San Diego, CA – Christmas came early for rugby fans around the world as Round 4 of the European Rugby Champions Cup came to an emphatic conclusion. Marking the second weekend of back to back matches, last weekend’s return fixtures of the competition’s home-and-away series were brilliant displays of continued dominance and vengeful victory, keeping several teams’ hopes of reaching the knockout stages alive while consequently sending many others to their European demise. Take a look at how our Rugby Wrap Up experts faired in the Expert Picks Panel and relive the highs and lows of last weekend’s action before Saturday’s St Stephen’s Day domestic derby action!
Expert Panel Review:
Blaber: 25-10, with the added bonus of a PoW victory. Mr. Blaber has finally overtaken JWB on record, sending the battle for first into what should be an exciting final two rounds. He went with consistency in choosing Bath and hoped for a rebound from Toulouse, both of which let him down. But hey, he’s 2-2 on PoW now so happy days in the Blaber camp.
Jake Frachette: 25-10, with the added bonus of a PoW victory. He was not alone in his three losses, but the lacklustre performance of Bath push him to the fringes of contending for the Expert Picks Panel title. It isn’t all bad though, he does move to 4–0 in the PoW after Stade mashed Treviso.
JWB: 24-11, with the added bonus of a Pick of the Week (PoW) victory. Only is second two-loss week, JWB was let down by underwhelming performances from Bath and Munster. Even in defeat he shared both losses with two other panelists. His correct PoW also helped take away some of the sting from his wrong picks.
Harrington: 24-11, with the added bonus of a PoW victory. Mr. Harrington draws level with Mr. Frachette and Mr. Blaber after correctly choosing Wasps to best Bath on the road. His advancement in the expert panel polls the top for within one game of each other. And look, yet another PoW victory.
Nelson: 22-13, with the added bonus of a PoW victory. The ospreys cost Mr Nelson daily this week, pulling him four games back from Expert Panel title contention. There is always an upside though, as he went to 4-0 in the PoW category.
Yeats: 20-15, with the shame of a wrong PoW. Yep, a bit of a shame. Munster, Scarlets, and Oyonnax all came up short for Mr. Yeats, hurting both his overall record and his PoW record. Things can only go up from here right?
Pool 1 Results:
Oyonnax 13 – 55 Saracens
Allianz Park, London
Saracens all but locked up a spot in the European Rugby Champions Cup knockout rounds after another big win against French Top 14 side Oyonnax. Sarries winger Chris Ashton was named man-of-the-match after a brilliant performance and a hat-trick of tries. Eight man Samu Vunisa ran in two of his own, and Jamie George, Michael Ellery, and Alex Goode each crossed the whitewash once to lock up a four–try bonus point just after the beginning of the second half. The North London side ran over eight tries before referee George Clancy put an end to the onslaught, relegating Oyonnax to the bottom of Pool 1 with only one point to show from from three games.
Toulouse 23 – 25 Ulster
Stade Ernest-Wallon, Toulouse
After an astounding 38–0 victory at Ravenhill last weekend, Ulster Rugby backed up their historic Round 3 win with a tight victory against Toulouse in France. Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola’s six changes to his side proved effective through the first 40 minutes as the first half ended 10–3 in favour of the visitors, a considerable improvement from being 17–0 down at the half a week prior. After the break, Ulster and Toulouse swapped scores through well-worked tries from Andrew Trimble and Gael Fickou, respectively, to make the game even tighter at 15-10. It wasn’t Toulouse’s day though, and Ulster definitively pulled away after a Luke Marshall try and Paddy Jackson penalty. A late try from Toulouse’s Louis Picamole gave the home side a glimmer of hope in the match’s last moments, but Ulster saw the game through to complete the double.
Bordeaux-Begles 33 – 27 Ospreys
Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux
In an eight-try classic in France, Top 14 side Bordeaux-Begles fought off a resilient Ospreys side to rekindle their chances of making the knockout stages. The opening five minutes saw a try a piece from each side, Bordeaux scoring on a searing run from centre Julien Rey and the Ospreys scoring through Justin Tipuric on a driving maul. The home side began to pull away in a dominating second quarter of the match, smashing over two tries and a penalty to pull ahead 25–10 at the break. The Ospreys, though, remained as resourceful as they were against Clermont in Round 2, mounting in massive comeback with tries from prop Alun-Wyn Jones, winger Eli Walker, and fly half Dan Biggar to draw the gap down to three before Yann Lesgourges sealed a 4-try bonus point victory for the French side.
Clermont Auvergne 42 – 10 Exeter
Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont
After a historic victory at Sandy Park the weekend prior, Exeter were easily dispatched by a vengefully driven Clermont Auvergne side. The match looked as though it would devolve into a chess match as Morgan Parra and Gareth Steenson traded penalties, but was ultimately broken wide open for the home side after a statement try from Clermont winger David Strettle put the home side on the ascendancy. Exeter’s grasps for life were ultimately unsuccessful as flanker Alexandre Lapandry smashed through winded Exeter defenders to give the home side an 18 point advantage going into the break. The onslaught continued in the second half with tries from eight man Fritz Lee, lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, and centred Jonathan Davies to put the home side ahead 42–3 before a consolation try from Exeter’s replacement forward Tom Johnson sealed the scoring for both sides.
Northampton Saints 9–9 Racing 92
Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Round 4’s opening fixture between Northampton and Racing 92 turned out to be a completely different affair from the previous week’s fixture that saw Racing smash Northampton in Paris. In a defensive battle for the ages, each side’s respective points came from the boots of their fly halves, 9 points a piece for Northampton’s Stephen Myler and Racing’s Dan Carter. Northampton, with their home fans supporting them in full force, had a majority of the fixture’s chances, the best of which saw Saints’ winger Jamie Elliot repelled into touch after almost capitalising on a charged down kick 5 m from the Racing line. Both sides ended up receiving two points of piece for their efforts, putting Racing ahead of Northampton by two points atop Pool 3 with a game in hand.
Scarlets 6 – 9 Glasgow Warriors
Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Kicking battles were the norm in Pool 3 last weekend as the Scarlets and Warriors battled in the horrendous conditions of wintertime southwestern Wales. The boot of Glasgow fly half and Scotland international Finn Russell pushed the visitors out to a 6–0 lead before half time and subsequently a 9-0 lead five minutes into the second-half. Glasgow winger and former Scarlet Sean Lamont and Glasgow lock Chris Fusaro were both sent to the bin by French official Pascal Gauzere within three minutes of each other to give the home side a two man advantage within the last quarter of the match. Ultimately, though, the boot of Scarlets’ fly half Aled Thomas wasn’t accurate enough to bring the home side level with the visitors, relegating the Scarlets to a fourth straight defeat and putting Glasgow right back in the mix in Pool 3, only three points behind leaders Racing 92.
Stade Francais 40 – 14 Benetton Treviso
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris
The misery continued for Italian side Treviso last weekend as they were put to the sword by reigning Top 14 champions Stade Francias. Stade winger Josaia Rasique scored two tries for the French club, earning him a man of the match award and helping his team attain a necessary 4-try bonus point. Despite tries a piece from Treviso centre Alberto Sgarbi and replacement prop Davide Giazzon, the Italians were once again beaten at the breakdown and demolished at the scrum, sending them even further to the bottom of Pool 4. For Stade, the win allows them to stay in touch with group leaders Leicester and consequently put pressure on third-place Munster, their next European Rugby Champions Cup opponent.
Leicester 17–6 Munster
Welford Road, Leicester
The Tigers completed a famous double over Pro12 side Munster with an emphatic victory at Welford Road. After Munster fly half Ian Keatley went 1-for-2 on successive penalties within the first 10 minutes, Tigers’ captain Ed Slater put Leicester on the board with a powerful pick-and-go just try to the right of the posts. Leicester fly half Freddie Burns added the conversion as well as a penalty on the stroke of half-time to put his side had 10–6 at the break. The Munstermen had a perfect opportunity to put themselves ahead of the Tigers after Leicester replacement forward Don Barrow was sent to the bin for not retreating 10 m, but the visitors only had three points from the boot of Keatley to show before Barrow returned to the pitch. In the end, it was a moment of brilliance from Leicester winger Vereniki Goneva that pushed the home side ahead to a 17–6 lead, ultimately ending Munster’s chances of halting a second successive defeat.
Leinster 16 – 20 Toulon
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
In front of 40,000+ people at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, reigning European champions Toulon got the better of Leo Cullen’s Leinster, putting the French club six points behind group leaders Wasps with a game in hand and affectively ending Leinster’s European Rugby Champions Cup hopes. The Irish province started off the match stronger than any of their previous European Rugby Champions Cup matches; a converted penalty try and three successful penalties from Johnny Sexton sending the home side into half time ahead 16–5. From there, though, it was all Toulon as the visitors kicked into high gear and ran rampant over uninspired Leinster. In the end a converted penalty try, try from replacement hooker Anthony Etillard, and penalty from replacement fly half Tom Taylor pushed the visitors to victory for the fourth time in three years over Leinster.
Bath 10 – 36 London Wasps
The Recreation Ground, Bath
A week after suffering a last gasp defeat to Bath at home, the Wasps went on the road and regained dominant form as they smashed Bath to put themselves six points clear of reigning champions Toulon. Former Leinster man and current wasps fly half Jimmy Goperth was absolutely sensational, scoring 23 of his side’s 36 points on his own and repeatedly asserting his defensive presence over opposite fly half George Ford. Bath put themselves ahead early through a Samesa Rokoduguni try and subsequent George Ford conversion, only to give up 23 unanswered points and head to the break on the losing side of a 23–7 scoreline. Wasps only furthered their lead in the second half, allowing only 3 points from the boot of George Ford, putting the Londoners in the driving seat of Pool 5 ahead of clashes with Toulon and Leinster in Rounds 5 and 6, respectively.
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