European Championship kicked off this weekend and here is the wrap from round 1
Glasgow Warriors 3-13 Saracens
The trio of Gallagher Premiership Rugby victories was completed at Scotstoun in a bruising encounter between Saracens and Glasgow Warriors.
The Anglo-Scottish affair was highly anticipated and although low scoring it left nothing to desire in terms of entertainment or intensity.
England playmaker Owen Farrell dominated the scoreboard with eight points from the boot, and drove his team on to success at every turn possible.
The north-London club, who won the Champions Cup trophy in 2016 and 2017, went ahead through Michael Rhodes early on.
Farrell converted Rhodes’ try and then added a penalty to create a 10-0 lead before Adam Hastings pulled one back.
After half-time, Saracens battered away at the Glasgow line through the likes of Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje but the Scots held firm for what seemed like an age – Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson key to the defensive effort.
The Warriors broke free in attack at times but no try came, with Saracens just about edging the composure contest.
The first round of the European Challenge Cup proved hugely successful for the Gallagher Premiership sides as four clubs reigned supreme on the continent.
Sale Sharks triumphed in Perpignan on Friday, while Worcester Warriors recorded a win to remember in Paris as Harlequins and Bristol Bears both secured wins at home.
There was plenty of reaction from all the clubs after a sterling start to their European outings and this is what they had to say…
A weakened Newcastle Falcons did what only one other side has done in Europe’s top-tier competition and beat Toulon at the Stade Mayol, winning 26-25.
It was a remarkable performance from the visitors, who went into the interval ahead despite being 10-0 behind early on via Romain Taofifenua’s try and Francois Trinh-Duc’s three-pointer.
Joel Hodgson began the comeback from the tee before Kyle Cooper crossed the whitewash to level matters at the end of the opening quarter. Hodgson then added successive penalties for a six-point buffer but Raphael Lakafia’s effort reduced the deficit at the break.
A penalty try then extended the Falcons’ lead but Guilhem Guirado’s try and Trinh-Duc’s three-pointer took Patrice Collazo’s charges ahead.
They appeared set to scrape their way to an unconvincing triumph but Hodgson’s late effort off the tee won a dramatic encounter, leaving the Mayol stunned.
Dean Richards named a weakened side for this encounter but, despite an awful start, which saw Taofifenua charge down Michael Young’s attempted box-kick and score, the visitors, who are bottom of the Premiership, were exceptional from thereon in.
They did concede next when Trinh-Duc kicked a penalty but the Englishmen grew into the contest and reduced the arrears as Hodgson was on target from the tee.
The Falcons were playing some impressive rugby and were earning plenty of territory from an ill-disciplined Toulon side. Johnny Williams was physical in midfield and Sinoti Sinoti was his usual electric self, but the hard work was done up front and, after a series of phases inside the opposition 22, Cooper burrowed across the line.
Newcastle maintained their pressure on the hosts and Hodgson kicked them in front for the first time in the match.
With the French outfit conceding penalties regularly, it gave their fly-half another opportunity from the tee and he was in no mood to miss, bisecting the uprights for a 16-10 advantage after Jean-Baptiste Gros had been sin-binned.
Toulon were evidently frustrated but they responded well to being behind and scored when a rolling maul ended with Lakafia touching down.
It kept them in the contest going into the second period but the Tynesiders remained resilient and produced a brilliant move for Hodgson to go clear. He passed to wing Sinoti, who looked set to score until Daniel Ikpefan took him high, which led to a yellow card and penalty try.
Annoyed by that decision, with supporters and players arguing that there was obstruction in the build-up, they once again lifted the intensity and Guirado went over after Hodgson was sin-binned.
The Falcons were the team that were now making the mistakes and another infringement led to Trinh-Duc regaining the hosts’ lead.
However, the momentum changed once again when Richards’ men built pressure and it resulted in Julian Savea becoming the third Toulon player to be yellow carded.
With the home side down to 14 men, Newcastle put their opponents under further duress and Hodgson won the game from the tee with 10 minutes to go.
Tries: R Taofifenua, Lakafia, Guirado
Cons: Trinh-Duc 2
Pens: Trinh-Duc 2
Yellow Cards: Gros, Ikpefan, Savea
Tries: Cooper, penalty try
Pens: Hodgson 4
Yellow Card: Hodgson
Lyon’s debut in the Champions Cup ended in disappointment as Cardiff Blues secured a superb 30-21 triumph at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland.
The Top 14 outfit began brightly and went 10-0 ahead through Loann Goujon’s try and Lionel Beauxis’ penalty, but the Blues responded via Olly Robinson and Tomos Williams.
Although the hosts were back in front by the interval via the boot of Beauxis, Gareth Anscombe restored the visitors’ lead in the initial stages of the second half.
Anscombe then added a three-pointer before the full-back effectively completed the win with a fine individual score as they opened Pool 3 in outstanding fashion.
Lyon are an improving outfit in France and they crossed late on through Quentin Delord, but they failed to claim a losing bonus-point after Anscombe’s penalty in the final minute.
Despite the end result, the home side were dominant in the early exchanges with their forwards looking to move the point of contact, but it was mere power which did the trick for the first try.
The hosts set up a scrum and Goujon did well to keep hold of the ball and charge across the whitewash from close range for a 7-0 lead.
Mignoni’s men then kicked a penalty before the Welsh region got into the game and created an opportunity when Jason Harries broke through and off-loaded to Willis Halaholo.
Although that move broke down, the Frenchmen had been warned and they conceded as Williams sniped around the fringes and passed to Robinson, who touched down.
Having been stunned by that score, Lyon were determined to respond immediately but scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain forced the pass and Ellis Jenkins intercepted. The openside did not have the pace to go all the way so he found the supporting Williams and the scrum-half finished well in the corner.
Unperturbed, Mignoni’s charges dominated the latter stages of the half and Beauxis took them back in front at the break from a couple more efforts off the tee.
However, John Mulvihill’s team began the second period on the front foot and deservedly regained their lead through Anscombe’s accuracy with the boot.
Lyon struggled for continuity after the break and it was Cardiff who were by the far the more assured side. Their full-back duly rewarded their control with a second three-pointer before the Wales international effectively secured the victory.
After receiving the ball, Anscombe set off on a mazy run and ended up going over without being challenged to give the Welsh region an 11-point advantage.
Despite being under pressure late on, the Blues held out defensively until Delord touched down in the final two minutes, but it was too late as Anscombe completed the visitors’ victory from the tee.
Tries: Goujon, Delord
Pens: Beauxis 3
For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Robinson, T Williams, Anscombe
Cons: Anscombe 3
Pens: Anscombe 3
Gloucester returned to Champions Cup rugby after five years with a 19-14 victory over Castres at Kingsholm on Sunday afternoon.
Gloucester dominated the majority of the encounter but had to survive a late onslaught from the Top 14 side.
It was quite the contrast of styles from the outset with Gloucester intent on controlling possession, maintaining a high tempo and spreading the ball wide, while Castres were more prepared to go from one set-piece to another while playing around the fringes.
The home side dominated the early possession and went into the lead courtesy of Danny Cipriani penalty right in front with 10 minutes gone.
The hosts then dubiously had a try disallowed before Castres fly-half Julien Dumora restored parity on the scoreboard off the tee in the 16th minute.
Cherry and Whites pivot Cipriani was beginning to dictate matters with his little chip kicks behind the Castres defence beginning to cause havoc. Having gained the territorial ascendancy in this fashion, the hosts were being kept at bay by the Castres defence and came away with only three points for their endeavours to take a 6-3 lead after half-an-hour.
Castres hit back immediately with a cleverly-worked drop-goal from Dumora after a rare foray up field from the Top 14 side.
But soon afterwards, Gloucester had the first try of the game and deservedly so. After good work in the build-up from Charlie Sharples with a strong carry, Tom Marshall produced the moment of magic with a line break and final offload for Braley on his inside, who ran in under the posts. Cipriani converted for a 13-6 lead as the sides headed into the interval.
It was a more even battle for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but once again the Cherry and Whites took a more commanding grip on the game with another Cipriani penalty with 52 minutes gone.
The pressure was beginning to tell for Castres and it was a mystery as to how referee Marius Mitrea was not reaching for his pocket after another offside offence close to their own try-line gave Gloucester fly-half Cipriani an easy three-pointer for a 19-6 lead with 25 minutes to go.
However, two minutes later, the visitors were right back in it when Martin Laveau dotted down for a neat finish on the right-hand touchline after Woodward had erred by stepping out of the line too soon. Dumora would miss the conversion as it remained 19-11.
The visitors enjoyed the upper-hand throughout the encounter at scrum-time, while they were also winning more turnovers at the breakdown. This, however, only prevented Gloucester winning by a more comfortable advantage as they had the better in the territorial and possession stakes throughout.
Castres were rewarded for their dominance at the breakdown when Dumora made it a five-point deficit with the visitors right back in it with seven minutes to go.
But due to some brilliant defending on their own try-line and a couple of good turnovers, Gloucester managed to hold on for a precious 19-14 victory after a late scare from Castres side who grew more and more into the game.
Pens: Cipriani 4
Pens: Dumora 2
Ulster kicked off their Champions Cup campaign with a hard-fought 24-10 victory over Leicester Tigers in their clash at Kingspan Stadium.
Crossings from Alan O’Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale sealed an opening pool win, with John Cooney adding nine points off the tee.
But it was Leicester who would have the final say, Manu Tuilagi sliding over in the wet for a morale-boosting score, with the game ending in entertaining fashion.
Tries: O’Connor, Addison, Stockdale
Cons: Cooney 3
Racing 92 claimed a smash and grab 14-13 come-from-behind victory over the Scarlets in Champions Cup action at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
Racing 92 bossed the first-half, enjoying 64 percent territory and 60 percent possession, but it was actually Scarlets who led for 29 minutes of the first stanza after Leigh Halfpenny’s 10th minute penalty.
Scarlets were having to make twice the number of tackles as their opponents with a tackle efficiency of 84 percent compared to their opponents’ 95, while Racing made double the amount of metres as Scarlets.
Having kept themselves in the game up until four minutes to go, a line-out drive ensured Racing would sneak it as they were awarded the penalty try while scrum-half Davies was yellow-carded for bringing down the maul.
And so the away side would hold on for somewhat of a smash and grab 14-13 victory when it looked for all money that Scarlets’ second-half turnaround would open their Champions Cup account with a win.
Tries: Davies, McNicholl
For Racing 92:
Tries: Chouzenoux, Penalty Try
Montpellier started their Champions Cup campaign with a narrow and unconvincing 21-15 triumph over a gallant Edinburgh at the GGL Stadium.
Vern Cotter’s charges controlled much of the opening period and deserved the 21-10 lead given to them by Henry Immelman, Benjamin Fall and Gabriel Ngandebe tries.
The Scots responded via Stuart McInally’s score and Simon Hickey’s penalty before Dougie Fife reduced the deficit to six points going into the latter stages.
Edinburgh were the better side in the final quarter but they could not fashion the chance that would win them the match as Montpellier held on.
Tries: Immelman, Fall, Ngandebe
Cons: Pienaar 3
Yellow Card: B Du Plessis
Tries: McInally, Fife
Exeter and Munster opened their respective Champions Cup campaigns playing to a 10-10 stalemate at Sandy Park on Saturday afternoon.
It was a brutal game, with the step up to European rugby leaving the players gasping for breath as fatigue set in. The extremely windy conditions forced plenty of errors with both sides’ finishing poor. But although it was a low-scoring encounter, it was still a thrilling one.
Despite being the team playing in to the wind in the first-half, Munster were setting the tempo in the opening twenty minutes and made eighty metres upfield with a penalty at the scrum and the lineout. But it came to nothing as a simple turnover – the kick and chase aided by the mighty gusts meant all their good work was undone in a single moment.
However, the pressure of the wind began to toll and Munster were beginning to give away too many penalties. Exeter Chiefs captain Gareth Steenson slotted between the posts for a slender lead after Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony was penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Bath’s Freddie Burns gifted Toulouse victory in the Champions Cup after the four-time champions secured a narrow 22-20 triumph at the Rec.
The West Countrymen were two points in arrears going into the latter stages, but the hosts appeared set to win when Burns strolled over the line, only for the full-back to have the ball knocked out of his hand when already celebrating.
Todd Blackadder’s men had enjoyed a positive first half-hour, going 17-7 in front via Jamie Roberts and Burns tries, but Les Rouge et Noir kept themselves in the contest at the break.
Burns and Thomas Ramos traded penalties at the start of the second period, but Guitoune took Toulouse in front with 18 minutes remaining.
Bath then had several opportunities to win the game but Burns missed a late kick – his third of the contest – before the full-back’s embarrassing moment cost his side at the end.
Cheslin Kolbe was one of those who failed to stop the full-back, but the recently capped South African international gained his revenge by creating Guitoune’s try after stepping inside two defenders and passing to the centre.
That meant Toulouse went into the interval just five points in arrears but they were dealt a blow following Jerome Kaino’s yellow card for a high tackle.
Unlike Bath, who failed to benefit from the opposition being down to 14, the visitors scored 10 points while Ellis was absent. Ramos initially reduced the arrears from the tee before the French outfit moved ahead through Guitoune’s well-taken try.
Confidence was high in the Toulouse ranks but they bizarrely looked to move the ball from deep and it invited pressure.
It meant Blackadder’s charges could go in search of the winning points and the hosts thought they had it, but Burns’ mistakes meant they had to settle for just a losing bonus-point.
Tries: Roberts, Burns
Cons: Burns 2
Pens: Burns 2
Yellow Card: Ellis
Tries: Medard, Guitoune 2
Cons: Ramos 2
Yellow Card: Kaino
Leinster began the defence of their Champions Cup title with an outstanding display after they thrashed Wasps 52-3 at the RDS Arena.
The Irish province had to remain patient in the first-half but they did manage to go 14-3 up at the break through Sean Cronin and Luke McGrath tries.
Lima Sopoaga provided the Premiership team’s response from the tee, but they were outclassed for the whole 80 minutes and conceded six more times via James Lowe (twice), McGrath, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw and Jack McGrath.
It was always going to be difficult for the injury-stricken visitors, who were without several key players, and they lacked the quality to compete with the defending champions.
Tries: Cronin, L McGrath 2, Lowe 2, Larmour, Henshaw, J McGrath
Cons: Sexton 5, Byrne
Yellow Card: Sopoaga
Tries from Byron McGuigan (3), Rob Webber, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Luke James saw the Premiership outfit to the five points on Friday.
In reply, Perpignan, who had Manu Leiataua red carded early on, crossed through Pierre Lucas and Genesis Mamea on a tough evening at home.
Tries: Lucas, Mamea
Pens: Bousquet 4
Red Card: Leiataua
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: McGuigan 3, Webber, Van Rensburg, L James
Cons: De Klerk 3, Cliff
Pen: De Klerk