Rugby union: talking points from the weekend’s European action

Michael Aylwin
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Toulon’s Mamuka Gorgodze runs into a tough barrier against Scarlets.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Icon Sport/Icon Sport via Getty Images</span>
Toulon’s Mamuka Gorgodze runs into a tough barrier against Scarlets. Photograph: Icon Sport/Icon Sport via Getty Images

1) A fitting finish for Wasps’ hard-luck story

It is clear the force is not with a side when they become news, intentionally or not, for the “unfair”. Wasps did not appreciate their five-day turnaround for a date at Ulster. This would have been less newsworthy had they not been labouring under a horrible injury list, which was promptly extended by three more during the first half. Ulster’s subsequent 19-9 win felt as if it had been coming all week. All of which places great moment on their home encounter with Harlequins next weekend. Quins have already won in Coventry this season and they are going to have to again after a 34-27 home defeat by the debutants La Rochelle, who strode on to the European stage as if they already have designs on claiming it.

Match reports: Ulster 19-9 Wasps; Harlequins 27-34 La Rochelle

2) Saracens single-handedly savaging Saints’ season

If the impression has formed that Northampton are having a bad season, it is because of Saracens. The Saints were actually top of the Premiership a couple of weeks ago but every time they come up against this lot they do not know where to turn. This was a second 50-point defeat in two months and this time at a fast-emptying Franklin’s Gardens. If the impression has formed, meanwhile, that the Ospreys are having a bad season, that is because they are. Clermont have not been good this season but they had enough to see off the Ospreys, the latter’s Lions back in harness. A losing bonus point at home is not what players of that calibre should have to settle for. Next up for the Welshmen? Saracens at Saracens.

3) Glasgow and Montpellier floored by brutal grouping

Even by the standards of the new format, which means the moniker “of death” might be applied to most groups, Pool Three is a particularly cold slab in the mortuary. Already it looks as if it is going to die up to expectations. Leinster will be grateful to open with a bonus-point win but, when Aaron Cruden joins Ruan Pienaar at half-back, Montpellier are going to take some beating. With a bit more nous they might have taken a draw. Meanwhile Exeter hammered Glasgow into submission on a grim night in Devon, for the latter’s first defeat of the season. If Wasps think their scheduling is cruel, Glasgow played in Bloemfontein last weekend. There is a long way to go, then, for the Warriors and this pool.

Match reports: Exeter 24-15 Glasgow; Leinster 24-17 Montpellier

<span class="element-image__caption">Ollie Atkins of Exeter Chiefs receives the ball in the lineout against Glasgow Warriors</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: PPAUK/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Ollie Atkins of Exeter Chiefs receives the ball in the lineout against Glasgow Warriors Photograph: PPAUK/Rex/Shutterstock

4) Racing’s fast start need not put stops on Leicester

Racing have hardly set the Top 14 alight this season but they decided to play like the Harlem Globetrotters for their home win over Leicester, which probably means they are not that bothered about Europe this season. Leicester will be quite happy with the bonus point, a trinket they were clearly intent on securing as they opted to kick for goal while trailing by seven rather than go for a possible draw. They will be satisfied but not as much as Munster with the draw they managed in their French assignment. Castres are at their most dangerous when they still have a chance – which is to say, in the early stages. Munster did well to stay with them but they can bank on a bonus-point win from the return in round six.

Match report: Racing 22-18 Leicester

5) Scarlets’ heroic failure a victory for rousing rugby

Might so often prevails in rugby, alas, but what an advertisement for bravery – of body, wit and skill – are these Scarlets. In the lair of yet another impossibly powerful French team in Toulon few teams would have survived an early deficit of 18-0, let alone come back to score 20 unanswered points in such fine style. It was not quite enough for the win but the manner in which they held on to a losing bonus point and then, outrageously, considered snatching more, was another epic in itself. They are a live contender in this tournament but they must now negotiate the latest five-day turnaround for their home match against Bath, who laboured to victory over Treviso.

<span class="element-image__caption">Bath’s Aled Brew goes on the attack against Treviso.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Khachfe/JMP/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Bath’s Aled Brew goes on the attack against Treviso. Photograph: Khachfe/JMP/Rex/Shutterstock

6) Russian upset offers glimpse of brighter future

No doubt about the talking point in the Challenge Cup: Stade Français losing against Krasny Yar, who not only downed the Parisians but did so with a bonus point. Then again, no one favouring flowery pink shirts is likely to fare well in Siberia, champions or not. Clearly home advantage counts for rather more than normal in these circumstances, but let’s hope the Russians, making their European debut and captained by the former Northampton full-back Vasily Artemyev, can build on this. It might be expecting too much for them to threaten the latter stages, but their success – and that of teams like them – is ardently needed if European rugby is to develop beyond a future concertinaed around the clubs of England and France.

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