European Champions and Challenge Cup review


A weekend of club European rugby saw an all-Ireland battle in the Champions Cup last 16 1st leg between Connacht and Leinster go the way of the visitors Leinster 26-21 at The Sportsground on Friday evening.

The four-time European champions were given a stiff test by their rivals who crossed through John Porch and Salesi Fifita and eleven points from the boot of Jack Carty.

However a brace from James Lowe and a further score from Hugo Keenan proved enough for Leinster who will take a five point advantage into the second leg next week.

On Saturday, La Rochelle beat Bordeaux 31-13 in their first meeting between the sides in the Champions Cup.

Going into the second leg, Bordeaux have it all to do when they travel to face La Rochelle in France next week.

In the battle of two English sides, Bristol Bears grabbed a narrow victory over Sale Sharks 10-9 at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday.

A late try from Semi Radradra who came off the bench was enough to see Bristol take a slender one point advantage going into next week’s second leg at Ashton Gate.

At Sandy Park, Exeter Chiefs had to grind out victory over Irish side Munster 13-8 on Saturday.

The 2020 champions were in control of the game at half time through tries from Stuart Hogg and Jacques Vermeulen, but two yellow cards in a matter of minutes handed over the chance for Munster to get back into the game.

Despite this big handicap, Exeter stretched their advantage when Hogg kicked a drop goal before Shane Daly crossed for Munster.

But Chiefs held on to take a five point advantage to Thomond Park for next week’s second leg.

In other matches played on Saturday in the Champions Cup, A Rob Baloucoune hat-trick of tries was enough for Ulster to win 26-20 at Stade Toulousain and there was a comfortable 22-9 win for Racing 92 over their French rivals Stade Francais.

On Sunday, it was the turn of the two remaining English sides to take to the field. Reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins had the tough task of facing Montpellier in France with Leicester Tigers also in France, with their opponents being Clermont.

Harlequins were taken apart in the opening fourty minutes by the side that are currently leading Top 14 Montpellier. The English champions responded to a poor first-half, trailing 26-0 to run in four tries after the break and closed the gap with George Hammond, Andre Esterhuizen, Joe Marchant and Louis Lynagh going over, but is wasn’t enough as the French leaders won 40-26 and will take a 14 point lead to the Stoop next week.

Leicester Tigers claimed a gutsy away win at the home of three times runners up Clermont, winning 29-10. Despite a red card to Tigers’ Guy Porter, the current Premiership leaders proved to good for the French side and have a healthy 19 point lead to take back to Welford Road.

In the European Challenge Cup in Pool C Saracens had a comfortable 55-5 win over Brive.  Edinburgh completed a comprehensive victory over Pau 54-5. Newcastle Falcons edged out Zebre 25-2 and Gloucester completed a clean sweep of British victories after a 26-21 win at Dragons.

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