Okay let’s be honest here, Toulon are pretty awful at the moment, they’re bottom of Pool 5 and 11th in the French Top14. However, on a European night and at the Stade Mayol a lot of people would still be reluctant to back Edinburgh against the former three times Champions.
Toulon put up a decent fight initially with French captain Guilhelm Guirado bundling over, and had a 12-8 lead at one point with Edinburgh responding with a powerful finish from winger Darcy Graham. The Scots then gained the lead with a score from Blair Kinghorn and what should be the try of the season from Jamie Johnstone, a simply unbelievable Viliame Mata offload being the architect.
Toulon battered their way back through All Black Julian Savea but couldn’t find any more energy in the tank and Richard Cockerill’s men, on a winning streak of 6 now, go top of Pool 5 with qualification hopes very much still alive.
Munster overpower and outfox Gloucester
It was a Friday night of rugby which could have gone very differently, the home team started off really well and were looking to get a try off the 5 metre lineout, however they got turned over in a possibly questionable manner (I thought it was a tackle and the maul hadn’t formed so it should’ve just been play on) and so began 80 minutes of pure aerial dominance, the men in red were like Richthofen’s Circus in the air.
Tadhg Beirne (basically my idol), Jean Kleyn and Peter O’Mahoney were just brutal in the lineout, stealing ball left right and centre, and Conor Murray’s unspectacular but devilishly difficult box-kicks had Cherry and Whites’ fullback Tom Hudson pretty much grasping for thin air. But no Munster player was anywhere near as good as Joey Carbery; Austin Healey was being a classic wind-up merchant by saying he’s miles better than Jonny Sexton. But it’s not as far-fetched as it might seem on first hearing. Carbery has or has the potential to offer so much more to the plate than Sexton, his kicking from the tee on Friday was perfect, his grubber for Conway was nothing short of magical and he put the icing on the cake with a well-taken intercept try. Gloucester were left licking their wounds with a thumping 15-42 home defeat to the Irish Province.
The thing is, watching BT Sport’s coverage of the game, I had deep feelings of déjà vu. There was an awful lot of Alastair Eykyn bigging up Munster, how many times has that happened in the last three seasons only to get hammered by Saracens and then Racing in the semifinals. I remain cautious about their prospects in the latter stages of the Champions Cup.
Leinster avenge Round 2 defeat with a compelling victory in Dublin
Despite resting some key players, notably Jonny Sexton (yawn), the defending champions were definitely up for this match, and they battered and bruised their French opponents into submission. In fact, there was little enigmatic play and the game was won pretty much by the forwards, but that’s great for someone like me (a lock-forward by trade), and while Toulouse did try hard the Blue Wall denied them the chance to play their expansive offloading game. And by the time Cheslin Kolbe scored a trademark sensational try, it was too little too late for the reborn French giants but qualification does look likely with Bath at home next week.
Ulster just pip Racing at Ravenhill
The men in red were given a fair old fight by Racing 92 at Ravenhill in Belfast, and despite storming to a 14-0 lead through converted tries from wingers Robert Baloucoune and Jacob Stockdale, the Parisians hit back through French centre Virimi Vakatawa who powered his way over the tryline then threw a smart offload for Simon Zebo to finish. Stockdale then extended the lead by pulling off another fabulous chip-and-chase try. Racing kept the pressure by scoring two more tries through Brice Dulin and Oliver Klemenczak which reduced Ulster’s lead to a point. Will Addison was cool and composed enough, however, to convert two penalties and the win was theirs.
Bolstered Bath edge Wasps
This was a dead rubber for both sides, there is no doubt about that, but the home side were up for it and their ranks were strengthened by the return of flankers Zach Mercer and especially Wales’ Taulupe Faletau, who made a sensational break before throwing an audacious offload for scrumhalf Max Green to score in fine fashion. Zach Mercer was impressive too, running a great line and raced through the defence to score Bath’s second, and despite Nathan Hughes scoring from close range and the boot of Lima Sopoaga and Rob Miller gaining the lead, the West Countrymen were awarded a contentious scrum penalty which Rhys Priestland converted to give Bath their first win of the tournament.
Scarlets win in style against the Tigers
This was another dead rubber in terms of the quarterfinals progression, as Tigers’ slim chance was squashed when Ulster won against Racing. But both teams needed the win for momentum reasons. Leicester named a team that would potentially be fielded during the Six Nations period while Wayne Pivac was once again forced to name a depleted pack. But it was the home side who came to the fore, centre Kieron Fonotia in the centres was particularly impressive with a bulldozing display in attack and defence. Some Tigers players didn’t look like they wanted to be there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if said players were on their way by the end of the season. Scarlets scored some, well, typical-Scarlet tries and got their 1st win of the competition and the two late scores scored by Tigers were merely a consolation.
Montpellier expectedly smash Newcastle Falcons
Big spending French giants Montpellier gave Newcastle a run for their money and avenged their close defeat to the Falcons in round 2. The home team were by no means excellent, but they used home and forward advantage to a clinical effect and the huge South African born Paul Willemse, who qualifies for France on residency and has been called up to the Six Nations squad by Head Coach Jaques Brunel, barrelled over for a try. It just seemed that there was nothing that the Northeast side could do and despite a late try for winger Zach Kibirige, it was nothing short of a pummelling handed out by Montpellier.
Exeter’s faint qualification hopes alive with a bonus-point win over Castres
It was probably the Chiefs’ most exuberant win this season, it was so great to see Jack Nowell fit and firing with a enthralling performance at fullback and a fantastic solo try. The offload too from one-time capped England centre Ollie Devoto was pure class. The bonus point was required and boy did Exeter deliver, scoring 6 tries. Granted this was French opposition away from home and Castres certainly haven’t grasped the Champions Cup yet it seems, but the Chiefs now head off to Limerick next weekend in hope of a stunning bonus point win against Munster but that is almost impossible. No one has done that in Europe, the last time Munster lost at Thomond Park in Europe was to Leicester Tigers in 2015, and that was not by a bonus point. It seems Exeter will have to pull off the impossible, and I don’t think they can do it.
Saracens get the job done in Lyon to qualify for the quarterfinals
Though it looks as though Saracens will be the only English side yet again to qualify for the last 8, at least this time Saracens have played much better and will qualify as one of the top seeds rather than the 8th seed. They didn’t set the world on fire in Lyon but were clinical when they needed to be with former England U20s centre Nick Tompkins particularly good with a brace and their final try was scored in some style after a pulsating break from fullbreak Alex Goode. The home side had only a converted try and a drop goal to their name and it really looks as though they will finish the competition on a frankly awful 0 points.
Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup
The Dragons completed an expected double over the Romanian Timisoara Saracens with a 59-3 thrashing, Hallam Amos putting his hand up for Welsh squad selection. In the two French derbies, Stade Français went the distance against Pau and Bordeaux earnt a high-scoring close away win against relegation sufferers Perpignan, meanwhile La Rochelle beat the Italian whipping boys Zebre 32-12. The English teams have done better in the Challenge Cup, with Bristol having given themselves a good chance of qualification with a 60 odd point thrashing of the Russian Entsei-TSM rugby team, the Worcester Warriors look set to qualify after a close away win against the Ospreys and Harlequins got the 5-pointer in a somewhat flawed performance against Grenoble. Unfortunately however, the two other English clubs lost narrowly, with Sale just falling short away in Connacht and Northampton just losing out in an enticing high-scoring affair at the Stade du Michelin against Clermont. Benetton also got a pretty decent win over Agen.
Hero of the Weekend
Undoubtedly Ken Owens, showed a lot of his almighty worth to the spectating Wales head coach Warren Gatland with an impressive man of the match performance in his unusual position of Number 8 for the second week running, this time against the Leicester Tigers, crashing his way over through a poor attempted tackle from Leicester’s Number 8 Valentino Mapapalangi to score. And boy did it mean a lot to him. Well done Ken!
Villain of the Weekend
Schalk Burger gets a dishonourable mention for his shocking clear-out in the Lyon game and the officials in that game too for letting play on but my villain of the weekend, or this case villains, goes to the Ulster supporters for jeering and the alleged racial abuse of Racing’s Simon Zebo. Yes he left his Irish career behind him for the money and was a little bit naughty for his try-scoring celebration in the reverse fixture in October, but he apologised both in-game and afterwards. So I find the booing from the Ulster faithful childish, unnecessary and wrong especially if the jeering became racial abuse. What makes this act even more shocking is that the Northern Irishmen are world-renowned for being one of the most friendliest and welcoming fans in World Rugby. Not good… not good at all.
Key Talking Points:
– Do you believe that Chiefs can pull off the almost impossible and beat Munster with a bonus point at Thomond Park next week?
– Any there any clear favourites this season?
– How key is Viliame Mata to Edinburgh?
– Is the inclusion of the Russian and Romanian teams in the European Challenge Cup beneficial for either them or the competition?