We have just finished another action packed weekend of Champions Cup and Challenge Cup rugby. So what are the main things we have observed and learnt from this weekend?
- Exeter are the real deal! Having thumped Wasps in the Aviva Premiership last weekend and with the injuries to Henry Slade and Dave Ewers, the question was always going to be could the Chiefs train start falling off the tracks? Enter stage Thomas ‘the tank engine’ Waldrom, 5 tries in two games and Clermont Auvergne but to the sword in no uncertain terms. The Exeter squad has now shown their strength in depth with Jack Nowell displaying his skills at 13, and the forwards really showing an edge with Damien Welch and Don Armand coming to the fore. They have a big challenge going away to Clermont next week but this train seems to be full of steam and chugging along nicely.
- Pro12 clubs are looking ominousUlster, Glasgow, Ospreys, Connacht and Dragons all put in some big performances and won their matches against some teams which have been fairing reasonably well in their respective leagues. Ruan Piennar is right up their with Dan Biggar as one of the most influential players for their clubs in Europe. When these guys have a good game, then so do their teams. The reverse fixtures next week will be very interesting as the teams they beat will go away lick their wounds and then come out looking to tear strips off them, but based on these performances the knockout stages are beckoning.
- Dan Carter shows his worth
Despite having only trained with his new club mates for only two weeks, Dan Carter looks like this sojourn to France is going to be much more productive than his secondment with Perpignan. Behind a fairly dominant pack he controlled the conditions expertly, through an excellent kicking game and an almost telepathic understanding with Joe Rockocko, he enabled Racing 92 to have what was in all honesty a fairly easy evening in Paris. Could his trip to France do the same to him what a trip down to Toulon did for Jonny Wilkinson? If it does then the rest of Europe will be looking to avoid drawing them in the future rounds.
- Away wins prove as elusive as ever Saracens, Stade Français, Leicester, Sale, Harlequins, Gloucester, Grenoble and Bath were the only clubs to win away in Europe this weekend. Out of the 20 games played a 40% success rate for all games. This shows that away wins are proving as hard to come by as they ever have, making it tight at the top of some of the pools. A lot has to be said about the performance of Leicester at Thomond Park in inflicting only the 5th home defeat in the competitions history on Munster! It was full of spirit and built on an incredible defence, the tigers now look to be clicking into gear and are starting to be reminiscent of the Heineken Cup winning team of 2001 and 2002. As the group stages start drawing to a close the pressure is only going to increase and we will have to see what pans out for the knock out stages but it looks like Saracens and Leicester are likely to go through in the Champions Cup and Connacht and Gloucester are in the same position for the Challenge Cup and this could give them the desired home draw for the knockout stages.
- Possession isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be
If you look at the statistics from the Munster vs Leicester game they make some pretty stark reading. Metres made; Munster – 620, Leicester – 336, Carries; Munster – 147, Leicester – 75, Passes; Munster – 186, Leicester – 77. From this glimpse it looks like Munster had won the game by a country mile, but as we know this is not the case. The management team of Richard Cockerill, Aaron Mauger, Richard Blaze, Geordan Murphy, Matt Cornwell and Scott Hansen deserve more credit than they probably get. Their team looked well coached and the communication between the players was fantastic, it was all about the team. This is one of the tenets that the Tigers have always been built on and now they are starting to get back their teeth back.
I can’t wait for next weeks fixtures they should be as intriguing as ever.