Round 3 Ulster will play back-to-back weekends against Toulouse starting at the Kingspan while Saracens will travel to Stade Charles Mathon to begin their home – away series against Oyonnax.
Toulouse 24 – 18 Oyonnax
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse
Four-time European champions, Toulouse, might just have kickstarting the bid for European glory as they clawed a win away from a relentless Oyonnax side poised for the upset.
Toulouse, coming off the back of a thrashing at the hands of Saracens in the first round, looked to find their first win over the Top 14 rivals, while Oyonnax were looking to get their European Rugby Champions Cup started on the right foot as their first round fixture was postponed.
Oyonnax started the brighter of the two sides as fly half Régis Lespinas slotted two easy penalties after periods of high pressure and an upper hand at the scrummage.
Display a rough first few minutes, Toulouse soon displayed the attacking threat that was absent in the game against Saracens. A quick tap penalty by Jean-Marc Doussain caught the Oyonnax defenders by surprise and forced another penalty within the visitor’s half, setting up Luke McAlister on a penalty that he successfully converted to cut the home side’s deficit to three.
Toulouse thought they had scored the first try of the game when Neemia Tialata crossed in the corner, but the TMO caught Louis Picamoles knocking the ball on in the previous phase and reversed the decision. The rest of the first half remain scoreless as the two teams exchanged errors and mistakes that rendered each side unable to convert any chances.
The second half opened with a bit more of a bang as McAlister kicked for touch off an infringement by Oyannax second row George Robson, walloping the ball deep into the visitor’s half. Toulouse took the opportunity to showcase a brilliant maul from the lineout, driving towards the Oyonnax try line and allowing Tomici Matanavou to run the ball through the fragmented defence to score the first try of the game under the posts. With the McAlister conversion the score was 10–6.
The try breathed new life into the home side who went on the attack right from the kick-off. Despite sustained pressure, though, mistakes at the lineout and simple ballhandling errors were detrimental and stopped Toulouse from surging into the lead.
It wasn’t until a break by Louis Picomoles that the home side found themselves on the front foot, and although he was stopped metres from the line, scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain was able to recycle the ball and start a phase of that play that ended with a Maxime Medard try in the opposite corner. With McAlister kicking the afters, Toulouse finally had some breathing room in the 17–6 scoreline.
Despite late Oyonnax tries from centre Vincent Martin and scrum-half Fabian Cibray, a 75th minute drive from Toulouse centre Gael Fickou see you at the victory for the home side, their first of this Champions Cup campaign.
Toulouse will travel to Ulster to begin their back-to-back weekends clash while Oyonnax will play host to a wicked strong Saracens in France.
Exeter Chiefs 34 – 19 Bordeaux-Begles
Sandy Park, Exeter
Exeter secured a vital bonus point in their
victory over Bordeaux at Sandy Park on their way to a 15 point victory over the French visitors. Despite a sizeable buffer for exit in the final scoreline, this game was back and forth throughout, almost akin to the
England v France match to close out last years Six Nations.
After coming away empty from their clash with the Ospreys last week, head coach Rob Baxter made two changes to his Chiefs side in an effort to gain valuable points before they play back to back games against Clermont Auvergne, inserting Damian Welch in the second row and Jack Nowell on the wing.
It didn’t take long for Exeter to get on board through flyhalf Henry Slade‘s penalty goal in the eighth minute from right in front of the posts. The Chiefs took advantage of Bordeaux’s lackadaisical defending on the ensuing kickoff as eight-man Tom Johnson found opposite winger Olly Woodburn on a long pass, Woodburn using the space to find the corner for the first try of the game.
The visitors rebounded in excellent fashion, launching a series of attacks into the Exeter half and finally capitalising in the 15th minute when fallback Nans Ducuing crossover for a touchline try. Fly half Lionel Beauxis kicked through the conversion in perfect fashion to make the score 8-7 in the home side’s favour.
No less than four minutes later, Scottish international Moray Low scored Exeter’s second try of the match after he stole the ball away from a Bordeaux maul right outside the visitor’s own try line. Once again, Slade kicked the conversion and subsequently a penalty whistled for a Bordeaux offside,stretching the lead to 18–17 at the 21st minute mark.
Both teams laid into each other for the rest of the first half, breaking and making tackles and finding gaps to explode through only to be met by chasing defenders. But, with five minutes left before the break, Bordeaux were penalised for side entry at the ruck, allowing Slade to land his third penalty of the half to send Exeter into the break up 21–7.
Three minutes into the second half, Cheif’s centre Ian Whitten muscled his way through Bordeaux centre Julien Rey for another try to put his side 19 points to the better.
Rey got the opportunity to make up for his mistake eight minutes later and did so, pumping hope and belief into his side with half an hour left.
Despite the try by Rey, the Chiefs were never bothered and continued to play fluid rugby. In the 58th minute Woodburn broke the Bordeaux line in an excellent display of agility to put over his team’s bonus point try and his second of the game. Slade kicked through one last penalty before the game was over to extend the home side’s lead just outside of the range for Bordeaux to claim on a losing bonus point.
In round three, Exeter will play host to Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park while Bordeaux will travel to the Liberty Stadium in Swansea to take on the Ospreys.
Clermont Auvergne 34 – 29 Ospreys
Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand
It’s not too often that both teams in a European Rugby Champions Cup tie earn a four try bonus point, but to last-minute tries from the Ospreys assured that the Welsh club left France with two bonus points instead of none.
The Ospreys almost put themselves in the driver seat after 13 minutes through a lineout play between hooker Scott Baldwin and scrum-half Brendon Leonard that almost sent prop Dmitri Arhip through for the score. Clermont flanker Alexandre Lapandry tackled the prop before the ball was even in his hands, earning the flanker an all-expenses-paid vacation to the sin bin at the hands of Irish referee George Clancy.
Referee Clancy did not award a penalty try for Lapandry’s offense, forcing the Ospreys to try and work through the now rested Clermont defense. After several minutes of failed attempts at a try, Ospreys scrum-half, Dan Biggar kit through a drop goal for the first point of the game to make it 3–0.
Biggar surrendered his team’s lead after he miss-timed an aerial challenge on Clermont eight-man Fritz Lee, allowing French fly half Camille Lopez to draw the score level.
Clermont began to put together several phases of call see play and drive down the field, pressing the Ospreys back towards down try line. Although the visitor’s valiantly kicked the ball clear, Clermont fullback Nick Abendonen caught the ball and use his fantastic agility to penetrate the loose Osprey defense, eventually passing to new summer signing David Strettle for his first try for the French club.
In the 35th minute Clermont looked as if they would shut the door on the Ospreys when Lopez found center Rougerie in space to score Claremont’s second try of the match and extend the lead to 17 points going into the half.
Osprey coach Steve Tandy must have given one great speech at half time because within the first 10 minutes his team had scored two well worked tries. The first were scored by Welsh international flanker Justin Tupiric off a rolling maul while the second was scored two minutes later by winger Eli Walker after he kicked himself through to beat opposite winger Noa Nakaitaci in the corner to make it 20-17.
The two teams continued to battle as the Ospreys were searching for another score that would put them in line for a famous win against the French side. But, before the ospreys could find a way through the Clermont line, David Strettle picked up a ball off the floor and burned three Osprey defenders to dot over under the posts and put the Welsh side’s hopes in jeopardy.
Wesley Fofana sealed the game for the home side four minutes later, but 78 and 88th minute tries from replacement hooker Sam Parry and replacement scrum-half Thomas Habberfield ensured that the Ospreys left with the four try bonus point and a losing bonus point.
The Ospreys will start their home and away series is at home against Bordeaux while Clermont will travel to Sandy Park to take on the Exeter Chiefs.
Glasgow 15 – 26 Northampton
Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
At a sold out Scotstoun Stadium, the Northampton Saints put on a brutal first half display of forward pack supremacy and roofless backline agility to crush Gregor Townsend’s hopes of a first Champions Cup win.
Northampton began their assault on the Glasgow line from the very kickoff and after seven minutes of slowly deteriorating the Glasgow Warriors defence, centre George Pisi crossed over for the Saints first score, the Stephen Myler conversion making it 7–0.
Glasgow trying to regain their composure and begin their attacking structure, scoring through a Finn Russell penalty, but needless mistakes and handling errors allowed the Saints to continue on the ascendancy.
Penalties on Glasgow prop Ryan Grant (who was eventually shown a yellow for collapsing the scrum) and Glasgow second rower Leone Nakarawa in the 15th and 21st minutes, respectively, allowed Stephen Myler to kick his team into the double digits and make it 13–3.
It didn’t stop therefore Northampton because only eight minutes later, Myler passed it through the hands to the far right wing, setting up winger Ah See Tuala for the Saints second try.
To the relief of the Warriors and the home fans, a Finn Russell penalty walloped the post and fell down into the hands of Northampton proper Alex Waller who proceeded to then fumble the ball into his own try zone. Glasgow Centre Peter Horne seized the opportunity for his side trying to pull themselves back into the game after continuous waves of pressure.after another mistake and Stephen Myler penalty, the score was 21–10 going into the break.
Once again in the second half, Northampton got on the board first through another Ah See Tuala score brilliantly set up by fullback Ben Foden. Even then, Glasgow continue to bravely work towards reinserting themselves in the game, eventually catalysing on a yellow card handed to Luther Burrell to score a try. It was too little, too late for the Warriors, though, as Northampton just sat back and defended with ease as Glasgow slowly realised their fate.
Glasgow will play their next game at Scotstoun against the Scarlets and Northampton will travel to Paris to take on Racing 92 in Round 3.
Scarlets 12 – 29 Racing 92
Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Racing 92 got their European Rugby Champions Cup campaign off to a massive start by securing a bonus point victory over the Scarlets in Wales.
Just as in the other Pool 3 match up between Glasgow and Northampton, the away side started the scoring early and in heavy attacking fashion. French scrum-half Maxime Machenaud kicked off the scoring for the French club after he chased down a kick by winger Joe Rokocoko that bounced right over the head of Scarlets winger and Canadian international DTH van der Merwe.
After a period of 10 minutes where Scarlets seem to have settled themselves into the fast pace of the game, Rokocoko found an opening on the wing past Scarlets winger Michael Tagicakaibu in heaps of space downfield for his side’s second try of the day. Machenaud kicked through the afters to make it 12–0 by the end of the first quarter of the match.
Just as the Scarlets look to be settling in once again, Racing eight-man Chris Masoe decided to dash the home team’s hopes of an early come back, receiving the ball in open space after clever passing between Machenaud and flanker Bernard le Roux and running it through for a try easily converted by Machenaud.
With the game at 19–0, resting decided to keep their foot on the pedal and go for their bonus point try before half time. Amazingly, they were able to secure the bonus point before the half when winger Marc Andreu was found in space by Machenaud and out random DTH to the corner for the score. Going into the half the score was 26–0 in the French club’s favour.
The second Half was interesting to say the least. It all started with a red card for a stamp headed out to le Roux, putting Racing down to 14 men for the rest of the game. Making the most of the advantages at, Scarlets prop Ken Owen sent a long past wide to fullback Aled Thomas who converted in the corner.
In the 65th minute, Racing replacement prop Ben Tameifuna was binned not staying on his feet, allowing the Scarlets, with the two main advantage, to score a second try through a replacement flanker Lewis Rawlings
Although the opportunity for more points presented themselves to the Scarlets throughout the second half, a slew of ball handling errors and needless penalties secure the victory for Racing. The Scarlets will travel to Scotstoun in round 3 to take on the Glasgow Warriors while Racing will play host to Northampton at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir.
Treviso 3 – 36 Leicester
Stadio di Monigo, Treviso
Despite a promising first few minutes for Treviso, the Italians were easily dispatched at the hands of a relentless Leicester Tigers side. This marked the 16th consecutive loss in the European Rugby Champions Cup for the Italian clubwhile, for Leicester, the bonus point win put them atop Pool 1 with the maximum ten points from their first two outings.
With the pitch wet and muddy, Treviso were able to take advantage of an early Leicester ballhandling error to match down into the Leicester 22, only to have the drop goal attempt missed by fly half James Ambrosini.
Following the 22-dropout, Treviso came within feet of scoring after Francesco Minto’s hard work at the breakdown almost put through winger Tommaso Ionnone in the corner. Unfortunately for the home side this was one of their best attempts at scoring in the whole game.
Leicester began to pile on the pressure as the first quarter came to an end, and through complete dominance at the scrummage were able to force referee Mathieu Raynal into sin-binning prop Matteo Zanusso for collapsing the scrum after three previous attempts. On the ensuing scrum the Tigers again forced a penalty that referee Raynal whistled as a penalty try.
The Tigers were unable to put up any more points from their man advantage thanks in part to a clever defensive effort from Treviso hooker Ornel Gega, but too quick success of tries before the half assured Leicester the ascendancy before the break.
Fly off Thomas Bell kicked a ball through the Treviso defensive line that was taken by fullback Telusa Veainu for his first score of the game, with Bell successfully kicking through the afters.
Treviso’s only score of the game came off the ensuing kickoff as Brendan O’Connor was penalised, setting up fly half Ambrosini with a chance at goal which he successfully converted to make the score 17–3.
The home side’s hopes of a comeback were quickly squandered as Leicester easily took control of the ball on the following kickoff, allowing Veainu to float a pass for winger Peter Betham to send Leicester into the break up 22–3.
The second half proved more challenging for Leicester as they struggled with continuity and a lack of ingenuity. They thought they didn’t have a chance at the bonus point try when Jean–Francis Montauriol was yellow carded for blocking Tigers scrum-half Sam Harrison as he chased a kick from Thomas Bell, but they were stood up by a resurgent Treviso defence for the entirety of their man advantage.
The breakthrough finally came in the 67th minute when Veainu brilliantly dance to between three Treviso defenders to crossover under the posts. Replacement hooker Greg Bateman added icing to the cake as he scored the Tigers’ fifth try on the stroke of regulation, ensuring a 36–3 win.
Treviso will play host to Stade Francais in the next round while Leicester will travel away to Thomond Park for a clash with Munster.
Stade Francais – Munster
Unfortunately, due to security concerns following the Paris terror attacks, this game was postponed to a later date.
Bath 19 – 16 Leinster
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen changed more than half his starting line-up in prep for Bath, but the game was started early by the English club as they made all the early running, with wing Semesa Rokoduguni leading a promising early break deep into the Leinster half.
In the eight-minute, Bath second row Stuart Hooper infringed at the ruck, Sexton kicked Leinster ahead, only for opposite flyhalf George Ford to land an equalising penalty and subsequently kick a drop-goal six minutes later to make it 6-3.
Leinster were fortunate not to fall further behind seven minutes before the break when Bath wing Matt Banahan ran to the try line from just inside the visitor’s half.
Banahan got behind the Leinster defence but he knocked-on as he passed to an unmarked Hooper.
The visitors enjoyed their best possession as half-time approached, but they could not convert and Bath went off with a 6-3 interval lead that should have been considerably more.
In the second half, Ford and Sexton
exchanged penalties in quick succession as Bath moved to 9-6 ahead. Cullen decided to change both his props, with Jack McGrath replacing Cian Healy and Martin Moore taking from Mike Ross.
Sexton completed his scoring to tie the score at 9-a-piece, but Bath’s forwards had started to take the clear upper hand, culminating in a Jerome Garces awarded penalty try.
Leinster fought back impressively, and replacement Josh Van der Flier touched down, with Sexton adding the afters to again level things up. It was a frantic final 10 minutes that had Sexton missing a penalty from just inside his own half. Ford came in clutch with just four minutes remaining and Leinster were left with just a losing bonus point for their efforts.
Thanks everyone! Stay tuned for more information on the European Rugby Champions Cup as we get closer to Round 3 action.
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