Rugby union: talk­ing points from the Cham­pi­ons Cup week­end ac­tion

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Ian Malin

Pool 1: Le­in­ster primed to swat Wasps next

There is no stop­ping Le­in­ster, that de­feat at Toulouse prov­ing a blip, and they will surely be too pow­er­ful for Wasps when the cham­pi­ons travel to Coven­try next Sun­day. Johnny Sex­ton watched his re­place­ment Ross Byrne give a dom­i­nant dis­play in the 29-13 win over Toulouse, once the blue­bloods of Europe who are re­dis­cov­er­ing some of their old princely form. If ever there was an il­lus­tra­tion of English clubs’ fall from grace in Europe it was at the Recre­ation Ground where Bath and Wasps, with three Heineken Cup wins be­tween them, fought out a mean­ing­less game with Bath squeak­ing home 18-16 thanks to a late kick from Rhys Pri­est­land. For Wasps there is some con­so­la­tion in the re­turn of Joe Launch­bury who fol­lowed his re­turn against Northamp­ton with an­other cap­tain’s per­for­mance.

• Match re­port: Bath 18-16 Wasps Pool 2: Ex­eter still in frame but face Mun­ster task next

Ex­eter Chiefs can still make progress af­ter their con­vinc­ing win over a de­mor­alised Cas­tres but Mun­ster have only lost four times at Thomond Park in their Euro­pean his­tory and are dom­i­nat­ing Pool Two. Satur­day evening’s trip to Lim­er­ick will be might­ily dif­fi­cult for Rob Bax­ter’s men. It seems a long time ago now that Glouces­ter were cel­e­brat­ing that shock win at Ex­eter in the au­tumn. Danny Cipri­ani’s come­back was over­shad­owed by a bril­liant per­for­mance by his op­po­site num­ber Joey Car­bery at King­sholm on Fri­day evening. Car­bery scored 26 points in a 41-15 win for Mun­ster and con­trolled the game bril­liantly. Johnny Sex­ton’s in­jured calf made may yet give

Car­bery the chance to shine against Eng­land. The game will not have made com­fort­able view­ing for Ex­eter.

• Match re­port: Ex­eter 34-12 Cas­tres

Pool 3: Lyon’s aged pack fail to dent Sara­cens

Sara­cens are the only side with a 100 % record in the com­pe­ti­tion and their shoul­ders must be tir­ing of car­ry­ing the English stan­dard. Sun­day’s bonus-point win in Lyon was a drab af­fair but with Maro Itoje re­stored to the side and Nick Tomp­kins, their young cen­tre fill­ing in su­perbly for the in­jured Brad Bar­ritt, there was no way Lyon, with their aged pack, were go­ing to put them off their stride. Itoje ended up in the sin-bin but Sara­cens lead the pool and can go through as the lead­ing qual­i­fier if they de­feat Glas­gow on Satur­day. Glas­gow, who started the week­end four points be­hind Sara­cens, made the most of Stu­art Hogg’s re­turn and their pack gave Cardiff Blues a tough af­ter­noon. Rob Har­ley was im­pres­sive on his 200th ap­pear­ance in the War­riors back row but it is dif­fi­cult to see Glas­gow putting a spoke in Sara­cens’ wheel next week­end.

• Match re­port: Lyon 10-28 Sara­cens

Pool 4: Ul­ster will strug­gle to em­u­late class of ‘99

Ul­ster’s 1999 Heineken Cup win­ners were pre­sented to the crowd be­fore Satur­day’s pul­sat­ing 26-22 vic­tory over Rac­ing 92, the tour­na­ment’s high­est scor­ers in this sea­son’s com­pe­ti­tion. Can Ul­ster re­peat their feat of 20 years ago? They are three points adrift of Rac­ing at the top but look much too strong for Le­ices­ter, who crum­bled at Parc y Scar­lets on Satur­day evening, when they meet the Tigers next week­end. Ul­ster, though, may strug­gle to make it to the last eight as Rac­ing will be too strong for the Scar­lets in Paris. The Parisians are odds-on to se­cure a bonus-point win and the likes of Finn Rus­sell and Si­mon Zebo can profit from the work of Rac­ing’s pow­er­ful pack. Le­ices­ter, mean­while, paid the price of field­ing a weak­ened side in west Wales and their only goal is to not fin­ish bot­tom of this pool. How the mighty have fallen.

Pool 5: Ed­in­burgh’s his­toric win un­der­lines resur­gence

Ed­in­burgh are on course for their first quar­ter-fi­nal place for six years. If there were any doubts about their resur­gence un­der coach Richard Cock­er­ill they were dis­pelled at Stade Félix Mayol with a his­toric 28-17 win over Toulon, the first Scot­tish side to tri­umph there. A re­peat dis­play in Fri­day night’s meet­ing with Mont­pel­lier in the Scot­tish cap­i­tal can give Ed­in­burgh the bonus of a home draw in the last eight. New­cas­tle’s Cham­pi­ons Cup has been a mixed bag. They were also win­ners in Toulon, a re­sult that re­ally raise eye­brows, and they over­came Mont­pel­lier with a dra­matic win with the last move of the game at Kingston Park but the bat­tle against rel­e­ga­tion and a raft of in­juries did for them in Mont­pel­lier, ham­mered 45-8 to wipe out any math­e­mat­i­cal hopes of mak­ing it to the last eight.

• Match re­port: Toulon 28-17 Ed­in­burgh

Left to right: Ross Byrne of Le­in­ster, Nick Tomp­kins of Sara­cens and Glas­gow’s Rob Har­ley.Com­pos­ite: Sport­file/Getty Images/In­pho/REX/Shut­ter­stock

Maro Itoje was back in the Sara­cens teamthat beat Lyon. Pho­to­graph: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

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