Saints and Sinners: The weekend’s talking points
European rugby paid tribute to the late Anthony Foley, and the second round of Champions Cup and Challenge Cup matches served up a mix of stunning skills and grim gaffs. Who were the stars of the show and who crumbled under pressure?
The sudden death of their coach, and former captain, Anthony Foley hit Munster hard this week, but they responded in impeccable fashion with well thought-out tributes to their hero and a terrific, spirited performance on the pitch to beat Glasgow Warriors 38-17 in the Champions Cup in front of a sell-out crowd at Thomond Park.
All the Munster players had Foley’s nickname, Axel, embroidered on their jerseys. Tribute songs were sung, there was a minute’s silence before kick-off and the supporters in the West Stand held up cards which formed a sea of red, the name Axel and two figure eights.
CJ Stander wore the No 24 jersey instead of the No 8 and supporters were able to sign a book of condolence at Thomond Park before the game, while Foley’s two sons joined the Munster players on the pitch afterwards to sing more songs.
Beyond Limerick, silences, or minutes of applause, were observed in memory of Foley at all European games. Leinster wore red t-shirts with AF on them during their pre-match tribute at Montpellier and the Scarlets all wore a No 8 on the front of their jerseys for their match at Saracens.
Munster’s Jerry Flannery – who played and coached with Foley – summed up the mood at the province after the match, saying: “It was the hardest week of my life. We lost the guy who was the heart and soul of the club.” The rugby family did him proud.
Nick Tompkins and Saracens
When Saracens centre Tompkins arrived at Allianz Park on Saturday, he wasn’t expecting to play in Saracens’ Champions Cup clash with the Scarlets because he wasn’t in the match-day 23. However, Brad Barritt pulled up injured during the warm-up so 21-year-old Tompkins was called into the starting line-up and he responded in fine style, with a Man of the Match performance.
He was one of a number of good performers in Saracens’ 44-26 win and his best moment came midway through the first half when he scored a gem of an individual try, cutting a swerving line through the defence from 30 metres out and wrong-footing three Scarlets on his way.
Owen Farrell had another outstanding game and, like his team, looks like being a dominant force in the Champions Cup this season.
Mako Vunipola is also a Saint as he made his mark on the game even earlier thank Tompkins by scoring a terrific try. He fooled the Scarlets with a lovely dummy then powering over the line with a couple of tacklers trying to stop him.
His England rival Joe Marler also gets a mention for his humorous response on Twitter. Marler posted a video of the try and tweeted: “@Mako_Vunipola are you taking the p**s?! Any danger of giving the rest of us a chance?!”
Bonus points are vital in Champions Cup rugby and Nacewa grabbed one for Leinster with a last-minute try and conversion against Montpellier. Trailing 22-9, Leinster were hammering away at the line and Nacewa managed to sneak through the tightest of spaces in the left-hand corner, then ran half-way round to the posts to make the conversion as easy as possible for himself.
He successfully landed the kick and earned the bonus point which ensured Leinster were top of Pool Four after two rounds, just one point ahead of Castres.
The Leicester fly-half was a Sinner last week after giving away an interception try but he bounced back in style, coming off the bench in the 52nd minute of the Tigers’ clash with Racing 92 and scoring 16 points to help his team to a 27-17 win.
Burns intercepted a pass from Maxime Machenaud on his own 22 and sprinted in for a try, which he finished with a classic “Ash Splash”. Later he landed a tricky penalty to deny Racing a bonus point.
Plaudits also go to Mathew Tait for a try-saving tackle on Dan Carter. He brought the former All Black down a few blades of grass short of the line.
Wasps earned a draw at Toulouse with a try from Nathan Hughes three minutes from time and a coolly struck conversion by Gopperth, from wide on the right.
Hughes busted a tackle from Paul Perez on his way to the line and made the score 20-18 to Toulouse, but if you were going to put money on a kicker to land a last-ditch, crucial conversion, Gopperth would be as good a bet as any and he didn’t let his team down.
Edinburgh wing Brown scored a last-gasp try to give his side a 36-35 home win in the Challenge Cup and leave them on top of Pool Five after two rounds.
He leapt high in the air close to his own line to collect an up-and-under from Damien Hoyland and had the agility and strength to twist through a tackle from Marland Yarde and touch the ball down over his own shoulder.
The Ospreys made it two wins from two in Challenge Cup Pool Two with a 31-13 win at Lyon, featuring a hat-trick from 18-year-old wing Giles. He rounded off a team attack for his first try, darted through the defence for his second and then ran from his own 22 after ripping the ball from the grasping hands of Lyon scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud.
Giles scored two tries against Newcastle Falcons last week, so it’s been quite some start to his first European campaign.
Congratulations to the Russian club who have won their first two Challenge Cup matches of this campaign and sit proudly on top of the Pool Three table, despite having to play these two “home” games more than 2,500 miles from their real home.
Enisei beat Worcester Warriors 19-12 in Moscow and Newport Gwent Dragons 38-18 in Krasnodar after European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) refused to let them host a match in their native Krasnoyarsk this season. Why the enforced move? Because Connacht took four days to get home from that Siberian city after their game last November after their chartered plane broke down.
Enisei played two Challenge Cup game in Sochi last season, to escape the worst of the Russian winter. They had hoped to play at least two, if not three in Siberia this time, but could not.
EPCR gave Enisei around £86,000 to help with the costs of playing at the different grounds, but the Russians were still disappointed, so to have responded by winning their first two games is terrific. Opponents Brive had better watch out when it’s time for Enisei’s third “home” game, on 10 December in Sochi, as the French club lost on the same ground last year. Enisei will have to undertake an eight-hour plane journey including two flights to get to the game, but they will be determined to make it three wins from three.
Clermont Auvergne and Bordeaux-Begles scored high in the entertainment stakes this weekend, running in 11 tries between them in a match which Clermont won 49-33.
Man of the Match was Strettle after he conjured a magical try, chipping skilfully over the defence and collecting the ball at full pace to score in the right-hand corner.
New Zealand All Blacks
Many rugby fans rate the current vintage of All Blacks as the greatest team the world has ever seen and they underlined their claim to that crown this weekend when they became the first tier one team to win 18 consecutive Test matches.
The Kiwis have come close to breaking that record for consecutive Test wins a couple of times in recent years – most notably in 2013-14 when they won 17 then drew with Australia – but this time they achieved it with a 37-10 win over the same opponents.
The Wallabies had a try disallowed in controversial circumstances (more of that later) but that should not take any of the gloss off this magnificent and unmatched run of wins.
There was only one contender for this week’s major Sinner – Zebre hooker Fabiani who was caught clearly on camera biting the forearm of Quinn Roux at the bottom of a ruck.
Referee Mathieu Raynal quite rightly sent him off and Zebre had to play 60 minutes with 14 men and were walloped 52-7. A long ban for Fabiani will surely follow and it will be well deserved.
Leinster trailed 17-6 at Montpellier with 58 minutes on the clock and were under the pump, defending a five-metre scrum. No 8 Heaslip managed to pick up the ball at the base and attempted a short pass to Zane Kirchner, but Montpellier wing Nemani Nadolo read the move, grabbed the intercept and dotted down a try. Poor Heaslip was left with his head in his hands, wishing he had taken a different option.
He was a Saint last week after a great all-round game, but this week Cipriani is among the Sinners after gifting Toulouse a try with an unwise chipped kick from under his own posts.
Thierry Dusautoir charged it down and Census Johnston grabbed the loose ball and scored. Wasps skipper Joe Launchbury was none too pleased and remonstrated with his No 10.
Exeter and Ulster fought out a tight Champions Cup match at the Kingspan Stadium and Chiefs’ fly-half Steenson looked like he might have snatched victory for the visitors when he kicked a drop-goal with four minutes to go to put them 18-16 up. However, Ulster’s Paddy Jackson replied in kind a minute later and from a similar spot, outside the 22 but straight on.
Exeter set up one last chance for Steenson in the 79th minute, again from straight in front of the posts but a little deeper this time. The ball drifted agonisingly wide of the right-hand upright and Steenson was a villain instead of a hero. Such is the lot of the goal-kicker!
Racing 92 full-back Dulin provided a terrific comedy moment during the first half of the match at Leicester Tigers. His scrum-half, Maxime Machenaud sent a loose pass to no one in particular, but Dulin was on hand to tidy up the bouncing ball – or so we thought.
The first time he bent to pick up the ball he fumbled it and sent it bouncing further back behind him. Dulin turned and ran back for a second attempt, but did the same thing again. By the time he got to the ball a third time the Leicester attackers were upon him, but referee Marius Mitrea gave a dubious penalty to Racing at the break-down, so no harm was done in the end.
Australia trailed the All Blacks 15-10 when Henry Speight sprinted in at the right-hand corner for what looked like being an important try early in the second half of their Bledisloe Cup match. However, referee Nigel Owens reviewed the try at the instigation of TMO Shaun Veldsman and was persuaded to disallow it because Dane Haylett-Petty had altered his running line to prevent Julian Savea chasing Speight down.
Yes, there was slight contact between the two, but Speight looked like he was away and clear so it is unlikely that Haylett-Petty’s gentle brush against Savea prevented his tackling Speight.
Owens should have awarded the try. He does not have to accept the opinion of the TMO. As it was, New Zealand went on to win 37-10 and we will never know whether Speight’s try could have been critical.