Exeter suffered a second consecutive defeat, as they were out-muscled and out-smarted by Gloucester. The cherry and whites handled the conditions much better than the home side, Number 8 Ben Morgan was outstanding and winger Ollie Thorley extended his run of sensational performances with an unbelievable break from his own 22 that set up Willie Heinz for Worcester’s opening score.
The coaching staff, fans and players will once again be scratching their heads at another season where they have failed to perform in Europe. I think that is down to European referees actually officiating the ruck properly and not letting the Chiefs get away with some questionable ruck-clearing. I also believe that Exeter don’t have enough sprinklings of stardust in their squad to challenge the likes of Leinster, Munster, Saracens and Toulouse etc and while their maul is a potent weapon they cannot rely on it 100% of the time and they still don’t have a functioning Plan B.
Edinburgh stretch away to beat inexperienced Newcastle side
It was a match that the home side were expected to win, but that was not a certainty until late in the second half. It was a mixed Falcons side, with Director of Rugby Dean Richards deliberately resting some 1st choice players, and he was forced into not naming a replacement tighthead – EPCR rejected Newcastle’s request to register an extra player, which drew criticism from Richards over the disregard for player welfare. Falcons however did well to have a 10-13 lead at halftime but Edinburgh went on the rampage including a wonderful counterattacking try finished by Blair Kinghorn created by a wonderful Viliame Mata offload. The home side finished 31-13 meaning that they have a previously unfathomable lead in Pool 5.
Scarlets beaten at home by impressive Ulster
The Welsh Region have been struggling of late in the Pro14 but at home against a side they’ve beaten six times in a row, fans were still confident of a win, a win they desperately needed to still have hopes of qualification. However Ulster started brightly with an excellent Jacob Stockdale try. Steff Evans responded but Australian international Henry Speight slid over to restore their lead and Irish centre Will Addison cut a great line to score. Scarlets did close the gap as Evans grabbed his second from a lovely offload but the robust Marcell Coetzee bundled over in the corner to secure the visitors’ bonus point. Victory was not assured as the home side did grab a losing bonus point through European Champions Cup debutant Dan Davis who finished fantastically in the corner and Scarlets pressed for victory but Ulster won a turnover and the match. This means that last year’s semifinalists are effectively out of the competition in the group stages.
Glasgow boost qualification hopes with bonus point win in Lyon
Last year’s Pro14 table-toppers gave themselves a good chance of reaching the knockout stages with a pretty good win over the French underdogs. A try from the robust blindside flanker Adam Ashe and George Horne had put the Glaswegians 20-10 up at halftime and although Noa Nakaitaci and Charl McLeod responded for the hosts, tries from Scotland stars Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg and a second from Ashe culminated in an effective but somewhat incoherent display in terms of the Warriors’ very high standards.
Larmour intercept crucial as Leinster grind to a win against Bath
In front of a packed-out Recreation Ground embracing the torrid conditions as always, the home side were really pumped up for the occasion. Openside flanker Sam Underhill was fantastic, combining with Springbok François Louw in a Pocock-Hooper formation faultlessly, and to brutal effect. They won turnover after turnover and prevented the defending champions from gaining any momentum. It was Leinster who struck first through a try off the maul from Sean Cronin, but Bath capitulated on a set-piece error and the superb tighthead prop Henry Thomas bundled over. However the home side gifted wonder-kid Jordan Larmour an early Christmas present as he intercepted from 50 odd metres out to regain the lead. From then on the Leinster wall held firm and both teams added a single penalty to leave the champions with a thoroughly hard-worked win and Bath with a losing bonus point.
Toulon win all French derby against Montpellier in a high-scoring affair
Last year’s quarterfinalists and French heavyweights Toulon restored hope of qualification with a bonus point win at home over French neighbouring mammoths Montpellier. The returning Georgian hero Mamuka Gorgodze put the hosts on the front foot and they ran riot (much like their fellow gilet jeunes) with tries from flanker Lakafia and winger Nakosi, Montpellier did score two late tries to secure a try-scoring bonus point to keep the embers of their European hopes still fighting for life.
Toulouse get crucial away win at the Ricoh Arena
The French giants have seemingly reawakened this season, and are now unbeaten after 3 rounds, a feat made more achievable by the fact that French teams don’t travel very well. They possess a winning mentality, and despite only winning each of their 3 matches by no more than 4 points, they look so dangerous in attack. Against Wasps, it was perhaps their game management that won them the match, then Cheslin Kolbe scored a brilliant individual try that extended the visitors’ lead.
Munster eventually beat Castres in hugely physical encounter
The Irish Province were evidently strong favourites at their fortress of Thomond Park against a French side but credit to Castres they made Munster work incredibly hard with an intense defensive effort that really frustrated the home defence and the crowd, preventing Munster from scoring until the 50th minute through Rory Scannell. That try finally inspired the men in red, scoring further tries through CJ Stander and flyhalf JJ Hanrahan to win the game 30-5 to maintain their dominance over Pool 2, returning scrumhalf Conor Murray was essential to victory, creating two tries and was the catalyst for his team’s victory, who were disrupted by late injuries in the warm up to centre Chris Farrell and flyhalf Joey Carbery.
Ben Earl double kick-starts Saracens into a thumping over Cardiff
The Cardiff Blues really surprised one of the tournament favourites, especially in the 2nd half. The home side started the game the brightest through Richard Wigglesworth but Cardiff responded in some style through US captain Blaine Scully and then a simply brilliant individual try from fullback Matthew Morgan gave the visitors an unlikely lead. Saracens piled on the pressure but Cardiff were ferocious in defence, spearheaded by flanker Olly Robinson and Sarries were left even more frustrated as they had two tries correctly chalked off by the officials so the Blues led at halftime. Saracens, almost expectedly, kicked back into gear with the introduction of flanker Ben Earl, who scored two tries before the touchline denied him a hat-trick. Then, suddenly the home side were all over Cardiff: Sean Maitland getting a deserved double, replacements Ben Spencer and prop Christian Judge both scored with Farrell immaculate as ever from the tee. Cardiff did respond through Robinson, hoping to get a try-scoring bonus point but that didn’t happen and Saracens, after suffering a scare, eventually won 51-25.
Racing 92 just too good for Leicester
Leicester Tigers definitely improved on their performance last weekend against Racing, however they made hard work of themselves. They were reduced to 14 men twice with Manu Tuilagi yellow carded in the 8th minute for a deliberate knock-on and Ellis Genge binned for a supposed professional offence in the 50th minute. In those two ten minute spells Racing unleashed their superstar backline and scored the majority of their tries. Tigers did not give up and scored some brilliant tries of their own through Jonah Holmes, then Sione Kalamafoni bundled over, a sensational team try from Tuilagi and a riveting counterattack from George Ford forced a Tigers lineout which he took quickly and Adam Thompstone touched down to give Tigers a vital point.
Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup
On Friday, French side Pau compounded Warriors’ errors to earn a home victory, the away side missing superstar scrumhalf François Hourgaard. Grenoble won the all-French affair against relegation-strugglers Agen. Saturday was a day of big thrashings, Sale thrashed 14-man Bordeaux away with Chris Ashton scoring a double, Clermont unsurprisingly smashing Timisoara Saracens 14-47 in Romania, Northampton simply walked over the Dragons 48-14 at Franklin Gardens and Ospreys demolished Stade Français 51-20. Elsewhere, Zebre earned an away victory against the Russian Enisei-STM, Connacht ground out a victory against Perpignan, La Rochelle earned a great away victory against Bristol, the Bears not capitalising enough on the opportunities presented before them and finally a late try from Benetton Treviso denied Harlequins a draw in Italy.
Key Talking Points:
– Was Dean Richards right to criticise the EPCR? Do you agree with him?
– Should Joe Cokanasiga have been carded for his tackle on James Gibson-Park?
– Why do you think Exeter have failed to crack Europe?
– Why are the Scarlets underperforming this season?
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images