Heineken Cup

European Rugby Champions Cup – the plot thickens

European Rugby Champions Cup – the plot thickens

The terrorist attacks in Paris in November led to the postponement of five games in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Last weekend one adjourned game was played in each pool, after which all teams would have two pool matches remaining. Some would be lame ducks if they lost.

The ERCC (previously called the Heineken Cup) involves 20 teams from the three major competitions in Europe, divided into five pools. This season the Top 14 and Pro 12 have seven teams each in the tournament, and the Aviva Premiership has six.


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Jonathan Davies passes the ball going to ground

Clermont 28 – Bordeaux Bègles 10

After 17 years Bordeaux was back “in Europe” but they lost two of their first three ERCC games and had to win this one to stay alive; Clermont had lost one and needed this away win to top their pool.

Clermont started with their Super Rugby style and dropped too much ball to prosper; but at 16 minutes fullback Nick Abendanon scored a signature stepping try. Bordeaux put their own autograph on the scoreboard with a touchdown after a jogging maul, followed by a tap kick when Clermont infringed to stop it.

The score was tied 10-10 eight minutes before half-time but Clermont scored 13 points either side of the break to take command. Flyhalf Camille Lopez scooted over with defenders watching too many options outside him, and scrummie Morgan Parra slotted two penalties generated by lightning raids.

A red card, then a yellow, ruined Bordeaux’s chances, but with 13 men they played their best rugby of the day regardless. They nearly scored but Clermont broke away and winger Noa Nakaitaci dotted down in the corner. 28-10

In the next nine minutes Clermont couldn’t score the bonus point try which was some slight comfort to the partisan home crowd.

Man of the match Chris Masoe of Racing 92 cops a high one

Racing 28 – Glasgow 10

Racing 92 led the Top 14, and were also top of their ERCC pool. Glasgow was third in the strong pool of four, but they would not be out of it if they won this game in Paris.

Glasgow had a strong wind behind them in the first half but couldn’t use it and missed two of their three penalty goals as well. Worse, 145 kgs Ben Tameifuna waddled over to score for Racing near the half-hour mark and at half-time they led 13-3.

With the wind now behind them, and recruit Dan Carter the rainmaker, Racing scored two lineout maul tries to Dmitri Szarzewski and Eddie Ben Arous. With nearly 30 minutes remaining they led 27-3 and a bonus point try was imminent.

But Racing stalled; their tackle line slowed, Carter was rested, and Glasgow were allowed to play their best rugby. The Scot visitors scored a try near the hour mark.

Racing led 27-10 and were supposed to settle down but it was only at the end that they looked likely to get their bonus point try. Just after the buzzer they did when Argie lock Manuel Carriza scored from a dodgy-looking lineout maul—a tautology, I know.

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Julien Arias on the move for Stade Français

Stade Français 27 — Munster 7

Stade nearly scored a bonus point win despite losing a man to a red card at half-time.

A win for both sides was urgent as they were well behind pool leaders, Leicester. Neither team was in great form at home: Stade had had only three teams below them in the Top 14 and Munster was mid-table in the Pro12

Munster lost three players in the first quarter and only one came back, before retiring again.

Unexciting rugby prevailed until 13 Waisea (“Scrabble”) Vuidarvuwalu broke through Munster and 12 Paul Williams, with his Kitchener moustache, scored.

Stade led 10-0 at the break but a replay revealed Josala Ralsuqe putting his hand in the face of Munster skipper CJ Stander and a wayward finger touching the eye; he was gonski.

However it looked like Munster was playing a man short, and once they couldn’t turn an overlap into a score.

Suddenly Stade scored two brilliant individual tries to put Munster away. Stade 27-0.

Eight minutes remained which were ample to earn a bonus-point try but it was Munster who looked the better team now. They scored and then chanced their arm again, but Stade turned over the ball and nearly scored themselves.

Ulster flyhalf Ian Humphreys nabbed by Oyonnax

Ulster 24 — Oyonnax 23

Ulster came back from the dead at Oyonnax and scored all their points in the second half after the locals scored all theirs in the first.

Ulster had only middling results in the Pro 12, but Oyonnax had been bunnies this season and won only one of their last eight games.

It rained, and Oyonnax was near to the Swiss border, but they had the only artificial pitch in the Top 14. It was still slippery but at least there was no turf furrowed up from scrums.

It was a game of two halves.

Oyonnax scored from a lineout maul try and then kicked penalties: one, two, three. Down 0-16 Ulster had a couple of chances late but winger Uwa Tawalo took a spilt ball 90 meters to score. Oyonnax 23-0 at half-time.

These blokes should be swabbed.

But Ulster changed all their 15 players after the break—or so it seemed, because they did everything right, with belief.

Tries at 43 minutes (Scholes), 61 (Gilroy) and 67 (McCaw) had Oyonnax still ahead 23-21 but with three minutes to go Paddy Jackson kicked a lazy penalty goal from his own half for Ulster to win the game 24-23.


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George Ford – outstanding for Bath

Toulon 12 — Bath 9

These teams were level in pool points but the bookies liked Toulon: they were playing at home and were third in the Top 14 whereas Bath had won only three out of eight in England.

There were no tries in the game but it was entertaining rugby.

Bath played above expectations, rushing on defence and managing their game impressively. Toulon looked dangerous in parts and their breakdown work was better, but their kicking game was poor.

The score was 6-6 at the break and was even again at the hour mark, 9-9.

Bath parked in the Toulon half for an age and had some half chances; Ford had kicked two field goals and just missed a third with ten minutes left. Two minutes later Bath scrumhalf Chris Cook knocked on an intercept with the line wide open and no fullback around.

But when Toulon had a rare excursion into the other half Bath were offside at a ruck and flyhalf Frédéric Michalak slotted the goal with four minutes remaining; 12-9 to them.

At the end Bath had a lineout 20 metres out but Toulon put up two defensive pods, stole the pill, and cleared.


Damien Chouly, Clermont captain – getting his dancing shoes ready

The wrap-up

Clermont are now at the top of Pool 2 and are in the big dance to get one of the home quarter-finals. Their away match against second-placed Ospreys next week could decide the pool.

Racing 92 earned a better dance card in Pool 3 and will be favoured to win their next two games to stay on top.

In Pool 4, Stade Français will have an awkward game at Thomond Park against Munster next week and if they beat them have to roll unbeaten Leicester in the final round to host a quarter-final.

Ulster survived but may need an away point against unbeaten Saracens in Round 5 next week to get to the threshold of qualifying for the finals in Round 6 —usually 19 points.

The European future of Toulon is simple: they probably have to beat both Wasps next week (it will be a cracker) and Bath also in Round 6 to go through.

Of the losers, Glasgow and Bath will probably need two unlikely bonus point wins to progress. Munster, a shadow of the side that had glory days in Europe not so long ago, will just be making up the numbers, as will Bordeaux Bègles and Oyonnax.

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James O’Connor – played well but was hooked

Aussie watch

Clermont v Bordeaux Bègles — Hooker John Ulugia (Clermont) and tight head prop Sekope Kepu (Bordeaux) were solid.

Racing 92 v Glasgow Warriors — Taqele Naiyaravoro (Glasgow) who made 233 metres against Scarlets earlier in the season and scored a hat trick, made good ground through Paris traffic in the first half though he lost the ball a couple of times.

Stade Français v Munster — Paul Alo-Emile and Hugh Pyle (Stade Français) did their set-piece work well but Mark Chisholm (Munster) did not impress in his long shift.

Toulon v Bath — Flyhalf Quade Cooper (Toulon) kicked poorly in the first half and was outplayed by George Ford of Bath. Was switched to fullback after the break and played better there. Fullback James O’Connor (Toulon) was hooked at half-time though playing well under the high ball and being dangerous in attack with wriggly runs. Leroy Houston (Bath) had a terrific running game from the scrum and in traffic.


Heineken Cup

Voted most valuable member of the G&GR Forum since records began - Ed.

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