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Clermont hammer Saracens

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Alivereti Raka scored three times as Clermont Auvergne dominated the rescheduled Pool 2 encounter, thrashing defending champions Saracens 46-14 at Allianz Park.

In Auvergne’s rather brusque statement preceding this encounter, Les Jaunards said that they would use the past 24 hours as motivation and the visitors certainly delivered on that front.

Raka was the one to do the damage, touching down for a hat-trick inside 24 minutes which gave them a 21-0 buffer, before the Englishmen hit back when referee Nigel Owens awarded a penalty try.

Morgan Parra’s penalty kept the home team at arm’s length, however, and Flip van der Merwe’s try of the season contender in the second half effectively secured the victory.

Sarries were simply outplayed throughout and Wesley Fofana and Isaia Toeava completed a remarkable victory to condemn the Premiership team to a sixth consecutive defeat.

The hosts did get a consolation score through George Kruis but it has been an embarrassing couple of days for the Londoners.

On the other hand, Franck Azema’s men were outstanding and set the standards early on, going 7-0 ahead via Raka, who proved impossible to stop from close range after evading a poor tackle from Jamie George.

It was an opening try that rather summed up the contest. Auvergne were evidently fired up but the two-time European champions were absolutely atrocious in defence, missing a number of one-on-ones.

Sarries are usually so mentally tough that they can recover from poor starts but it began to affect even their most calm and collected individuals.

When Owen Farrell missed touch from a penalty, it allowed the French outfit to counter-attack and once again Raka was the one to benefit, barrelling his way through a porous rearguard.

Mark McCall’s team were shell-shocked and they conceded for a third time as George, who had a match to forget, missed another crucial tackle to let Clermont’s Fijian-born wing in for his hat-trick.

To their credit, they managed to respond when Fritz Lee illegally collapsed a maul, resulting in a penalty try and yellow card, but the comeback never materialised.

Auvergne rode out that sin-bin period and, at the start of the second half, they killed off the game with a truly brilliant score instigated by that man Raka. He beat several would-be tacklers, running fully 60 metres before off-loading to Van der Merwe, who merely had to cross the whitewash unopposed.

Saracens had gone mentally and the visitors could enjoy themselves. Although they only added two further tries, with Fofana and Toeava going over, it was enough to cause the hosts more pain.

Kruis touched down for Sarries late on but it was an awful evening for the English club.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: Penalty try, Kruis
Con: Farrell

For Clermont:
Tries: Raka 3, Van der Merwe, Fofana, Toeava
Cons: Parra 5
Pens: Parra 2
Yellow Card: Lee

La Rochelle and Ulster with Sunday wins

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La Rochelle underlined their European Champions Cup title credentials by thrashing last season’s quarter-finalists Wasps 49-29 at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

The French outfit were utterly relentless in the first half, scoring three converted tries via Pierre Aguillon, Pierre Bourgarit and Levani Botia. Brock James also kicked three penalties as Patrice Collazo’s men took a comfortable advantage into the interval.

Dai Young’s side had little answer to the power, tempo and skill level of the hosts, even if they initially responded to their opponents’ brilliance through Rob Miller and Thomas Young efforts.

If their director of rugby had expected a response from his charges in the second period, it failed to materialise as Vincent Rattez scored the home team’s fourth try.

Rattez added his second later on but Wasps managed to rescue a bonus-point with Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson and Will Stuart going over.

However, the dominant outfit in Pool 1 deservedly had the final word when Botia scampered clear.

La Rochelle are the current leaders of the Top 14 and Collazo’s team showed why on Sunday afternoon, displaying a range of skills and ambition that no team in Europe can match.

They were superb from the kick-off, almost going the length of the field, before outstanding youngster Thomas Jolmes was tackled into touch.

It was a sign of things to come but their bright start was only rewarded with a James’ penalty after Young had been sin-binned for a tip tackle. Instead, the visitors hit back with a well-worked move which resulted in Miller crossing the whitewash for a 5-3 advantage.

That score failed to prevent the La Rochelle juggernaut, however, as Danny Cipriani’s attempted clearance kick was pounced on by Aguillon, who touched down.

Another Wasps’ mistake then resulted in the hosts’ second try when a botched lineout allowed Bourgarit to go clear. Although the hooker was taken down just short of the line, the 20-year-old picked himself up and scored from close range.

Young’s excellent finish gave the English outfit hope but they were simply outclassed throughout and, after Botia had re-established their 12-point buffer, successive James three-pointers meant that the away side had it all to do in the second half.

Any hopes of a comeback were duly extinguished almost immediately through some intelligent play by scrum-half Alexi Bales. He allowed Daly to commit before feeding Victor Vito, who off-loaded to Rattez to score.

The England back did get some revenge by crossing the whitewash, but the wing’s opposite number went over for La Rochelle’s fifth.

To their credit, the visitors continued to battle and secured a try bonus-point when Simpson and Stuart touched down, but Botia scored late on to rubberstamp the French team’s victory.

The scorers:

For La Rochelle:
Tries: Aguillon, Bourgarit, Botia 2, Rattez 2
Cons: James 3, Lamb 2
Pens: James 3

For Wasps:
Tries: Miller, Young, Daly, Simpson, Stuart
Cons: Gopperth 2
Yellow Cards: Young, de Jongh

Ulster climbed to second place in their pool after they beat Harlequins 17-5 in a Champions Cup game played out in the snow on Sunday.

Jacob Stockdale’s try and John Cooney’s boot saw Ulster to the four points as they overtake Wasps, who lost at La Rochelle at the same time.

The weather didn’t help the game in terms of tries at Twickenham Stoop with only one crossing, coming in the 26th minute from wing Stockdale.

Cooney’s sixth minute penalty after Harlequins were caught offside moved Ulster into a 3-0 lead but he was off-target in the 20th minute, as both sides struggled with the slippery ball. In between those attempts, Harlequins lost their flanker, Chris Robshaw, following a head collision.

Ulster’s try came from a superb break from scrum-half Cooney before he offloaded to Stockdale who did the rest, making it an 8-0 advantage.

And that’s how things were going into the break as Quins were struggling to replicate their form of last weekend that saw them beat Saracens.

Harlequins weren’t helped by Danny Care failing his own HIA but did get on the board in the 51st minute when prop Kyle Sinckler went over from two metres out. That score was unconverted so Ulster’s lead was three points at 8-5 before Cooney struck on the hour for 11-5.

Cooney was on the board again in the 69th minute to extend his side’s lead to nine, crucially over the one-score margin as time ticked on.

And he secured the win with one minute left when a high tackle on Ross Kane allowed the scrum-half to kick his fourth penalty of the contest.

The scorers:

For Harlequins:
Try: Sinckler

For Ulster:
Try: Stockdale
Pens: Cooney 4

 

Munster too good for Leicester

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Munster made a statement of intent when they claimed a 33-10 bonus-point win over Leicester in their Pool Four clash at Thomond Park on Saturday.

The Irish province were full value for their win as they held the upper-hand for large periods. They eventually outscored the Tigers four tries to one and the result moves them to the top of their pool.

Munster were in control of proceedings from the outset and laid the groundwork for this win in the first half. They had the bulk of the possession and territory and led 23-3 at the interval.

They took the lead as early as the eighth minute courtesy of an Ian Keatley penalty but the game came alive midway through the half when Rhys Marshall showed great ball control to hold onto a pass from Conor Murray before powering his way over the try-line.

Keatley added the extras and he slotted another three-pointer off the kicking tee midway through the half which gave his side a 13-0 lead. And on the hour-mark, Keatley delivered a delightful chip kick – behind Leicester’s defence – which Simon Zebo gathered before diving over for a deserved try.

Once again, Keatley added the extras before George Ford opened Leicester’s account with a penalty five minutes before half-time. But it was Munster who would finish the half stronger as another Keatley penalty, in the 38th minute – after Tom Youngs was blown up for a neck roll on Chris Cloete – gave the hosts a comortable 23-3 lead at the interval.

The second half started cautiously as both sides tried to gain the ascendancy but Munster were back on top in the 55th minute when Marshall did well to win a turnover and after several waves of attack, the ball was shifted out wide where Darren Sweetnam drew in the last defender before offloading to Peter O’Mahony, who crossed in the right-hand corner.

Ten minutes later, Leicester got over for their only try when Harry Thacker barged over from close quarters off the back of a lineout drive deep inside Munster’s 22.

Three minutes later, the home side did struck back in similar fashion when Cloete emerged with the ball from under a mass of bodies after driving maul close to the Tigers’ try-line.

The final 10 minutes was a frantic affair as Leicester launched several attacks in a bid to haul in their hosts but they were unsuccesful as they were kept in check by a solid defensive effort from the Irish province.

The scorers:

For Munster:
Tries:
 Marshall, Zebo, O’Mahony, Cloete
Cons: Keatley 2
Pens: Keatley 3

For Leicester:
Try:
 Thacker
Con: Ford
Pen: Ford

Thanks to

Toulon hold of Bath

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Toulon moved three points clear at the top of Pool Five after they claimed a hard-fought 24-20 victory against Bath at Stade Mayol on Saturday.

As the scoreline suggests, this result could have gone either way although Toulon deserve credit for the way they fought back in the second half after Bath had the better of the early exchanges.

Toulon eventually outscored the Premiership side by three tries to two with a 76th minute five-pointer from Anthony Belleau proving to be the match-winning score in the end.

The visitors were fastest out of the blocks and after Rhys Priestland put them in front courtesy of a penalty in the 13th minute, they silenced the Stade Mayol faithful thanks to a fine try from Anthony Watson.

Aled Brew deserves plenty of credit as he did well with a barnstorming run down the left-hand touchline before shrugging off a tackle from Josua Tuisova. Brew was hauled in by Chris Ashton deep inside Toulon’s 22 but managed to free his arms and offloaded to Watson, who had an easy run-in for the opening try.

Priestland added the extras which meant Bath led 10-0 but Toulon struck back in the 34th minute when Ma’a Nonu rounded off a superb team effort which was initiated by Semi Radradra. The ball went through several pairs of hands before Nonu found himself in the clear and he cantered in for a deserved try which Francois Trinh-Duc converted.

On the stroke of half-time, Toulon were blown up for illegal scrummaging and Priestland slotted the resulting penalty which meant the visitors held a 13-7 lead as the teams changed sides at the interval.

10 minutes into the second half, Bath were reduced to 14 men when Chris Cook was sent to the sin bin for a cynical defensive indiscretion close to his try-line.

Shortly afterwards, Alby Mathewson gathered from the back of a scrum on Bath’s five-metre line before barging over for his side’s second try.

Trinh-Duc converted which gave Toulon the lead for the first time but on the hour-mark Bath regained the lead in bizarre fashion. This, after Tuisova took a quick throw-in at a lineout close to his try-line. Ashton gathered behind his posts and attempted a clearance kick which sliced off his boot and didn’t come close to going into touch. This meant that Jonathan Joseph gathered close to the touchline before crossing the whitewash for an easy try.

Priestland converted and with the score at 20-14 in their favour, Bath were on course for a deserved triumph. But Toulon fought back via a penalty from Trinh-Duc in the 66th minute which set up a thrilling finish.

And 10 minutes later, replacement fly-half Belleau caught Bath’s defence by surprise when he stabbed a grubber kick through deep inside his opponents’ 22 before regathering and dotting down.

That meant Toulon led 22-20 but Belleau sealed the win when he slotted the resulting conversion, with Toulon repelling Bath late on.

The scorers:

For Toulon:
Tries:
 Nonu, Mathewson, Belleau
Cons: Trinh-Duc 2, Belleau
Pen: Trinh-Duc

For Bath:
Tries: 
Watson, Joseph
Cons: Priestland 2
Pens: Priestland 2
Yellow Card: Cook

Montpellier prevail against Glasgow

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Kelian Galletier touched down twice as Montpellier kept their European Champions Cup hopes alive following an impressive 29-22 victory over the Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.

The Warriors have a perfect record in the Guinness PRO14 but they have been far less assured in Europe’s top-tier competition and this defeat continued their disappointing run.

Vern Cotter’s team came to move the ball and they delivered, scoring four tries in all via Galletier, Jacques du Plessis and a penalty try.

Although Leonardo Sarto (twice) and George Turner crossed the whitewash for Glasgow, the French outfit ultimately had too much quality for the hosts.

After a disappointing start to the game, where there were far more spills than thrills, the encounter burst into life. Finn Russell opened the scoring from the tee before Aaron Cruden showed his class, scything through a hole and throwing a perfectly weighted pass to Galletier.

The flanker still had plenty of work to do but he finished with aplomb, holding off two attempted tackles and touching down out wide.

Sarto responded for the Scottish team, taking a nice line off the shoulder of scrum-half Ali Price, before Turner increased their buffer by benefiting from Russell’s good work to score.

Dave Rennie’s side were in control but then came the turning point in the contest. With the hosts under no pressure, Turner needlessly took Louis Picamoles off the ball and he was yellow carded as a result.

With their opponents down to 14 men, the visitors profited. Firstly, Galletier spotted a gap in the Warriors’ defence to reduce the arrears before their maul surged towards the line. Jonny Gray, who felt that he had little option, took down the drive and referee Matthew Carley duly sin-binned the lock and awarded a penalty try.

Montpellier took that momentum into the second period and within seven minutes of the restart they had gained the bonus-point.

Cotter’s men are a difficult team to stop when they are on the front foot and du Plessis rewarded their physicality by going over from close range.

It was now a long way back for the Warriors, particularly with the Top 14 club hitting their stride, but they displayed commendable resilience to fight back.

They constructed a wonderful try, which ended in Sarto touching down after Russell, Ruaridh Jackson and Huw Jones had combined.

However, Montpellier always seemed to have the edge after the opening quarter and Frans Steyn’s penalty meant that they secured the win and moved level on points with Exeter Chiefs in Pool 3.

The scorers:

For Glasgow Warriors:
Tries: Sarto 2, Turner
Cons: Russell 2
Pen: Russell
Yellow Cards: Turner, Gray

For Montpellier:
Tries: Galletier 2, penalty try, J. du Plessis
Cons: Steyn 2
Pen: Steyn

Sarries scrap through against Ospreys

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Saracens continued with their fine start to the tournament when they claimed a 36-34 bonus-point win over the Ospreys at Allianz Park on Saturday.

Despite outscoring their visitors five tries to four, the champions had to dig deep for this result and the sides were level at 17-17 at half-time after the Ospreys dominated for most of the first half.

Ospreys were dealt a double blow shortly before kick off when their Wales international flankers Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric were both forced to withdraw with back injuries.

This led to Guy Mercer replacing Lydiate and Sam Cross took Lydiate’s place in the Welsh region’s run-on side while prop Gareth Thomas was drafted onto the replacements bench as back row cover.

Saracens were fastest out of the blocks and opened the scoring as early as the eighth minute when long passes from Owen Farrell and Alex Goode put Chris Wyles in the clear and the USA international cantered over for an easy try.

The Ospreys struck back in style shortly afterwards when, after a strong run, Cory Allen was brought to ground inside Sarries’ 22 but he did well to free his arms and offload to Dan Evans, who went over for a well-taken try.

And midway through the half, Nicky Smith did well with a strong run before the ball came out to Evans, who cut through the home side’s defence with a telling break, before crossing for his second five-pointer.

Dan Biggar added the extras which meant the visitors led 14-7 and he extended his side’s lead courtesy of a penalty on the hour-mark.

Farrell cancelled that effort out with a penalty of his own in the 34th minute before Schalk Brits went over for Sarries’ second try and the conversion from Farrell meant the teams were all square as they changed sides at the interval.

A 45th minute penalty from Biggar, restored the Welsh region’s lead before Sarries went in front, ten minutes later, courtesy of a penalty try after Evans stopped a certain try when he knocked the ball from Nick Tompkins’ hands close to his try-line.

Evans was yellow carded for his indiscretion and with the score 24-20 in their favour, Sarries had their tails up. And in the 61st minute, they secured their bonus point when Liam Williams went over for their fourth try although Farrell missed with the conversion attempt.

The visitors continued to attack and they were rewarded in the 69th minute when Owen Watkin beat a couple of defenders before dotting down under the posts and Biggar’s conversion meant Sarries held a slender two-point lead with 10 minutes left to play.

The home side responded when Tompkins went over for their fifth try, three minutes later, but the Ospreys did not surrender and shortly before the end, Cross rounded off a flowing move in the right-hand corner which meant the visitors left Allianz Park with two deserved bonus points.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: 
Wyles, Brits, Williams, Penalty try, Tompkins
Cons: Farrell 3
Pen: Farrell

For Ospreys:
Tries:
 Evans 2, Watkin, Cross
Cons: Biggar 4
Pens: Biggar 2
Yellow Card: Evans

Leinster keep winning

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Leinster secured a comfortable 34-18 victory over Glasgow Warriors in European Champions Cup action at Scotstoun Stadium on Saturday.

Tries from Johnny Sexton, Noel Reid and a Cian Healy brace proved too much for Glasgow who scored through Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour.

Sexton gave Leinster a 3-0 lead with a penalty after three minutes but Glasgow fly-half Finn Russell responded on the 15 minute mark.

Glasgow scored the first try of the game on 17 minutes largely thanks to their British and Irish Lions contingent. Russell got the wrap around from Peter Horne and Russell’s clever grubber kick through was booted further ahead by Seymour for Hogg to dot down just within the dead ball line. Russell added the extras for a 10-3 lead,

Soon after, Leinster had the penalty and opted for touch deep in Glasgow territory. The driving maul was halted just short and from the recycled ball Healy powered over from close range. Sexton’s conversion levelled the score at 10-10 after 25 minutes.

Leinster won a penalty after the hooter as reward for their pressure and opted for touch instead of the three points. That gamble paid off when Healy powered over at the back of the driving maul for his brace. Sexton’s conversion gave Leinster a 17-10 lead as they headed into the interval.

Shortly after the interval, Sexton dotted down after his classy give-and-go with Scott Fardy, converting his own try and taking the visitors out to a 24-10 lead.

Glasgow responded as Seymour showed good pace to finish in the corner as the ball was spun wide by the Warriors. Russell missed the conversion but added a penalty 15 minutes later to bring the hosts within a converted try, 24-18 behind and 15 minutes to go.

Sexton stretched Leinster’s advantage back to 27-18 and was taken off immediately afterwards, a sign head coach Leo Cullen felt it might have been job done by his star playmaker.

Reid put the icing on the cake after he cut back inside through a big hole in the Glasgow midfield to race in under the posts to secure the bonus point for Leinster as they ran out 34-18 winners.

The scorers:

For Glasgow:
Tries: Hogg, Seymour
Con: Russell
Pens: Russell 2

For Leinster:
Tries: Healy 2, Sexton, Reid
Cons: Sexton 3, Byrne
Pens: Sexton 2

Bath makes it two from two against Scarlets

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Bath claimed a precious 18-13 win over Scarlets in European Rugby Champions Cup action at Parc y Scarlets on Friday evening.

The wet and windy conditions made handling difficult and thus both sides opted for a tactical kicking game aiming to feed off the mistakes of the other.

Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland and Scarlets full-back Leigh Halfpenny exchanged penalties in the opening 10 minutes of the game.

Sam Underhill then did good work at the breakdown to get his body over the ball and clamp down to earn his side a penalty which Priestland gratefully accepted to restore Bath’s lead to 6-3 with 13 minutes gone.

A period of tactical kicking ensued with both sides trying to gain the ascendancy in the territorial stakes or force handling errors for penalties.

But much to the delight of the rapturous home crowd Scarlets claimed the lead with a well taken counter-attacking try. Great handling and interplay between backs and forwards as the hosts spread it out to the left ensured Steff Evans made the break before shifting it to Gareth Davies who managed to offload from the ground returning it to Evans who dotted down between the posts as Halfpenny converted for a 10-6 22nd minute lead.

But Bath regained the lead with two penalty goals from Priestland; one for not releasing and the other for a high shot as the sides went into the interval with Bath leading Scarlets 12-10.

Priestland extended the lead in the 55th minute to 15-10 and again to 18-10 after 68 minutes with penalty goals.

Halfpenny responded with a penalty goal of his own in the 73rd minute to bring Scarlets back within five points with seven minutes to go.

But Bath held on to their five-point lead for a precious 18-13 victory.

The scorers:

For Scarlets:
Try: Evans
Con: Halfpenny
Pens: Halfpenny 2

For Bath:
Pens: Priestland 6

Thanks to

Sarries start with a bang

1

Saracens made a statement of intent as they beat Northampton Saints 57-13 in their Champions Cup opener in Northampton on Sunday.

The champions scored eight tries in a convincing victory away from home that sends a strong message to the rest of the teams in their pool and the entire competition.

Saints opened the scoring with a Stephen Myler penalty before Sarries scored the opening try when Liam Willaims crossed over in the left corner.

Owen Farrell added a penalty before Brad Barritt gathered from the back of a drivng maul to score Sarries’ second try.

Williams scored another, this time in the right-hand corner after gathering a loose ball.

Myler added another penalty to reduce the deficit but Northampton suffered a setback when David Ribbans was sent off before Sarries scored again just before half-time through another powerful driving maul which Calum Clark finished, making the half-time score 29-6 to the away side.

Vincent Koch scored for Saracens very early in the second half following an excellent dummy and break from Farrell. Koch’s fellow prop Mako Vunipola also went in, crashing through three defenders on his way to the whitewash in the 55th minute.

Alex Lozowski came off the bench and continued his fine form by scoring after taking an inside ball from Williams off the back of a great backline set move.

Mike Haywood scored a consolation try for the home side but Ben Spencer showed great instinct to dive on a loose ball at the back of a Saintsruck on their try-line to secure an emphatic victory for Saracens.

The scorers:

For Northampton:
Try: 
Haywood
Con: Mallinder
Pens: Myler 2
Yellow Card: Ribbans

For Saracens:
Tries: Williams 2, Barritt, Clark, Koch, Vunipola, Lozowski, Spencer
Cons: Farrell 7
Pen: Farrell

All your weekend Highlights

Castres and Munster play to a draw

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Castres and Munster could not be separated as they played out a hard-fought 17-17 draw in their Champions Cup clash in Castres on Sunday.

Last minute drama was provided by a questionable TMO call and a missed Benjamin Urdapilleta drop-goal that could’ve changed the final result.

After five minutes without any points scored, Munster were dealt a blow when Conor Murray was sent to the sin bin for tackling a player without the ball in a scoring position.

The home side made full use of their numerical advantage and were rewarded in the 12th minute when Robert Ebersohn intercepted a wayward pass from Chris Farrell and sprinted 60 meters to score under the poles.

When Murray returned, Simon Zebo managed to get one back for Munster, crashing over from a few meters out to level the score on the half-hour mark.

Castres did not have to wait long to regain the lead though – Julien Dumora hit a wondeful angle before scoring their second try in the 32nd minute.

Five minutes later, Ebersohn went from hero to villian for the hosts when he was yellow carded for cynical play at the breakdown. Tyler Bleyendaal converted the resulting penalty which meant Castres held a slender 14-10 at half-time.

Munster scored early in the second-half when Murray tapped and passed to Dave Kilcoyne who crashed through a few surprised Castres defenders for a deserved try.

Urdapilleta landed a penalty in the 51st minute to level the score at 17-17.

The rest of the match was a slugfest but neither side could add to their points tally although Castres will feel they were denied a chance to secure victory in the game’s dying moments. After the final hooter sounded, a questionable call was made when Robin Copeland knocked the ball out of a Castres player’s hands at a ruck. That was ruled as a knock-on and the seemed to stun most observers.

Castres had another chance to secure vitory but Urdapilleta pushed his drop-goal attempt wide of the posts and the two sides had to settle for the draw.

The scorers:

For Castres:
Tries:Ebersohn, Dumora
Cons:Urdapilleta 2
Pens:Urdapilleta
Yellow card:Ebersohn

For Munster:
Tries:Zebo, Kilcoyne
Cons:Bleyendaal 2
Pens:Bleyendaal
Yellow card:Murray

All your weekend Highlights

Toulon escape first round embarrassment

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Toulon was able to hold off a brave Scarlets side in a second half comeback to secure a first round win at home on Sunday when they beat them 21-20

The home side made a bright start and dominated the early exchanges but, to their credit, the Welsh region came back strongly and the result was in the balance until the end.

Both sides eventually scored two tries apiece and although the Scarlets were the dominant side in the second half, they had to settle for a losing bonus-point.

Toulon made a terrific start and opened the scoring as early as the sixth minute when Eric Escane intercepted a pass from Aled Davies just inside Scarlets’ half and raced away before crossing for a deserved try.

Anthony Belleau slotted the conversion and extended les Toulonnais’ lead a minute later when he landed a penalty after several Scarlets players went off their feet at a ruck.

The visitors had a chance to reduce the deficit in the 11th minute when Swan Rebbadj played the ball from an offside position but Leigh Halfpenny’s shot at goal was off target.

That miss proved costly as Toulon were soon on the front-foot again and were rewarded in the 13th minute when Guilhem Guirado scored their second try after gathering a pass from Josua Tuisova, who set up the try with a bullocking run – in which he flattened Halfpenny – in the build-up.

Ten minutes later, the Scarlets were penalised again and Belleau added his second penlty which gave his side a comfortable 18-0 lead. Halfpenny eventually opened Scarlets’ account courtesy of a 33rd minute penalty after Ma’a Nonu infringed at a breakdown.

Three minutes later, the complexion of the game changed when Hugo Bonneval was sent to the sin bin for taking Aled Davies out illegaly at a ruck deep inside Toulon’s half.

The visitors did not benefit from their numerical advantage immediately, but they got the second half off to a superb start when Johnny McNicholl crossed for their first try.

This, after Rhys Patchell launched a teasing cross-field kick which Chris Ashton failed to deal with behind his try-line and the bounce of the ball favoured McNicholl who went over for the five-pointer.

That score swung the momentum in the Scarlets’ favour and they had the bulk of the possession and enjoyed territorial advantage for the next 10 minutes.

And in the 50th minute, Halfpenny gathered a well-timed pass from Scott Williams before gliding through a gap and diving over for his side’s second try.

Halfpenny dusted himself off and added the extras which meant the match was evenly poised with Touon leading 18-17. And on the hour-mark, the former Toulon stalwart slotted his second penalty – after another Rebbadj infringement – which gave his side the lead for the first time.

They surrendered their lead three minutes later, however, when Francois Trinh-Duc kicked a penalty after Tadhg Beirne was blown up for entering a ruck illegally.

That set up a tense finish but although Toulon spent most of the closing stages camped inside the visitors’ 22 – and after the Scarlets were reduced to 14 men shortly before the end when Beirne was sent to the sin bin for a cynical foul on defence – they could not extend their lead.

The scorers:

For Toulon:
Tries:
 Escande, Guirado
Con: Belleau
Pens: Belleau 2, Trinh-Duc
Yellow Card: Bonneval

For Scarlets:
Tries:
 McNicholl, Halfpenny
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 2
Yellow Card: Beirne

All your weekend Highlights

Exeter battle pass Glasgow

0

Exeter Chiefs began their European Champions Cup campaign with a 24-15 victory over Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park on Saturday evening.

Tries from Harry Williams, Jonny Hill and Sam Simmonds proved too much for Glasgow who scored through Tommy Seymour and Lee Jones.

Finn Russell gave Glasgow the early 3-0 lead after Exeter were pinged at the scrum. Tommy Seymour then scored the game’s opening try in the ninth minute after he was found with a beautiful cross-kick out on the right wing. Russell added the extras to make it 10-0.

Exeter hit back in the 17th minute when Williams went over after a series of powerful carries from the Chiefs’ forwards. Steenson added the extras to cut the deficit to three.

In the 26th minute, Exeter had wrestled the lead back when Jonny Hill went over at the back of the five metre lineout driving maul. Steenson slotted the conversion to make it 14-10 to the hosts which is how stayed until the half-time break.

Steenson extended the lead to 17-10 with his penalty shortly after the interval.

Soon after, Glasgow stormed back in to the tie with an opportunistic try as Jones pounced on the grubber kick through from Russell that wasn’t well dealt with at all by Exeter scrum-half Nic White. Russell missed the conversion but the deficit was still only two at 17-15.

With three minutes to go, Exeter were finally rewarded for their persistent pressure in the face of staunch Glasgow defence which was finally penetrated when Sam Simmonds burst over after a number of phases and a series of powerful carries from the Chiefs’ forwards to give the hosts a 24-15 victory.

The scorers:

For Exeter:
Tries: Williams, Hill, Simmonds
Cons: Steenson 3
Pen: Steenson

For Glasgow:
Tries: Seymour, Jones
Con: Russell
Pen: Russell

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La Rochelle starts with a win

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La Rochelle opened their European Champions Cup account with a 34-27 victory over Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday evening.

Tries from Hikairo Forbes, Dany Priso and a Geoffrey Dumayrou brace proved too much for Harlequins who scored through Charlie Matthews, Joe Marchant and Will Collier.

Forbes opened the scoring with a well-taken try converted by Ryan Lamb as La Rochelle took an early 7-0 lead.

Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and Lamb then traded penalties before Matthews hit back with a converted try to level matters at 10-10 after 16 minutes.

La Rochelle’s second try came after slick interchange between centre Dumayrou and lock Jason Eaton with Dumayrou’s score converted by Lamb to make it 17-10 after 26 minutes.

Priso got La Rochelle’s third bashing over with his low body position after good build-up down the left flank from the visitors.

Harlequins hit back with a try in the 32nd minute when Marchant crosses the whitewash after a clean break from Mike Brown and good leg strength to go over from 15 metres out. Smith converted to cut the deficit to seven points at 24-17.

Five minutes after the restart, Dumayrou had his brace after Lamb sliced through the defence. Lamb converted the try he created to give the visitors a 31-17 lead.

Cynical play from Kevin Gourdon meant he saw yellow for a deliberate knockdown after 55 minutes as La Rochelle were temporarily reduced to fourteen men.

Harlequins capitalised on their numerical advantage after good interplay and hands between forwards and backs ensured Will Collier dotted down. Smith converted to make the deficit 10 at 34-24.

Smith added a penalty to late on to make it a nervous final few minutes for La Rochelle who managed to hold on for the 34-27 victory.

The scorers:

For Harlequins:
Tries: Matthews, Marchant, Collier
Cons: Smith 3
Pens: Smith

For La Rochelle:
Tries: Forbes, Dumayrou 2, Priso
Cons: Lamb 4
Pens: Lamb 2
Yellow Card: Gourdon

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Racing 92 with a winning start

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Racing 92 opened their European Champions Cup account with a 22-18 victory over Leicester at Stade Yves du Manoir on Saturday.

Tries from Leone Nakarawa, Dimitri Szarzewski and Teddy Thomas proved too much for Leicester who scored through tries from Luke Hamilton and Jonny May.

Leicester took an early lead when Hamilton bashed over showing good support play after Nick Malouf did exceptionally well to tidy up a loose pass and break.

The hosts responded in the 18th minute from a five metre attacking scrum. The ball was switched to the right and after a few phases Nakarawa showed excellent skills in getting the hands free to dot down between two defenders.

George Ford restored the visitors’ lead but Racing were keen to assert their dominance and grabbed their second try soon afterwards. Once again it was good work from Nakarawa who broke off the back of the maul and passed inside to Baptiste Chozenoux who offloaded timeously for the on-running Szarzewski who was not going to be stopped from that sort of distance.

Another Nakarawa offload allowed Wenceslas Lauret to break before being brought down. However, from the next phase the ball was switched out wide for Thomas who had plenty of space on the overlap to dive over and give the hosts a 19-10 lead.

Virimi Vakatawa was then yellow-carded and the visitors capitalised on their numerical advantage from the resulting penalty when Jonny May made it a four-point deficit after a brilliantly executed set piece from Leicester with Toomua delivering the pinpoint pass as Racing 92 took a 19-15 lead in to the interval.

The first points of the second-half came on the 60-minute mark when Maxime Machenaud slotted the penalty after Leicester were penalised at the breakdown to extend the home side’s lead to 22-15.

Ford responded for the visitors with five minutes to go slotting a penalty after Racing were penalised for a dangerous tackle just outside the 22 but Racing 92 held on for a 22-18 win.

The scorers:

For Racing 92:
Tries: Nakarawa, Szarzewski, Thomas
Cons: Iribaren 2
Pen: Machenaud
Yellow Card: Vakatawa

For Leicester:
Tries: Hamilton, May
Con: Ford
Pens: Ford 2

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Leinster secure bonus point win over Montpellier

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Leinster made a solid start to their Champions Cup campaign when they secured a 24-17 victory over Montpellier in Dublin on Saturday.

The three-time champions were in control of proceedings for large periods and held a slender 12-7 lead at half-time. The Irish province eventually outscored their visitors four tries to two and although Montpellier were competitive throughout, they had to settle with a losing bonus-point.

The opening quarter was a cagey affair although Montpellier had a chance to open the scoring in the 14th minute when Tadhg Furlong was penalised for illegal scrummaging but Ruan Pienaar’s shot at goal was off target.

Leinster opened the scoring three minutes later courtesy of a well-worked try from Joey Carbery. Leinster’s forwards initially set up a couple of phases inside Montpellier’s 22 before striking out wide with their backs. Carbery joined the line at pace and gathered a long pass from Ross Byrne before gliding through a gap in Leinster’s defence to cross over in the right-hand corner.

The home side continued to attack and were rewarded in the 27th minute when Josh van der Flier showed great determination to burst through a tackle before dotting down on the whitewash.

The next 10 minutes was evenly contested but Montpellier opened their account in the 38th minute when Nemani Nadolo pounced on a loose ball deep inside Leinster’s half before crossing for his side’s opening try which Ruan Pienaar converted.

Leinster made a terrific start to the second half and extended their lead two minutes after the restart when Robbie Henshaw crossed the whitewash after Jesse Mogg failed to deal with a high ball deep inside his 22.

Both sides continued to attack during the next 20 minutes and it was Montpellier who were rewarded when Nadolo shrugged off a couple of defenders before powering over the whitewash for his second try.

Leinster did not panic though and secured their try-scoring bonus point in the 66th minute when Barry Daly went over in the left-hand corner after fine interplay between Henshaw and Carbery in the build-up.

Eight minutes before the end, Pienaar made sure of his side’s bonus point when he added a penalty after Leinster’s forwards went off their feet at a ruck.

There were some nervous moments for the hosts as they finished the match with 14 men after Adam Byrne was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on in the 74th minute, but they did enough to hold on for a deserved win.

The scorers:

For Leinster:
Tries:
 Carbery, Van dr Flier, Henshaw, Daly
Cons: Nacewa, R Byrne
Yellow Card: A Byrne

For Montpellier:
Tries: 
Nadolo 2
Cons: Pienaar 2
Pen: Pienaar

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Ulster take win against Wasps

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Ulster made a fine start to their Champions Cup campaign when they claimed a hard-fought 19-9 triumph over Wasps in Belfast on Friday.

The home side were made to work very hard to secure this result but they got the rub of the green in the end and eventually outscored their visitors two tries to none.

Wasps, will be kicking themselves though as they held a six-point lead early in the second half but things went pear-shaped after that and this defeat means they are now on a five-match losing streak in all competitions.

The visitors held a slight edge during the opening exchanges and after Ulster’s pack infringed at a scrum, the Premiership side took the lead in the fourth minute courtesy of a long range penalty from Elliot Daly.

The next 10 minutes was an arm wrestle as both sides tried to gain the ascendancy but Ulster eventually drew level in the 14th minute when John Cooney slotted a penalty after Wasps were blown up for offside play on defence.

The rest of the half saw both sides giving the ball plenty of air but a plethora of unforced errors meant that neither side crossed the whitewash during this period.

On the stroke of half-time, Wasps added their second penalty – Jimmy Gopperth slotting the three-pointer from the kicking tee after Kyle McCall was penalised for illegal scrummaging.

That meant the visitors led 6-3 at the interval but, as the scoreline suggests, the match was still evenly poised with 40 minutes left to play.

Wasps were fastest out of the blocks after the restart and extended their lead in the 47th minute when Gopperth added his second penalty after Stuart McCloskey infringed at the breakdown.

That was the sign for Ulster to step up a few gears on attack and after an extended period camped inside Wasps’ 22, they thought they had scored the game’s opening try in the 53rd when Christian Lealiifano went over the try-line. His effort was disallowed, however, as television replays revealed that he had planted the ball inches short of the try-line before knocking on.

The disappointment in Ulster’s ranks was tangible but two minutes later they had plenty to smile about after Jacob Stockdale scored the game’s opening try. This, after Charles Piutau did well to draw in a couple of defenders before offloading to Stockdale, who dotted down in the left-hand corner.

Cooney failed to convert but two minutes later, the hosts took the lead in superb fashion when Piutau and Stockdale combined brilliantly before Stockdale threw an inside pass to Stuart McCloskey, who powered his way over the try-line with two defenders on his back.

Despite holding a narrow 13-9 lead, Ulster continued to attack and although they did not score more tries, they finished the match stronger. In the 69th minute,  Lealiifano extended their lead courtesy of a penalty after Ashley Johnson strayed offside on defence.

Wasps finished the game with 14 men after Josh Bassett was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Louis Ludik in the 75th minute and Lealiifano slotted the resulting penalty which sealed Ulster’s win and also denied Wasps a losing bonus point.

The scorers:

For Ulster:
Tries: 
Stockdale, McCloskey
Pens: Cooney, Lealiifano 2

For Wasps:
Pens:
 Daly, Gopperth 2
Yellow Card: Bassett

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Get ready for Europe’s elite

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Ready, set, go for European Championship

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This weekend sees the European Championship and Challenge cup’s kicking off with defending champions Saracens starting their defence against the Saints on Sunday.

It will be a mouthwatering weekend of rugby as the top teams in Europe again start their quest for European glory.

We see last years PRO12 winners traveling to take on French powerhouse Toulon which will see Halfpenny return to the club that shown him the door earlier this year.

Premiership champions, Exeter Chiefs will host Glasgow Warriors on Saturday with last season’s tournament runners-up and Top 14 winners, Clermont, continue their search for ultimate European glory against the Ospreys on Sunday.

Ulster take on Wasp in the opening round and will want to improve from last years results as well as Harlequins who take on La Rochelle

The European season kicks off with the clash of last season’s defeated finalists, Gloucester, and Pau at Stade du Hameau on Thursday.

Get the weekend fixtures all here….

 

Saracens best in Europe again

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Saracens made it back-to-back Champions Cup triumphs as they deservedly defeated Clermont 28-17 at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Clermont were making noises before this encounter that this was a much-changed team, one that had overcome the mental lapses that previously encompassed their displays in both domestic and European finals. However, it was not to be for les Jaunards as their opponents displayed greater fitness in the second period.

Even the opening quarter hinted that work still has to be done, with Clermont initially unable to deal with a powerful Sarries side.

Tries for Chris Ashton – his 37th in Europe’s top-tier competition, breaking Vincent Clerc’s record – and George Kruis moved the Premiership club into a dominant 12-0 advantage before the Frenchmen got themselves back into the contest via Remi Lamerat.

Owen Farrell added two penalties after the interval to keep Clermont at arm’s length but a moment of magic, which ended in Nick Abendanon touching down, set up a tense finale.

Sarries were not at their best but Auvergne appeared to tire going into the last 10 minutes and Alex Goode completed the win and sealed a second European trophy.

The last time Saracens and Clermont faced each other in a knockout match on British soil, the visitors were blown away by a superb performance from the Englishman.

Sarries’ start paved the way for their 46-6 victory in 2014 and they began this match with similar intent at Murrayfield. Les Jaunards were evidently tense and Marcelo Bosch benefited, scything through a hole in the French outfit’s midfield.

Ashton, as is typical with the arch try-scorer, was on hand to take the pass and charge towards the line, but Clermont were thankful for the intervention of Abendanon who scrambled well.

Mark McCall’s men continued to dominate the encounter, despite Scott Spedding and Peceli Yato briefly causing panic in a usually impregnable rearguard, and they were rewarded with an early try.

The defending champions initially looked to their forwards, driving into the heart of Clermont, before they were given a penalty advantage. They then moved it wide and an inch-perfect kick from Goode sent Ashton over for his record-breaking score.

French rugby is renowned for its physicality but they were losing every collision and a second touchdown was soon forthcoming.

Once again, the pack created the issues for Franck Azema’s side and with the holes gradually appearing, Richard Wigglesworth fed Goode. The full-back was brought down inches from the left-hand post but Kruis was on hand to barrel across the whitewash and extend Saracens’ buffer.

Clermont had barely fired a shot but they finally gave themselves an opportunity five metres from the opposition line. Although their first attack was held up, a stable scrum allowed them to go through the backs and, after good initial work from Aurelien Rougerie, Lamerat took the ball off his centre partner and burrowed over.

At 12-7 down, the Frenchmen were still in the contest at the interval and they opened the second period impressively, threatening via Spedding after David Strettle had sent him clear.

Clermont failed to add to that on the scoreboard, though, with Camille Lopez missing a drop-goal attempt and almost immediately Saracens made them pay for that profligacy when Farrell kicked a penalty.

At that point, Clermont, particularly with their renowned mental fragilities, could have folded, but they hit back with one of the tries of the season.

It started with Spedding counter-attacking from well inside his own 22 and taking play up to the 10-metre line. Excellent hands gave the outstanding Yato space on the left and a superb offload by the Fijian allowed Abendanon an easy run across the whitewash.

Farrell and Morgan Parra then traded penalties as just one-point separated the sides going into the final quarter.

It was about which team would maintain their composure and the defending champions managed to keep Clermont pinned in their own half.

The pressure was unrelenting and eventually Goode scored to take them eight points clear before Farrell’s three-pointer ended the game as a contest, creating more heartbreak for Clermont.

The scorers:

For Clermont:
Tries: Lamerat, Abendanon
Cons: Parra 2
Pen: Parra

For Saracens:
Tries: Ashton, Kruis, Goode
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 3

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Saracens get pass Munster to reach final

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Saracens produced an outstanding display as they reached their second successive Champions Cup final following an excellent 26-10 triumph over Munster at the Aviva Stadium.

These two sides have arguably been the form teams of this year’s competition and the opening period was an unsurprisingly fierce contest.

It was dominated by the power of the forward packs and the box-kicking prowess of the two scrum-halves. The Irish province arguably shaded those contests but it was Sarries who went into the interval 6-3 ahead thanks to two Owen Farrell penalties.

Tyler Bleyendaal had given the Limerick-based outfit the lead but, having had the better of proceedings in the first half, Munster paid the price for failing to build on that early three-pointer.

Sarries managed the contest impressively in the second half and Mako Vunipola’s try set them on their way before Chris Wyles sealed their place in the showpiece event yet again.

Rassie Erasmus’ men began with the type of vim and vigour they have become renowned for this season, immediately putting the visitors under pressure at the set-piece.

Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan went to work at the scrum, earning territory and then a penalty as the PRO12 team carved out a chance in the opposition 22.

CJ Stander went close but ferocious defence kept him out and they had to be content with a Bleyendaal three-pointer.

Saracens soon levelled via Farrell but it was Munster who were controlling the field position. Mark McCall’s side were struggling to maintain their discipline and, after they had been warned for two late tackles, Jackson Wray was sin-binned for a high shot on Duncan Williams.

The Irishmen duly continued with their territorial dominance on the encounter but Sarries’ famed rearguard remained firm and, once Wray returned, the defending champions started to assert their authority in the front-row.

Under pressure, Munster infringed and from in front of the posts Farrell was on target to give his team the advantage going into the break.

Play reversed at the start of the second half with Sarries gaining most of the front foot ball but, much like the Irish province in the first 40 minutes, they initially failed to take advantage when George Kruis knocked on with the line a metre away.

They were not to be denied, however, and from close range Vunipola burrowed his way over for a ten-point buffer with a quarter of the match remaining.

Farrell then added a penalty before Wyles latched onto the fly-half’s grubber through to touch down and end the game as a contest.

Saracens could now relax with their place in the final against either Clermont Auvergne or Leinster assured, but they still had time for another score when their number ten kicked a three-pointer.

Munster did have the final word through Stander, but that proved to be just a consolation score, as Saracens advance to the final at Murrayfield.

The scorers:

For Munster:
Try: Stander
Con: Keatley
Pen: Bleyendaal

For Saracens:
Tries: M Vunipola, Wyles
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 4
Yellow Card: Wray

Lions squad announced

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Via Telegraph

Dylan Hartley has been omitted from the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer’s tour to New Zealand.

Hartley is the third successive England captain to miss out, following in the footsteps of Chris Robshaw and Steve Borthwick, but the RBS 6 Nations champions still supply the largest contingent, numbering 16 players.

Head coach Warren Gatland has selected a 41-man squad for the 10 fixtures culminating in a three-Test series against New Zealand, including surprise call-ups for Ireland full-back Jared Payne, England wing Jack Nowell and Wales back row Ross Moriarty.

Hartley has lost out to England team-mate Jamie George, who has been selected despite acting as understudy at hooker for his international captain Rory Best and Ken Owens.

Despite reports of his inclusion, there was no place for two-time tourist Jamie Roberts but Jonathan Joseph has made the cut as one of the centres.

There are two Scots present in wing Tommy Seymour and full-back Stuart Hogg, with the remainder of the squad made up of 12 Welshmen and 11 players from Ireland.

Squad :

Loosehead props: Joe Marler (England); Jack McGrath (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England)

Hookers: Rory Best (Ireland); Jamie George (England); Ken Owens (Wales)

Tighthead props: Dan Cole (England); Tadhg Furlong (Ireland); Kyle Sinckler (England)

Second rows: Iain Henderson (Ireland); Maro Itoje (England); Alun Wyn Jones (Wales);
George Kruis (England); Courtney Lawes (England)

Flankers: Sean O’Brien (Ireland); Peter O’Mahony (Ireland); CJ Stander (Ireland); Justin Tipuric (Wales); Sam Warburton (Wales) CAPTAIN; Ross Moriarty (Wales)

Number eights: Taulupe Faletau (Wales); Billy Vunipola (England)

Scrum-halves: Conor Murray (Ireland); Ben Youngs (England); Rhys Webb (Wales)

Fly-halves: Dan Biggar (Wales); Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

Centres: Elliot Daly (England); Jonathan Davies (Wales); Owen Farrell (England); Robbie Henshaw (Ireland); Ben Te’o (England); Jonathan Joseph (England); Jared Payne (Ireland)

Wings: George North (Wales); Anthony Watson (England); Jack Nowell (England); Tommy Seymour (Scotland); Liam Williams (Wales)

Full-backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales); Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Update: “Hero’s…urr Europe in a Nutshell”

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European rugby is heating up with the Championship Cup and Challenge Cup trophies being the focus now and we had some great matches over the weekend.

 

Clermont knock out Toulon

Clermont will face Leinster in the Champions Cup semi-finals after they saw off Toulon 29-9 in a gritty quarter-final win on Sunday.

Two tries were scored and they went to Noa Nakaitaci and Damien Penaud, with Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez’s boots also helping to set up a last-four clash with the Irish province in Lyon over the weekend of April 22-23.

Europe’s top-tier has generally produced an excellent spectacle at the last eight stage. The teams have opted for verve and ambition over conservatism, but these sides proceeded to serve up a dire contest.

Even accounting for the sodden conditions, in an opening period which ended locked at 6-6, try-scoring openings were in short supply. They had to be content with two penalties apiece for Parra and Leigh Halfpenny before the Clermont scrum-half edged the hosts ahead after the interval.

Halfpenny once again equalised from the tee before Auvergne finally broke through when Nakaitaci crossed the whitewash. After that try Toulon seemed to lose heart and Damian Penaud’s final minute effort confirmed their passage into the last four, where they will face Leinster.

It is an encounter which will not live long in the memory. With the inclement weather forcing errors, these Top 14 outfits looked to the power game early on and never altered those tactics.

Clermont were the first to display their physicality, forcing an infringement after four minutes from which Parra took them ahead.

They had a further opportunity to increase that buffer but, after the scrum-half skewed his effort wide, the visitors managed to gain some much needed territory.

Like Toulon, Auvergne also struggled to maintain their discipline without the ball and Halfpenny was more than happy to line up shots at goal. He missed his first attempt at the uprights but was on target soon after as the three-time champions levelled matters.

As the half wore on, continuity remained an issue with both teams lacking any sort of attacking structure. That was demonstrated by Laurent Delboulbès’ rather comical intervention after the prop got in the way of team-mate Éric Escande’s pass.

He knocked on and then compounded the mistake by conceding a penalty in attempting to win the ball back – an effort Parra easily converted.

That advantage was soon cancelled out, however, when Halfpenny kicked his second three-pointer as the teams went into the break level.

The second half produced much the same fare. Both outfits relied on their packs and the kicking game of their half-backs to find field position, but neither could really assert any control.

Parra and Halfpenny continued the pattern of the match by trading penalties in the third quarter before Clermont finally broke the deadlock.

For one of the few times in the match, they managed to keep possession, forcing Toulon to commit bodies to the ruck. That opened the space on the outside and Nakaitaci benefited, touching down for the decisive score.

Toulon were rudderless and, after Lopez’s drop-goal and Parra’s penalty ended the game as a contest, Penaud went over late on to seal Clermont semi-final berth.

The scorers:

For Clermont:
Tries: Nakaitaci, Penaud
Cons: Parra 2
Pens: Parra 4
Drop Goal: Lopez

For Toulon:
Pens: Halfpenny 3

Saracens set up Munster showdown

Saracens put on a masterclass of knockout rugby against Glasgow on Sunday as they won 38-8 to book a Champions Cup semi-final spot.

The victory sets up a mouth-watering clash with Munster at the Aviva Stadium as tries from Chris Ashton (2), Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt scored their tries. Owen Farrell was man-of-the-match after an 18-point haul.

Mark McCall’s men were outstanding before the break, opening up an 11-point buffer through Ashton’s first try and three Farrell penalties.

Finn Russell did get the Scottish outfit on the scoreboard in the first-half and Lee Jones’ effort reduced the arrears seven minutes into the second period, but Sarries were ultimately too strong.

Bosch ended the game as a contest with a score 20 minutes from time before Barritt and Ashton rubber-stamped the win with a three-pointer, despite a late Ryan Wilson consolation.

Glasgow have come a long way under the stewardship of Gregor Townsend but they struggled to handle the sheer ferocity of the defending champions.

After making the quarter-finals for the first time, this proved to be a step too far, despite their battling qualities keeping the scoreline close in the early exchanges.

Sarries created opportunities at will in the opening 10 minutes and could have scored two tries when Ashton and Sean Maitland crossed the whitewash out wide.

However, following some excellent cover defence by the visitors, both were adjudged to be in touch and the Englishmen had to be content with a single Farrell penalty.

The Warriors’ rearguard excellence was then rewarded with a Russell three-pointer, but the pressure was unrelenting and successive efforts off the tee by the hosts’ stand-off took Saracens 9-3 in front.

Townsend’s men were failing to stop the Premiership outfit on the gainline and they were finally breached after another flowing move.

Forwards and backs combined before Barritt’s superb offload found Ashton and the Toulon-bound wing did the rest, weaving inside one attempted tackle and touching down.

Farrell’s missed conversion meant that the damage was not quite as severe as it could have been at the interval, but their head coach required a response in the second period.

It was one he duly received. Russell almost scampered away after a rare Sarries’ error but they were not to be denied for long as the fly-half’s cross-field kick was collected by Jones, who handed off Ashton and went over.

Glasgow knew that there would be a response from the home side and once again they failed to cope. To their credit, the Warriors were gallant in defence but they had to break at some point and Bosch took advantage when the hole opened for him.

Farrell then made it a three-score game from the tee and it was the lead Saracens needed to open up. They displayed some wonderful hands in the last few minutes and deservedly touched down twice more via Barritt and Ashton to complete a fine performance.

Townsend’s side did have the final word through Wilson but it was very much Sarries’ day.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: Ashton 2, Bosch, Barritt
Cons: Farrell 3
Pens: Farrell 4

For Glasgow:
Tries: Jones, Wilson
Pen: Russell

 

14-man Stade knock out top seeds Ospreys

Despite two yellow cards for wing Josaia Raisuqe, Stade Français advanced to the Challenge Cup semi-finals after defeating the Ospreys 25-21.

The Welsh region finished the pool stages with a perfect 30 out of 30 points to qualify as top seeds, but they were stunned in the second half at the Principality Stadium after two quick tries for Stade Français from Raphaël Lakafia and Julien Arias.

This despite having Raisuqe receive two yellow cards, one in each half, the first for a stamp on Ospreys wing Keelan Giles that deserved a straight red.

Raisuqe’s actions aside Stade showed great heart on the road to a rare away victory, one week on from defeating Toulon at home, with key figures in the pack including France prop Rabah Slimani, Wallaby lock Hugh Pyle and workhorse Antoine Burban all impressing.

Expected to dominate proceedings given Stade’s poor form and away record, the Ospreys opened the scoring through a Dan Biggar penalty in the 12th minute.

Biggar thought he had scored a try soon after only for Keelan Giles’ pass to be ruled as forward by the TMO, before Raisuqe’s first yellow card. Instead it the was the visitors who scored next, through a Jules Plisson penalty.

Zurabi Zhvania was an unlikely first try scorer, powering his way over out wide for Stade, who led at the break 8-6 after Bigger knocked over a second penalty – with a third effort coming back off the post right before the interval.

Plisson was on-point with his second penalty, stretching the lead to five points, but a Josh Matavesi try pulled the Ospreys back into the contest.

Raisuqe’s second yellow card allowed Biggar to restore the Ospreys lead with a third penalty, making it 14-11, but Stade then turned the game thanks to Lakafia collecting Plisson’s well-weighted cross-field kick to score.

And all of a sudden Stade were then in the box seat after Pyle broke clear, chased down by Biggar before offloading to Julien Arias for the Top 14 outfit’s third score.

Ospreys were then left chasing the game, despite having dominated large portions of the match, and even with Tyler Ardron’s late effort the visitors clung on for a surprising victory.

The scorers:

For Ospreys:
Tries: Matavesi, Ardron
Con: Biggar
Pens: Biggar 3

For Stade Français:
Tries: Zhvania, Lakafia, Arias
Cons: Plisson 2
Pens: Plisson 2
Red Card: Raisuqe

Young guns star for Leinster

 

A superb first half showing laid the platform as Leinster moved into the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup following an excellent 32-17 triumph over Wasps in the last eight.

Leo Cullen’s men dominated the opening period and appeared to have the game won by half-time after Isa Nacewa, Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw all crossed the whitewash.

Jimmy Gopperth’s penalty was the English outfit’s only score before the break and they also struggled at the start of the second half.

Johnny Sexton kicked another three-pointer to extend their buffer and at that point the match was effectively over. Christian Wade and Gopperth went over to give Wasps hope but Fergus McFadden’s touchdown completed the victory.

Knockout rugby is meant to be a tight contest but the opening half-hour, between two attack-orientated teams, proved to be a free-flowing affair.

It was mainly the hosts that showed their hand, though, and their big runners were causing problems for the small Wasps backline.

Conan and Sean O’Brien were magnificent and the Irish province deserved the 8-0 advantage given to them by Sexton’s penalty and Nacewa’s try. Joey Carbery was another to enjoy the wide open spaces and the full-back’s superb cut-out pass set up the winger’s score.

The visitors were struggling to find their fluency and when they did – after a Kurtley Beale break sent Willie le Roux clear – the South African international inexplicably dropped the ball across the whitewash.

That was a costly error, despite Gopperth reducing the arrears from the tee soon after, as Leinster scored their second try. Once again Carbery was the instigator, finding space on the right hand side for McFadden to break clear before good support play by Conan saw the number eight scamper over.

Henshaw then touched down following a stolen lineout and a 22-3 buffer at the interval was what Cullen’s side deserved for their dominance.

The Irish province maintained their momentum in the early stages of the second period and a Sexton penalty made the task even harder for the Premiership outfit.

To their credit, Wasps improved and a piece of individual brilliance by Wade got them back into the contest before another solo effort, this time from Gopperth, made it an eight-point game with 20 minutes remaining.

Questions were now being asked of the three-time European champions but they answered them magnificently and McFadden’s late try sealed their semi-final place.

The scorers:

For Leinster:
Tries: Nacewa, Conan, Henshaw, McFadden
Cons: Sexton 3
Pens: Sexton 2

For Wasps:
Tries: Wade, Gopperth
Cons: Gopperth 2
Pens: Gopperth

A conversation this week with respected French television pundit Thomas Lombard ended on a note about money, and to be more specific, how now having millions of Euros is no longer enough to succeed in the Top 14.

Not when you are up against clubs backed by billions of Euros.

Toulon’s spending spree on top internationals at the start of the decade propelled them to a trio of European titles and one domestic trophy in three years. Yet even having made the Top 14 final last season, losing out to Racing 92, their outlook has changed.

Mourad Boudjellal’s fortune of €40 million is no longer enough to compete with Racing, owned by Jacky Lorenzetti whose total worth is about €1 billion, and Montpellier, who are owned by Mohad Altrad, worth €2 billion. Europe’s most successful big spenders are now being comprehensively outspent.

The model that has given Toulon so much success has died, something which both Boudjellal and Diego Dominguez, the coach sacked earlier in the season, have acknowledged in a stuttering season.

Without question the retirements of Carl Hayman and Ali Williams weakened a commanding pack, but too much time has passed to keep falling back on that excuse.

Toulon and Boudjellal’s mindset with the appointment of Fabien Galthié is to restart and rebuild.

Munster seal semi-final spot

Munster booked their place in the Champions Cup semi-finals after they beat Toulouse 41-16 in a deserved victory at Thomond Park.

The Irish province began the encounter on the front foot and went 13-3 ahead through John Ryan’s converted try and a pair Tyler Bleyendaal penalties.

Jean-Marc Doussain, who had earlier kicked a three-pointer, added two more as the French side kept themselves in contention at the interval.

CJ Stander’s score and successive Bleyendaal efforts off the tee maintained the hosts’ control on the encounter, but Toulouse refused to go away and Paul Perez’s touchdown reduced the deficit.

Munster, however, had done enough and, after their fly-half kicked a fifth penalty, Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway finished off an excellent day for Irish rugby.

Toulouse, once the giants of French rugby, are struggling in the lower reaches of the Top 14 and are now out of Europe. They reside in 10th position in the table and, despite making it to the quarter-final stage, were not at all convincing in the Champions Cup.

That lack of form was duly exposed by an high-tempo home side early on, who took advantage of Francois Cros’ rash attempt at a charge down to build a 10-0 lead.

The number eight was yellow carded after just one minute for elbowing replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams, an act of recklessness which allowed Munster to kick deep into the opposition’s 22.

Williams, starting in place of the injured Conor Murray, dusted himself off and set about inching the hosts towards the line. The forwards battered away before the dam eventually burst when Ryan crossed the whitewash next to the left upright.

Bleyendaal kicked the conversion and then added a penalty, but the visitors gradually grew into the contest and reduced the arrears via Doussain’s effort off the tee.

Munster’s fly-half restored the 10-point buffer before the French outfit’s gargantuan forwards exerted their influence and forced Rassie Erasmus’ men to infringe.

Successive penalties by Toulouse’s stand-off in the final eight minutes of the half duly enabled them to go into the break with a genuine chance of upsetting the odds.

However, another blitz by the Irishmen kept the visitors on the back foot. Bleyendaal was on target from the tee before Stander, a man that typifies the province’s spirit this season, touched down from close range.

Following another penalty from the home side’s fly-half, Munster’s pathway to the last four appeared set, but Perez’s controversial try – where Yoann Maestri’s forward-looking pass to the wing was deemed flat – set up a nervous final quarter.

Munster responded well to that setback, though, and Bleyendaal took them 11 points in front. With Toulouse now overplaying, Sweetnam and Conway took advantage of some loose play by the visitors to complete a fine win.

The scorers:

For Munster:
Tries: Ryan, Stander, Sweetnam, Conway
Cons: Bleyendaal 3
Pens: Bleyendaal 5

For Toulouse:
Try: Perez
Con: Doussain
Pens: Doussain 3
Yellow Card: Cros

Challenge Cup Wrap

Bath and Gloucester reached the Challenge Cup semi-finals following respective victories over Brive and Cardiff Blues on Saturday.

Bath 34-20 Brive
Recreation Ground

In a thrilling first 40, it was Bath who had the lead by half-time after tries from Taulupe Faletau, Tom Homer and Semesa Rokoduguni put Bath 20-6 up at the break.

Faletau’s second threatened to open the floodgates but two tries from Fabien Sanconnie made it a much tighter scoreline than it looked like it could be at half-time.

A breathtaking late Rokoduguni try ensured the hosts secured the 34-20 win and booked their spot in the final four of the Challenge Cup.

With a semi-final spot on the line, Rhys Priestland kicked Bath to an early lead inside the opening 10 minutes with a penalty, making the most of the hosts strong start at The Rec. Gaetan Germain levelled soon after though, with Brive getting themselves back into the game after a strong rebuild from the restart.

Germain gave the visitors their first and only lead of the afternoon with a second penalty, his kick cannoning off the right side of the posts to make it a 6-3 advantage. That didn’t last for long though.

Priestland had the Brive back line running in circles before offloading to Kahn Fotuali’i, whose quick hands fed Faletau and allowed the number eight to go sailing over the line for the opening try. Priestland’s extras took Bath to double figures and more was to come in the remaining 15 minutes of the half.

An attacking line-out on 22 for the hosts saw Bath combine superbly as they bore down on the line, with Rokoduguni instrumental in the build up. Possession was given to Jonathan Joseph and his flick helped to get Homer over the line, a nice birthday present for the now 27-year-old. The conversion was wide but try number three followed barely a minute after the restart.

Zach Mercer’s quick break again saw the ball move into the arms of Joseph, and he was again provider to set Rokoduguni up for his 50th try in Bath colours, making it a 20-6 lead at the break.

Try four came just three minutes into the second half and Faletau was at the double to increase the advantage. He found the space to break in between the middle of the defence who seemed to part open for him, and Priestland added the two.

But things weren’t rosy for the hosts after that, with the expected victory put very much in doubt due to a resurgent Brive side.

A pick and go from Sanconnie caught Bath napping, and he crossed the line to get the French side back into it. And a second Brive try really made the home crowd pay attention. They used the maul perfectly to cause panic in the Bath defence and Sarconnie got his second in 10 minutes as the conversion took Brive back to within seven points as the score stood at 27-20.

The game threatened to go either way from then on with neither side dominant at one end or the other, but the longer the half wore on, the more it looked like Bath would be able to see the victory out.

And when in doubt, there’s always that man Rokoduguni to call upon. He had the sleekness to evade seven challenges on the way through, handing defenders away and grounding to remove any doubts and finish the scoring, booking Bath’s semi-final spot in the process.

For Bath:
Tries: Faletau 2, Homer, Rokoduguni 2
Con: Priestland
Pens: Priestland 3

For Brive:
Tries: Sanconnie 2
Cons: Germain 2
Pens: Germain 2

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Tom Homer, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tom Ellis, 6 Zach Mercer, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Kane Palma Newport, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Nathan Catt
Replacements: 16 Joe Graham, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Ben Tapuai

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Taku Ngwenya, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Seremaia Burotu, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Matthieu Ugalde, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Fabien Sanconnie 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Said Hireche, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Francois Da Ros, 1 Vivien Devisme
Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Karlen Asieshvili, 18 Soso Bekoshvili, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Dominiko Waqaniborutu, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Thomas Laranjeira, 23 Sevanaia Galala

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)


Gloucester 46-26 Cardiff Blues
Kingsholm

In the third of four semi-finals, the Kingsholm faithful were treated to an exhilarating first 40 as the sides went into the break with Cardiff Blues 23-20 up.

Alex Cuthbert opened the scoring for the visitors before Ross Moriarty levelled. Tom Marshall and another from Cuthbert sent the sides level, with a Gareth Anscombe drop goal putting Cardiff slightly in front.

Jonny May gave Gloucester a one point lead after the break and tries from Marshall and Mark Atkinson wrote the hosts into the final four. Henry Purdy went over at the end to finish it at 46-26.

The visitors started well on top and after running close three minutes in, they didn’t have much longer to wait for the opening try. Coming just five minutes into the evening, Tau Filise carried the ball through the centre before it eventually found Cuthbert, who batted Billy Burns away to go over for the opener. It didn’t last long though as Moriarty levelled from the next attack. Richard Hibbard spilled possession seconds before but a one handed pick up and go saw him slam down.

Cardiff Blues’ lead was restored from a penalty via Steven Shingler, but Burns kicked level again from in front of the posts to make it 10 apiece. Neither side were able to take a firm grip of the tie though, with three pointers following for each within a couple of minutes of each other. And by the time half-time came around, two tries ensured they were still inseparable.

Shingler was caught napping at the back and failed to hold off Billy Twelvetrees’ run through the middle, which provided the opportunity to feed it through to Marshall who ran over to put Gloucester in charge. But a yellow card changed things again, as Gloucester lost Josh Hohneck for failing to roll away five minutes before half-time. And the man advantage saw Anscombe use the dummy run of Shingler to feed Cuthbert who grabbed his second. A drop goal on the brink of half-time gave the visitors a slender lead as Anscombe kicked through from 40 metres.

A perfectly set second 40 didn’t start with the same tempo and free flowing points scoring as the first, but it was a perfect situation for Cardiff Blues as they stretched their lead to six points. Shingler kicked through after Blues had the better of the second half, and the loss of Hohneck gave Cardiff a perfect platform with half an hour to go.

Gloucester burst back into the game though and went ahead courtesy of May. He had plenty of space to move into after Twelvetrees’ intelligent kick found him on the other side, and a step inside bamboozled Matthew Morgan. Twelvetrees two made it 27-26 to the hosts and that lead increased.

Cardiff Blues’ well set lead was dismantled with a fourth Gloucester try with less than 20 to play. A gap at the back of the line-out gave Willi Heinz an age to decide what to do with it, and it was eventually presented to Marshall who span inside a challenge to extend the advantage, with Twelvetrees making it an eight point lead.

And the dream quickly turned into a nightmare as try five arrived for the rejuvenated hosts. With the ball taken up to the five yard line, replacement Atkinson threw a big dummy Rey Lee-Lo’s way to just wander over and kill off the contest with 10 to play. And right at the death, a sixth try put the icing on the cake for the Cherry and Whites. A floated ball from Henry Trinder fell into the arms of Purdy and he finished the evening off in style as Gloucester sealed a spot in the final four with a 46-26 win.

The scorers:

For Gloucester:
Tries: Moriarty, Marshall 2, May, Atkinson, Purdy
Cons: Burns, Twelvetrees 4
Pens: Burns, Twelvetrees
Yellow Card: Hohneck

For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Cuthbert 2
Cons: Shingler 2
Pens: Shingler 3
Drop-Goal: Anscombe

Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Ben Morgan 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Mark Atkinson, 23 Henry Purdy

Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan , 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Tau Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins,
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Kieron Assiratti, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Aled Summerhill

Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant Referees: Alexandre Ruiz (France), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)


A Jérémie Maurouard brace helped La Rochelle claim a 32-22 victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Friday.

La Rochelle made it into the Challenge Cup semi-finals after their impressive away win over the Scottish side.

Edinburgh were poor in the first half conceding four tries in the first 35 minutes with Jérémie Maurouard scoring two, Arthur Retiere and Steeve Barry also crossing to set up their victory before the half-time whistle went. While Brock James penalties kept the score board ticking in his side’s favour.

Tries from the home side came through Scotland Internationals Ross Ford and Hamish Watson but it was not enough to overturn La Rochelle’s powerful early start.

Maurouard’s tries were both in the first 12 minutes with the French side revealing the power in their forward pack. James’s conversions made the score 14 points and quite imposing 13 minutes into the fixture.

Edinburgh got their first points of the game when inside centre Phil Burleigh dotted down making the score 14-5 before Jason Tovey kicked over the conversion.

The away side hit back quickly though as Scrum-half Retiere then crossed the line for his side’s third try of the game with James missing the extras.

Ford scored just before the end of the half after a strong maul to barge over and Watson scored seven minutes later after Viliame Mata off loaded to the flank which would be the last try of the match.

James and Weir traded penalties for the rest of the game but the damage was done in the first half for La Rochelle claiming the win.

The scorers:

For Edinburgh:
Tries:
Burleigh, Ford, Watson
Cons: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne
Pen: Weir

La Rochelle:
Tries:
Maurouard 2, Retiere, Barry
Cons: James 3
Pens: James 2

Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (c), 1 Murray McCallum
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Kyle Whyte, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Viliami Fihaki, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Glenn Bryce

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Steeve Barry, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Eliott Roudil, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Arthur Retière, 8 Kévin Gourdon, 7 Levani Botia, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Jason Eaton (c), 3 Mohamed Boughanmi, 2 Jérémie Maurouard, 1 Mike Corbel
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Lekso Kaulashvili, 19 Jone Qovu, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Alexi Bales, 22 Brock James, 23 Benjamin Noble

Thanks to Planet Rugby

Steyn gets 4 weeks for high tackle on Sexton

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South African Francois Steyn will have to sit out for the next four weeks after he was suspended by an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Paris on Wednesday

Steyn was sent off by referee, JP Doyle (England), for a dangerous tackle on the Leinster fly-half, Johnny Sexton, in the 30th minute of the match in contravention of Law 10.4 (e).

Law 10.4 (e) Dangerous tackling

Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 10.4 (e), Dangerous Tackling of an opponent, carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 2 weeks; Mid-Range: 6 weeks; Top End: 10 to 52 weeks.

An independent Disciplinary Committee consisting of Antony Davies (England), Chairman, Julien Berenger (France) and Pamela Woodman (Scotland), heard submissions from Steyn, who pleaded guilty to the offence, from the Montpellier legal representative, Christian Chevalier, from the Montpellier Chief Executive, Mathieu Charpentier, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.

The Committee upheld the red card decision, and as the dangerous tackle resulted in reckless contact with the head, it was obliged to find that the offence was at the mid-range of the relevant sanctions as now required by World Rugby.

Six weeks was therefore selected as the entry point and taking into account Steyn’s guilty plea and timely expression of remorse, the Committee reduced the sanction by two weeks before imposing a four-week suspension.

Steyn is free to play on Monday, March 6. Both the player and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile the Leinster player, Hayden Triggs, has been suspended for three weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Paris.

Triggs was cited by the match Citing Commissioner, Stefano Marrama (Italy), for making contact with the eye area of the Montpellier scrum-half, Nic White (number nine), in the 44th minute of the match in contravention of Law 10.4 (m).

An independent Disciplinary Committee consisting of Antony Davies (England), Chairman, Julien Berenger (France) and Pamela Woodman (Scotland), heard submissions from Triggs, who pleaded guilty to the offence, from the Leinster Rugby legal representative, Derek Hegarty, from the Leinster Rugby Head of Rugby Operations, Guy Easterby, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.

In upholding the citing complaint, the Committee determined that the charge was specifically for contact with the eye area, and not for contact with the eye(s) which now carries a different set of sanction entry point tariffs.

Law 10.4 (m) Acts contrary to good sportsmanship – contact with the eye area

Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 10.4 (m), contact with the eye area, carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 4 weeks; Mid-range: 8 weeks; Top end: 12 to 52 weeks.

The Committee then decided that the offence was at the low end of World Rugby’s sanctions and selected four weeks as the appropriate entry point.

Taking into account Triggs’ guilty plea and his expression of remorse, the Committee reduced the sanction by one week before imposing a three-week suspension.

Triggs is free to play on Monday, February 20. Both the player and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.

CJ shines as Munster beat Racing 92

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Munster moved top of Pool 1 after outclassing Racing 92, running in four tries in a 32-7 win in the rescheduled Champions Cup match.

Before the match there was a minute’s applause to remember Munster coach Anthony Foley. The club legend passed away in the team hotel in Paris the night before the original fixture was due to be played in October.

An emotional atmosphere was punctuated with multiple renditions of Fields of Athenry and the visitors rose to the occasion.

First-half tries from Simon Zebo, CJ Stander and Andrew Conway sent the away side into the break with a convincing 0-25 lead.

Niall Scannell’’s second-half try then secured the bonus point and Matheiu Voisin scored a late consolation for Racing as it finished 7-32.

The win sees the Irish side move top of Pool 1 while the hosts succumbed to their fourth defeat, leaving them rooted to the bottom with no points from four games.

Munster scored the first points of the match in the 14th minute. Racing had been repeatedly infringing at the breakdown and finally paid the price when Tyler Bleyendaal comfortably slotted home an easy penalty attempt.

The visitors extended their lead with a try from Zebo in the 22nd minute, the winger scoring his 50th Munster try. A big carry from captain Peter O’’Mahony rattled the Parisians’ before his full-back seized the ball and evaded the attentions of the defence before touching down to make the score 0-8.

Stander scored the Irish side’’s second try in the 36th minute, the Ireland international charging down Benjamin Dambielle’s kick before running through out wide. Bleyendaal converted to make the lead 0-18.

Conway was the next over for Munster just before the break, the winger seizing upon Conor Murray’’s grubber to touch down in the corner. Bleyendaal converted to make Munster’s half-time lead an impressive 0-25.

Scannell then secured his side’’s fourth try just before the hour mark, the hooker peeling off the back of a rolling maul to secure the bonus point. Bleyendaal added the extras to establish a commanding 32-point lead.

Racing scored a consolation try in the 65th minute when Voisin seized upon a kick through from Juan Imhoff to score. After the TMO ruled that he was on-side the try was awarded, and Dan Carter added the conversion from out wide to make the score 7-32.

The day however was Munster’s, as they produced a performance Foley would have been proud of.

The scorers:

For Racing:
Try: Voisin
Con: Carter

For Munster:
Tries: Zebo, Stander, Conway, N Scannell
Cons: Bleyendaal 3
Pens: Bleyendaal 2

Champions Cup Wrap Round 4

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Champions Cup Wrap Round 3

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This weekend saw the third round of this years European Champions Cup being played in Europe. Here is the weekends wrap on all the matches

 

Taute stars on Euro debut

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SARugbymag.co.za looks back at the past weekend’s European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup matches, involving South African players.

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CHAMPIONS CUP

Pool 1

– The Leicester Tigers withstood a late onslaught to beat Racing 27-17 at Welford Road on Sunday. JP Pietersenstarted for the Tigers after a one-game absence, and the Bok winger made five carries and ran 36m upon his return to action. Johan Goosen played outside centre for the visitors, running 57m from five carries and two clean breaks.

– Munster, featuring inside centre Jaco Taute and eighthman CJ Stander, secured an emotional 38-17 bonus-point victory over the Glasgow Warriors. Stander started at the back of the scrum, but wore the No 28 on his back after Munster decided to retire the No 8 shirt for this game in honour of late coach Anthony Foley, who was buried on Friday. Taute starred for Munster and scored a try on his Champions Cup debut. Josh Straussstarted for the Warriors.

Pool 2

– A late try saw flank Ashley Johnson and his Wasps teammates snatch a dramatic 20-20 draw with hosts Toulouse. Former Bok prop Gurthrö Steenkamp was on the Toulouse bench.

–  Forwards Quintin Geldenhuys, Johan Meyer and Dries van Schalkwyk were in the Zebre team that lost 52-7 to Connacht. In the most one-sided game in round two, Connacht, with lock Quinn Roux and wing Danie Poolman in their ranks, ran riot against their hosts.

Pool 3

– Toulon battled to a 15-5 win over the 14-man Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium. Boks Bryan Habana and No 8 Duane Vermeulen started for Toulon, while compatriot Marcel van der Merwewas named on the bench. Prop Brian Mujati earned a starting berth for Sale.

– Saracens continued to set the tone in European rugby with a 44-26 triumph over the Scarlets in London. Hooker Schalk Brits and flanks Schalk Burger and Michael Rhodes were starters for Sarries and prop Petrus du Plessis was among the reserves. Rhodes burrowed over for a try in the 74th minute. Winger DTH van der Merwe, lock David Bulbring and prop Werner Krugerwere on duty for Scarlets.

Pool 4

– Centre Robert Ebersohn, scurmhalf Rory Kockott, prop Dan Kotzé and hooker Jody Jenneker were part of the Castres side that smashed the Northampton Saints 41-7 at home. Former Stormers scrumhalf Nic Groom represented the Saints.

– Montpellier clinched an exciting 22-16 win against Leinster at the Altrad Stadium. Frans Steyn(inside centre), Pierre Spies (No 8), Paul Willemse (lock), Jacques du Plessis (lock) and Jannie du Plessis (prop) were in Montpellier’s run-on XV, while Nicolaas van Rensburg and Wiaan Liebenberg were used as impact players. Steyn kicked two crucial conversions and a penalty for the winners. Ex-Bok Zane Kirchner was at fullback for Leinster.

Pool 5

– Ulster, with Ruan Pienaar, Franco van der Merwe and Rob Herring in their ranks, claimed an enthralling 19-18 win against the Exeter Chiefs thanks to a 77th-minute drop goal. The winners are still in third position in the pool standings.

– Ex-Stormers duo Kobus can Wyk and Steven Kitshoff were in the Bordeaux team that suffered a 49-33 defeat at the hands of Clermont. The Bordeaux players were ill-disciplined throughout the game and the team paid the price with two yellow cards, including one for Van Wyk.

CHALLENGE CUP

Pool 1

– Treviso, with Braam Steyn at No 8, slumped to a 37-8 loss against Gloucester at Kingsholm Stadium. The result had no impact on the pool standings, as Gloucester remain second and Treviso fourth.

Pool 2

– Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked one penalty but it was in vain as captain Deon Fourie and his Lyon charges lost 31-13 against Ospreys. Prop BJ Botha was on the bench for Lyon, but failed to make an appearance.

– Lock Mouritz Botha and his Newcastle Falcons teammates smashed beleaguered Grenoble 50-7 at Kingston Park. The result sees the two teams swap positions on the log, with the Falcons moving to third and Grenoble dropping to fourth.

Pool 3

– Enisei continued to defy the odds when they claimed another big scalp to make it two wins from as many games. The Russian qualifiers beat the Newport Gwent Dragons 38-18. Fullback Carl Meyer, wing Pat Howard and lock Ligtoring Landman turned out for the Dragons, who are now second in the standings. Enisei are top of the pool log. Howard scored the Dragons’ opening try in the 19th minute.

– Locks Jan Uys and Johan Snyman and prop Kevin Buys did service for Brive, who clinched a 25-25 win over hosts the Worcester Warriors at Sixways Stadium.

Pool 4

– Bath ousted bitter rivals Bristol 22-6 at The Rec. Hooker Michael van Vuuren earned a rare spot in Bath’s starting lineup.

Pool 5

WP Nel‘s Edinburgh edged Tim Swiel‘s Harlequins 36-35 in an instant classic at Murrayfield on Saturday. Swiel came on as a replacement and kicked two conversions, but it was in vain. The result keeps Edinburgh top of the standings, three points clear of Quins.

– Morné Steyn, Jono Ross, Craig Burden, Willem Alberts and Meyer Bosman were part of the Stade Français outfit that battled to a 27-0 win against Timisoara Saracens in Paris. Steyn slotted two conversions and a penalty. Flyhalf Jody Rose and flank Randall Morrison started for the Romanian qualifiers.

Champions Cup Wrap Round 1

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Saracens hold on against Toulon

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Saracens held off a Toulon fightback to secure a 31-23 win in their Champions Cup opener at the Stade Félix Mayol on Saturday reports Planet Rugby

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The visitors were full value for their win, outscoring Toulon by three tries to two, and the victory marks the first time Toulon have lost a European game at home.

On his first game back for the European Champions, Owen Farrell slotted an early penalty to give Saracens an early lead in the South of France.

The hosts were quick to hit back with a penalty of their own from the ever-reliable boot of Leigh Halfpenny. It was Saracens who scored the first try of the afternoon on eight minutes with a wonderful finish from Sean Maitland.

The Scotland winger held off the defensive efforts of the Toulon backs to dot down in the corner. Their second was quick to follow. A wonderful runnnig line from Jamie George saw him burst through the Toulon defensive line before offloading to Richard Wigglesworth who scored under the posts.

A second Farrell penalty extended Saracens’ lead to 15 points, before Halfpenny hit back again from the tee. Right on half-time, the visitors scored their third try. Chris Wyles crossed in the corner after some great hands from Itoje and Kruis to give the London side 25-6 lead going into the break.

After half time, Halfpenny kept the scoreboard ticking over for Toulon with his third penalty of the afternoon. Things went from bad to worse for Toulon when Ma’a Nonu was shown yellow for a dangerous tackle for a dangerous tackle on Brad Barritt. Farrell added the three points from the subsequent penalty.

Saracens were unable to take advantage of the extra man, and were soon at a deficit themselves. After a period of heavy Toulon pressure, Sarries talismanic second row Maro Itoje was shown yellow for entering at the side. Toulon scored their first try of the evening from the resulting penalty. Some neat pick and drive from the Toulon forwards ended with Levan Chilachava peering over.

As the Toulon momentum built, the Saracens defence began to crumble. With several players down injured, there were no Sarries defenders to prevent Bryan Habana crossing for Toulon’s third try.

With three minutes left on the clock, Farrell stepped up and slotted a fourth penalty to take Toulon out of losing bonus point territory. The victory marks the first time Toulon have lost a European game at the Stade Mayol.

The scorers:

For Toulon:
Tries:
Chilachava, Habana
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 3
Yellow Card: Nonu

For Saracens:
Tries: Maitland, Wigglesworth, Wyles
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 4
Yellow Cards: Itoje, Burger

Dan Carter: Ex-All Black star’s drug test ‘showed anomalies’

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Former All Blacks Dan Carter and Joe Rokocoko gave drug tests which showed “anomalies” before this year’s Top 14 final, says French newspaper L’Equipe. The BBC reports.

But the New Zealand pair’s manager says both had therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) – giving them permission to take prescribed medicines.

Simon Porter told the New Zealand Herald: “We have been aware of the issue for a few weeks. Our understanding and assurances we’ve had are all the documents around TUEs were in place.”

Fly-half Carter, 34, and winger Rokocoko, 33, scored 20 points between them as Racing Metro beat Toulon 29-21 in the June final.

L’Equipe says all players were tested by France’s national anti-doping agency before the final and urine samples from the two revealed traces of corticosteroids.

The newspaper also names a third player.

But Porter is quoted as saying the players were “relaxed” about the reports.

Carter, man of the match in the Top 14 final, played 112 Tests for New Zealand and was part of the All Blacks side which won the Rugby World Cup a year ago.

He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Rokocoko scored 46 tries in 68 Tests between 2003 and 2010.

Juan Imhoff is also on the list as the Argentine also showed anomalies.

Dan Carter

McCall backs his men to deliver

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Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall believes his young squad can deliver once again in both the Premiership and Champions Cup this season.

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The Allianz Park giants won both competitions last term, with their young English contingent starring before going on to triumph in Australia.

Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, George Kruis and the Vunipola brothers all impressed and McCall is confident they can kick on in the coming year.

“We’ve got a pretty impressive young group and I couldn’t speak more highly of them,” he told Premiership Rugby at Thursday’s launch.

“After the Grand Slam last year – they are all 25 and under and are English internationals – to come back and perform the way they did for their club was incredible really.

“The age profile of our group is good, they are highly motivated and hopefully better things are ahead.

“They are unbelievably motivated, there is a Lions Tour and we said at the end of last season that for us it didn’t feel like the culmination of seven years, it felt like the start of something.”

Saracens’ most notable arrival ahead of this season is Springbok flanker Schalk Burger, who McCall says has been an instant hit at the club.

“We have grown as a club and we need to remember the underlying factors which have made us successful over the past couple of years,” he said.

“If we do stay true to those things, then hopefully we will give ourselves a chance.

“We haven’t had too many changes, we have only had three or four new players.

“Schalk Burger has essentially taken the place of two players – Ernst Joubert and Jacques Burger – we thought it was important that we brought in a very experienced player and Schalk has made a great impression over the first couple of weeks.”

Racing end Toulon’s

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Maxime Machenaud’s late penalty ensured that Racing 92 will face Leicester in the Champions Cup semi-finals after beating Toulon 19-16.

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Juan Imhoff scored the opener two minutes in but was matched by Charles Ollivon in a closely fought first half.

The sides were level for most of the second half until Maxime Machenaud stepped up with two minutes to go and kicked through the winning points.

With Leicester Tigers qualifying, victory for either side meant they will face Richard Cockerill’’s side in the final four.

The hosts had a three-point lead within the first minute of the tie, Dan Carter slotting a penalty through almost straight from the restart.

Racing burst out of the blocks superbly and they had a 10-point lead after just four minutes. Imhoff nipped in after Maxime Mermoz’’s weak pass was intercepted and there was no stopping the Argentina star as he stormed towards the line. Carter converted and Toulon had been blown away just four minutes into the tie, down 10-0.

But despite the dreadful start, the holders levelled the try scoring from their next attack. Still inside the first 10 minutes, Charles Ollivon went over after a fine break forward from Josua Tuisova. Jonathan Pélissié converted and Toulon dragged themselves back into contention.

After that breathtaking first 10 minutes, the half calmed down as both sides reverted to a more defensive nature.

Pélissié had two opportunities within three minutes to put his side at the very least level, but the first hit the upright whilst the second was off target.

Maxime Machenaud missed a kick for the hosts in the absence of the temporarily injured Carter, and by half-time Toulon were level. Pélissié kicking over seconds before the break and the sides went in 10-10.

The Toulon kicker put the visitors ahead for the first time three minutes into the second half with another penalty.

Machenaud responded to make it 13-all and keep the game finely poised. The scrum-half again kicked another three through to restore the lead they built up early on, with Pélissié missing his third kick of the afternoon a minute later.

But on the hour mark, it was level again thanks to Pélissié’s strike.

Impossible to predict which way the game would go, each side had their moments. In fact, Toulon were defending superbly inside their own 22 for long spells, being pressed back as the hosts probed for a second try.

Toulon did have opportunities to retake the lead, but the pressure was getting to both sides as a place in the final four beckoned.

Machenaud missed another penalty with five to play, a big miss at a crucial time, but he didn’t pass up the opportunity at another with two minutes remaining.

The French international scrum-half held his nerve from a penalty right in front of the posts to snatch the advantage back at a pivotal moment.

And despite a late push, Racing held on to defeat the reigning champions and seal their place in the final four.

The scorers:

For Racing:
Try: Imhoff
Con: Carter
Pens: Carter, Machenaud 3

For Toulon:
Try: Ollivon
Con: Pélissié
Pens: Pélissié 3

Weekends Champions Cup preview

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Info from Planet Rugby

This weekend see again the Europeans showing of in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup as we get closer to the business end of the pool stages.

Ulster v Oyonnax Saturday 23 Jan 2016

Ulster welcomes back centre Cave as he recovered from a shoulder injury since December. McCloskey gets a well-earned rest after playing in all 16 of Ulster’s matches thus far the season, with Nick Williams also back in the fray for Ulster.

New Ireland captain Rory Best will start the game on the bench as he has a minor back problem. That means that Rob Herring, who has been named in Ireland’s squad for Rounds 1 and 2 of the Six Nations, will deputise as both hooker and captain.

Ruan Pienaar has been ruled out by illness, while Wiehahn Herbst has a foot injury, so Paul Marshall and Ricky Lutton come into the side at scrum-half and tighthead prop respectively.

Commenting on his selection, the Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, said: “It’s great to have Darren (Cave) and Nick (Williams) back in the team. We welcomed Jared (Payne) back last week and that was pleasing for us too. With Rory (Best) on the bench it’s another opportunity for Rob (Herring) to show what a great player and what a great leader he is. Ruan (Pienaar) has been struggling with illness all week so he is unavailable, but we know that Paul (Marshall) will come in and do a fantastic job for us.” 

Oyonnax have made 14 changes after their win over Toulouse in Round 5.

Geoffrey Fabbri is the only survivor from last weekend as he keeps his place in the second row, partnered this week by Leon Power.

Pedrie Wannenburg, Pierrick Gunther and Valentin Ursache form a new back row as Rory Clegg gets the nod at fly-half.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall,  8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Callum Black, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Rory Scholes

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Daniel Ikpefan, 13 Guillaume Bousses, 12 Alaska Taufa, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Julien Blanc, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Pierrick Gunther, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 Leon Power, 3 Giorgi Vepkhvadze, 2 Thomas Bordes, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha

Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Laurent Delboulbès, 18 Horace Pungea , 19 Fabrice Metz, 20 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 21 Fabien Cibray, 22 Regis Lespinas, 23 Eamonn Sheridan

Toulouse v Saracens

For Toulouse, they would like to fix the wrongs of last week at home and prevent the English top side to give them back to back defeats at home.

Having already booked a home quarter-final place after their bonus point win over Ulster, Saracens welcome back England centre Brad Barritt to the starting XV, who will also captain the side.

Marcelo Bosch partners Brad Barritt at centre, with Mark McCall rotating his half-backs for the fixture in south-west France, with the experienced duo of Neil De Kock and Charlie Hodgson named at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.

Meanwhile, Toulouse have made multiple changes to the side that lost to Oyonnax last week.

Veteran wing Vincent Clerc returns but Toby Flood continues at 13 while Paul Perez moved from inside centre to will to accomodate the return of Florian Fritz.

Imanol Harinordoquy is added to the loose trio along with rising star Yacouba Camara, who replaces Thierry Dusautoir.

A much-changed tight-five sees Patricio Albacete start ahead of Joe Tekori while internationals Corey Flynn and Gurthro Steenkampbolster the front row.

The teams:

Toulouse:15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Toby Flood, 12 Florian Fritz, 11 Paul Perez, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Romain Millo-Chluski, 3 Nemiah Tialata, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Gert Muller, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Gregory Lamboley, 21 David Mele, 22 Gael Fickou, 23 Maxime Médard

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Duncan Taylor, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Hayden Smith, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Ben Ransom

Gloucester v Zebre

Gloucester begins the defence of their European Challenge Cup when they face Zebre at Kingsholm on Saturday.

All black front row Jeremey Thrush is finally set to make his Gloucester debut after his Rugby World Cup winning campaign while World Player of the Year nominee Greg Laidlaw is amongst the replacements.

Jacob Rowan will lead the side out in front of the Shed, and is no stranger to the responsibility after skippering Yorkshire Carnegie for several years prior to joining Gloucester. He also for a time led the England U20s.

Gloucester director of rugby David Humprehys told BBC Sport: “The European Rugby Challenge Cup was an important competition for us last year and winning it was due reward for all the hard work that had gone in. For us, this is an opportunity to be the first club to retain the Challenge Cup. That’s what we’re looking to do but, in order to do that, a home quarter-final is important and we have to get off to a winning start.”

Meanwhile, for Zebre, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini and Marco Bortolami will all be making their return to their old stomping ground.

Gloucester: Cook; McColl, Meakes, Atkinson, Purdy; Burns, Braley; Thomas, Lindsay, Doran-Jones; Stooke, Thrush; Moriarty, Rowan (capt), Ludlow
Replacements: Dawidiuk, Murphy, Thomas, Hicks, Thomas, Laidlaw, Trinder, Thorley

Zebre: Palazzani, Berryman, Bisegni, Pratichetti, Sarto, Padovani, Violi, Lovotti, D’Apice, Chistolini, Bernabo, Bortolami (capt), Sarto, Meyer, Ferrarini
Replacements: Fabiani, de Marchi, Ceccarelli, Biagi, Caffini, Burgess, Toniolatti, Canna

Bath v Toulon

Bath has made seven changes to the starting line-up for the club’s first home match of 2016, following three consecutive games on the road.

Nick Auterac, Ross Batty and Henry Thomas make their seventh start of the season together in the front row. In contrast, locks Charlie Ewels and Dominic Day (this week named in Wales’s Six Nations squad) combine for the first time.

A new-look back row comprises blindside David Denton (included in Scotland’s Six Nations squad this week), openside Guy Mercer and last weekend’s try-scorer, number eight Leroy Houston.

Meanwhile, Toulon make four changes to the XV who edged out Wasps last weekend at the Stade Félix Mayol.

James O’Connor takes over from Drew Mitchell at full-back, with Maxime Mermoz in at outside centre for Mathieu Bastareaud.

The two remaining changes see Sébastian Tillous-Borde take over from Eric Escande at scrum-half, while Samu Manoa returns to partner Jocelino Suta in the second row.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 George Ford (c), 9 Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 David Denton, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nick Auterac
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 David Wilson, 19 Tom Ellis, 20 Matt Garvey, 21 Alafoti Faosiliva, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Ollie Devoto

Toulon: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Samu Manoa, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Mamuka Gorgodze, 20 Romain Taofifenua, 21 Mathieu Bastareaud, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Thibault Lassale

Scarlets v Northampton Saints

Flanker Will Boyde will make his Champions Cup debut for the Scarlets when they run on to face the Northampton Saints at the Parc on Saturday.

The 21-year-old has made six appearances in the Scarlet jersey, his only starting XV spot coming in the LV= Cup clash against London Irish in January 2015.

The only other change to the pack sees Aaron Shingler returning to his favoured blindside flank.

Head Coach Pivac has made three changes to the backline that faced Racing 92 last Sunday. Steve Shingler moves from outside half to inside centre with Aled Thomas coming in at fly-half. Winger Tom Williams makes a return from injury to line-up alongside DTH van der Merwe and Michael Collins in the back three.

Speaking ahead of the final pool game of the Champions Cup campaign Pivac said: “We’re pleased to be welcoming some boys back this weekend. We’re also playing at home. There has been a huge emphasis on rectifying some of the wrongs from last week because we need a strong and improved performance to take into the Connacht game when the PRO12 gets back underway next weekend.

“Northampton are still in with a chance of qualifying. I would expect them to come here and want to perform. We’re looking for a big performance no matter what side they put out. We’ll be tidying up our defence and trying to get somewhere near parity in terms of possession and territory. You want the players to be hurting after results like last weekend’s so that the next opportunity they have to wear the jersey they right the wrongs.”

Meanwhile, the Saints head to Parc y Scarlets still in contention for a quarter-final spot, and have made five changes to the starting line-up that will run out to face the Scarlets.

In the backs Jamie Elliott, Harry Mallinder, Stephen Myler and Tom Kessell come in, with Sam Dickinson returning to the back row.

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Regan King, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Morgan Allen, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Maselino Paulino, 4 Tom Price, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c),1 Phil John
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Tom Phillips, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Steff Hughes

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliot, 13 George Pisi, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Tom Kessell, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Laws, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Luther Burrell

Glasgow Warriors v Racing 92

Scotland winger Tommy Seymour returns to the Glasgow Warriors starting line-up for the Champions Cup match at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock, after recovering from a hamstring injury. Fly-half Duncan Weir could make his 100th appearance for the club from the bench.

The Warriors play Racing 92 in their final pool match, with the Top 14 leaders having already qualified for a home play-off as pool winners.

The Warriors sit third in Pool 3 and would need to take maximum points from tomorrow’s game and hope a host of other results go their way in order to secure a runner-up spot on 15 points.

Meanwhile, Racing 92 make ten changes from the side who won convincingly against the Scarlets last weekend.

Dan Carter is given the week off as Henry Chavancy and Alexandre Dumoulin form a new centre partnership, with Maxime Machenaud taking over from Mike Phillips at scrum-half.

Chris Masoe and Wenceslas Lauret come into the back row while there is an entirely new front row in the shape of Julien Brugnaut, Camille Chat and Luc Ducalcon.

The teams:

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Leone Nakarawa, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 James Eddie, 5 Jonny Gray (c), 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Salva Mamukashvili, 1 Alex Allan
Replacements: 16 James Malcolm, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Duncan Weir, Lee Jones

Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Julien Brugnaut
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Davit Khinchagishvili, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Thibault Dubarry, 20 Juandre Kruger, 21 Xavier Chauveau, 22 Etienne Dussartre, 23 Benjamin Dambielle

Stade Français v Leicester

Leicester have recalled Telusa Veainu, Matt Smith and Lachlan McCaffrey for Sunday’s Champions Cup encounter with Stade Français in Paris.

Tigers are already assured of top spot in Pool 4 after five wins in five games and will be among the top three seeds in the quarter-final. French champions Stade are chasing a quarter-final place as one of the best three pool runners-up.

Jules Plisson takes over from Morné Steyn at fly-half. Raphael Lakafia returns to the loose trio while Hugh Pyle is added to the second row and Laurent Sempéré starts at hooker.

The teams:

Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Jérémy Sinzelle, 13 Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse (c) 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Jonathan Ross, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Laurent Sempéré, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Laurent Panis, 17 Emmanuel Felsina, 18 Paul Alo Emile, 19 Pascal Papé, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Geoffrey Doumayrou

Leicester Tigers: 15 Matthew Tait, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Matt Smith, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Croft, 6 Michael Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza,
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Logovii Mulipola, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Thomas Bell, 23 Peter Betham

more to follow…

 

Kolelishvili gets 14-week ban for pushing referee

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141201-vito-vPhysical abuse of any match official will land you into some big trouble in the game of rugby and rightly so, we do not need into our sport as World Rugby shown in suspending Vito Kolelishvili for 14 weeks.

Vito was cited by the match citing commissioner Mike Rafter for pushing the referee Wayne Barnes, in the Championship Cup round 5 ficture against Ospreys over the weekend.

If one look at Law 10.4 the Vito can count himself lucky that he did not get a heavier punishment as the entry point for this sanction start with a low end of 24 weeks, mid-range of 48 weeks and high-end of 96 weeks to life.

Any kind of abuse to any official in rugby should be punished severely as no one will want to see rugby become like football and the abuse referees have to go through on the pitch by players. verbal abuse is one thing but to push a referee is just asking for trouble and Vito unfortunately needs to get what is coming to him.

The independent Judicial Officer, David Martin (Ireland), heard evidence and submissions from Kolelishvili, who pleaded guilty to the offence, from Clermont Team Manager, Neil McIlroy, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.

In upholding the citing complaint, the Judicial Officer found that Kolelishvili had committed an act of foul play that warranted a red card. He determined that the offence was at the low end of World Rugby’s sanctions and selected 24 weeks as the appropriate entry point.

He added two weeks due to the player’s poor disciplinary record before reducing the sanction by half of the entry point taking into account Kolelishvili’s immediate apology to the referee, his subsequent remorse, guilty plea and good conduct at the hearing. He then imposed a suspension of 14 weeks.

Kolelishvili is free to play on Monday, 25 April 2016. Both the player and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.

Ospreys knock Clermont over

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t4_3420521113737619840With the European championship moving into high gear winning games is becoming more important and that proof on Friday night when Ospreys put in a massive second half performance to come from behind and upset Clermont with a 21-13 win.

Sam Davies scored 15 points for Ospreys coming from  them bench but what won the game for Ospreys was the massive defensive effort the players put in the second half to knock Clermont back in every attack they launch.

At the break Clermont was in the lead 13-6 and dominate most parts of the game with Ospreys on the back foot.

Clermont failed to build on the lead in the second half which saw Ospreys jumped to the top of the pool 2 after the win.

Clermont have not been able to find there normal fluent game this season and on Friday night they were out muscled by a determined Ospreys side.

Justin Tipuric was superb and one of his surging runs set up the position for Biggar to kick his first penalty of the evening.

Clermont were under severe pressure and for most of the second half and just could not get into the match.

As conditions worsened, Clermont began to overplay and the Ospreys took advantage with Davies adding successive three-pointers late on to seal the win.

The scorers:

For Ospreys: 
Pens: Biggar 2, S Davies 4
Drop Goals: S Davies

For Clermont: 
Try: Fofana
Con: Parra
Pens: Parra 2
Yellow Cards: Kolelishvili, Ulugia

14 Man Stade beat poor Munster…

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Racing 92 claim last ditch bonus

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Euro games in France postponed

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EPCR have confirmed that all this weekend’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup matches to be held in France have been postponed after Friday’s attacks in Paris.

The games in the Champions Cup include Oyonnax v Ulster, Racing 92 v Glasgow, Bordeaux-Bègles v Clermont and Toulon v Bath.

Pau’s game with Castres in the Challenge Cup has also been postponed.

Our thoughts are with the people of Paris at this tragic time.

A statement from EPCR read: “Due to the tragic events last night in Paris and the current period of national mourning in France, EPCR and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) have decided to postpone this weekend’s European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup matches scheduled to be played in France.

“Therefore, today’s games in the Champions Cup between Oyonnax and Ulster Rugby, and Racing 92 and Glasgow Warriors, as well as this evening’s Challenge Cup fixture between Pau and Castres Olympique have been postponed.

“Tomorrow’s Champions Cup matches between Bordeaux-Bègles and ASM Clermont Auvergne, and RC Toulon and Bath Rugby have also been postponed.

“The matches will be rescheduled for later dates.

“EPCR extends its sincerest sympathies to everyone affected by the Paris attacks and as a mark of respect, all clubs competing in this weekend’s remaining Champions Cup and Challenge Cup fixtures in other territories have been asked to observe a minute’s silence before the games kick-off.”