A couple of key moments. One was Owen Farrell’s escapology act in somehow flicking the ball out one handed on his own line with half of Cardiff upon him. The other was the Blues losing possession at the lineout after kicking to the corner off the sin bin.
It’s been an exciting night in the European Champions Cup on Friday as Exeter travelled to Gloucester, while Ulster hosted Scarlets.
Below you can read back about the best of the action.
Gloucester 17-29 Exeter Chiefs
Exeter turned the tables on Gloucester and breathed life into their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a 29-17 victory at Kingsholm.
Gloucester would have gone top of Pool Two had they repeated last Saturday’s win against the Chiefs in Devon, but it proved a frustrating night for them.
Fly-half Danny Cipriani went off injured just before half-time, and Exeter’s forwards dominated the contest, with lock Sam Skinner, flanker Don Armand, hooker Jack Yeandle and prop Harry Williams scoring tries in a bonus point success.
Cipriani’s opposite number Gareth Steenson kicked three conversions and a penalty as Gloucester managed two Jason Woodward touchdowns and a Tom Hudson try, plus a Billy Twelvetrees conversion.
But they also left Munster in pole position for a quarter-final place if they beat French champions Castres on Saturday.
Gloucester and Exeter are not out of the running, yet Munster – they visit Kingsholm next month and have Exeter at home – remain strong group favourites.
It was Exeter’s first European win of the season, and said everything about their squad depth as a number of frontline players were absent.
Gloucester showed a number of changes following their victory at Sandy Park six days ago, including South Africa international lock Franco Mostert being handed a first start for the club, while Exeter made wholesale switches.
Fresh additions to the Chiefs’ injury list included wing Alex Cuthbert, centre Henry Slade, scrum-half Nic White and flanker Matt Kvesic, but international props Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis both returned to starting duty.
Mostert was heavily involved in the early exchanges, running and carrying strongly, while also competing fiercely at the breakdown, but Exeter monopolised possession and looked to stretch Gloucester wide.
The Chiefs even sacrificed a penalty shot in front of the posts, going for an attacking lineout instead, and their endeavour was rewarded with a 21st-minute try.
Gloucester had been in constant defence mode, rarely breaking out of their own half, and Exeter prospered after booting another penalty to touch, with their forwards driving a lineout and Skinner touching down.
Steenson converted from the touchline for a 7-0 lead, and Gloucester then blew their most promising spell of the game when Mostert charged recklessly into a ruck and was penalised by referee Mathieu Raynal.
They then breached Exeter’s defence 11 minutes before half-time, driving hard through phase-play, then drawing in Chiefs tacklers and allowing Woodward to cross unopposed.
Cipriani sent the conversion attempt wide, and he departed just five minutes later, leaving the action after appearing to suffer a problem with his right shoulder.
Cipriani had barely reached the Gloucester bench before Exeter struck again through more impressive work by their forwards, and Armand claimed a try that Steenson converted for a deserved 14-5 interval advantage.
Gloucester needed a strong start to the second period, but they had the opposite, with Twelvetrees being sin-binned for a technical offence as Exeter looked to make their temporary one-man advantage count.
But Gloucester managed not to concede any points while Twelvetrees was off, although they continued to be a distant second best in terms of territory and possession.
A Steenson penalty put Exeter 12 points clear, only for Woodward to claim his second try with 15 minutes left and lift Gloucester to within striking range.
But Exeter closed out the game with skipper Yeandle’s try – they were also helped by a yellow card for Gloucester prop Josh Hohneck – and Williams’ touchdown secured a five-point maximum after Hudson crossed for Gloucester.
Ulster 30-15 Scarlets
Ulster boosted their hopes of European Champions Cup qualification with a bonus-point 30-15 win over the Scarlets to bring them a maximum 10 points from their back-to-back clashes with the Welsh side.
John Cooney scored 15 points of Ulster’s total with the bonus-point try, two conversions and two penalties, while second row Iain Henderson bagged two tries with Jacob Stockdale also crossing.
The five points Ulster claimed the same from last week’s meeting at Parc y Scarlets – brought Ulster level on points with Pool Four leaders Racing 92 ahead of their game with Leicester Tigers and ended bottom side Scarlets’ already slim chances of making the last eight.
Ulster led 10-3 at half-time and though the Scarlets, through a Jonathan Davies try, levelled things up, Dan McFarland’s side pushed on with Stockdale, Henderson – bagging his second – and Cooney crossing.
On a miserable evening of swirling wind and rain at the Kingspan, Ulster got the scoreboard moving early when Scarlets skipper Ken Owens was penalised for not rolling away and Cooney landed his first penalty after eight minutes.
Will Addison then crossed the Scarlets line on 13 minutes following a cross-kick from Billy Burns and assist from Henry Speight only for the score to be ruled out for a forward pass.
Speight then went close to scoring himself on 24 minutes but he failed to gather the ball from Addison’s kick through. Ulster had a penalty, though, and put huge pressure on the Scarlets which resulted in prop Wyn Jones being yellow-carded for illegally playing the ball.
Ulster increased the pressure, going for scrums off a series of penalties before Henderson was driven over at the posts on 32 minutes. Cooney converted to put the home side 10-0 up.
Rhys Patchell’s 38th-minute penalty gave the visitors their first points just before Jones’ return from the bin and the half ended with Ulster leading 10-3 with the conditions having seemingly favoured them in the first half.
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Eight minutes after the restart, the game exploded into life when Gareth Davies intercepted a pass on his own line and after running into Ulster’s half his cross-kick was pounced on by Jonathan Davies after Speight and Steff Evans had overrun the ball.
Patchell converted to tie the scores and the visitors were right back in the game.
But Ulster responded immediately when Burns’ chip over the top was latched onto by Stockdale who beat two defenders to touch down.
Cooney missed the difficult conversion and Ulster now led 15-10 which became 18-10 when he kicked a 57th-minute penalty.
Five minutes later and Henderson had his second when he powered over from close range after good work by Stuart McCloskey. Cooney’s conversion took Ulster’s lead to 25-10.
The bonus-point score came in the 67th minute when Rory Best – who became Ulster’s most capped player in Europe by making his 72nd appearance – drove off a maul to the line before Cooney followed up to score though he failed with the difficult conversion.
Scarlets managed a consolation score from Tom Pyride in the 78th minute which went unconverted.
It’s been an eventful day in the European Champions Cup. Here is the best of Sunday’s action.
Newcastle 23-20 Montpellier
Newcastle snatched a dramatic 23-20 victory over star-studded Montpellier to go top of their pool in the Champions Cup.
With England head coach Eddie Jones in the stand, Newcastle led 16-6 at half-time and after last weekend’s heroics against Toulouse, the Falcons looked to be heading for another win against a side boasting a dozen internationals led by France number eight Louis Picamoles.
But Ruan Pienaar kicked two crucial penalties and lock Paul Willemse rumbled over for a try to give the visitors a 20-16 lead. But with the clock showing full time, the Falcons mounted one last attack following a penalty to the corner and after a staggering 39 phases, lock Callum Chick was driven over and Joel Hodgson converted for a last-gasp victory which takes Newcastle top of pool five.
Toulouse 28-27 Leinster
Leinster’s impressive unbeaten run in the Heineken Champions Cup shuddered to a dramatic halt as the reigning champions fell to a 28-27 defeat at Pool 1 rivals Toulouse.
After last weekend’s bonus-point victory over Wasps, Leinster – who won all their games on their march to the title last season – started the match at Stade Ernest Wallon as favourites against their fellow four-time European champions.
But an end-to-end game turned on a raking length-of-the-field interception try in the dying minutes.
Replacement Louis-Benoit Madaule picked up a loose pass and released Toulouse’s flying backs division. Moments later, Maxime Medard scored his second try of the afternoon to wrest back a lead the hosts had held until midway through the second half.
Cardiff Blues 12-29 Glasgow
Glasgow opened their Heineken Champions Cup account with a 29-12 bonus point victory over Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.
But the real beneficiaries were Pool Three leaders Saracens, who are four points clear of their rivals heading into December home and away fixtures against the Blues.
Glasgow, beaten at home by Saracens last weekend, did not look back after fly-half Adam Hastings and wing DTH van der Merwe scored tries in the first five minutes.
Hastings also added a conversion and penalty before half-time, and when scrum-half Ali Price rounded off a crisp move early in the second period, the only serious debate was whether or not Glasgow would claim a five-point maximum.
Glasgow got there when lock Jonny Gray added a fourth try 12 minutes from time – again converted by Hastings – and there was no doubting their supremacy over a Blues side that fell way short of repeating last Sunday’s performance when they beat Lyon in France.
Wing Aled Summerhill claimed two consolation tries for the Blues, with Gareth Anscombe adding a conversion, but they were also chasing a game that, in truth, was beyond reach following Glasgow’s early onslaught.
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Newcastle kick-started their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a stunning 26-25 win against three-time European champions Toulon on their own patch, becoming just the second side to do so.
Their only previous defeat in 24 games in Europe’s top tournament had been against Saracens two years ago, and Newcastle – bottom of the Gallagher Premiership going into the game – had to do it the hard way.
Dean Richards’ side found themselves 10 points behind early on after conceding one of the quickest tries in the history of the competition when giant lock Romain Taofifenua charged down a clearing kick with only 21 seconds on the clock.
Francois Trinh-Duc added the conversion and then kicked a seventh-minute penalty to make it 10-0 to the home side, but that was as good as it got for the hosts.
They had three players sent to the sin-bin – prop Jean-Baptiste Gros, full back Daniel Ikpefan and winger Julian Savea – and were left to rue a decision in the final five minutes to kick for the corner, rather than take the three points on offer that might have won the game.
But after Loan Goujon’s opening try and Lionel Beauxis’ conversion and penalty, the visitors gradually took command to show their attacking prowess, with Gareth Anscombe scoring a spectacular solo try during the fightback.
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Gloucester 19-14 Castres
Gloucester became the first English club to win a game in this season’s Champions Cup as they beat Castres at Kingsholm.
And four days before England head coach Eddie Jones names his autumn Test squad, fly-half Danny Cipriani led from the front.
The Gloucester playmaker, who was left out of Jones’ latest training group last month, kicked four penalties and a conversion for a 14-point haul as the England boss looked on.
Glasgow 3-13 Saracens
Saracens were made to scrap all the way as Mike Rhodes’ early try proved enough to see off gritty Glasgow 13-3 at Scotstoun.
The two sides had crossed a combined 57 tries in just six matches apiece in the build-up to their Heineken Champions Cup opener but the expected score-fest failed to materialise.
Instead, the cross-border skirmish proved to be a tense, bad-blooded affair pot-marked by basic errors, inexplicable refereeing calls and numerous feisty head-to-heads.
In the end, Rhodes’ first-half touchdown and eight points from the boot of Owen Farrell gave the joint-Gallagher Premiership leaders first blood in Pool 3, leaving Glasgow ahead of what already appears to be a make-or-break trip to Cardiff next Sunday.
Lyon 21-30 Cardiff
Cardiff Blues marked their return to the Champions Cup after a four-season gap with only their fourth win in 21 games on French soil.
Lyon’s debut in the tournament got off to a flyer, taking a 10-0 lead as they sought revenge for their double defeat to the Blues as the Welsh side went all the way to win the Challenge Cup for the second time last season.
Wasps have been handed a gruelling draw for the group stages of next season’s European Champions Cup.
The draw, which took place at Lausanne’s Olympic Museum in Switzerland, saw the twice European champions grouped alongside current holders Leinster, the Irish team’s fellow four-time winners Toulouse and 1998 champions Bath.
Premiership title holders Saracens, meanwhile, have been drawn with Glasgow, Cardiff Blues and Lyon.
Newcastle – back in European rugby’s top-flight competition after a 14-year absence – face Montpellier, Toulon and Edinburgh.
Newcastle’s St James’ Park will play host to the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals next May, but the Falcons will have their work cut out to progress from a group that includes such a heavyweight French presence.
A West Country derby lies ahead in Pool Two, with Premiership rivals Exeter and Gloucester drawn together, and that quartet being completed by Irish giants Munster and reigning French champions Castres.
And Leicester, eliminated at the pool stage last term, must overcome last season’s runners-up Racing 92, in addition to 2018 semi-finalists Scarlets and 1999 champions Ulster.
The draw for the Challenge Cup pools was also made, giving Northampton a reunion with familiar Champions Cup rivals Clermont Auvergne – Dragons and Romanian minnows Timisoara Saracens are also in their group – while Sale Sharks face Bordeaux Begles and Perpignan, plus Irish challengers Connacht.
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Worcester will have their work cut out in a group that also features Pau, Stade Francais and Ospreys, with Premiership newcomers Bristol drawn alongside La Rochelle, Zebre and Russian side Enisei-STM, and Harlequins facing Agen, Grenoble and Italian side Benetton.
Leinster survived a nail-biting conclusion to win the European Champions Cup for the fourth time, edging out Racing 92 15-12 in a dour battle at Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium.
Isa Nacewa landed the match-winning penalty in the 78th minute, but Leo Cullen’s men had to survive a frantic finish at the end of which Racing replacement fly-half Remi Tales pushed a drop-goal effort wide.
Racing shrugged off injuries to fly-halves Dan Carter and Pat Lambie to lead twice during a cagey first half, Teddy Iribaren’s two penalties being cancelled out by a Jonathan Sexton brace.
The 6-6 scoreline became 9-9 and then 12-12 as Iribaren landed four of his five penalty attempts and Sexton finished with three.
It was left to the retiring captain Nacewa to bring Leinster level, before an offside decision against Tales allowed the 35-year-old winger to boot the Blues to their first European title since 2012.
The Irish province now jointly hold the record for most European Cups won along with Toulouse, while Cullen is the first man to win the tournament as both a player and a coach.
Nacewa, Cian Healy, Sexton and Devin Toner all collected a record-equalling fourth title.
A pre-match hamstring injury spoiled Carter’s European swansong, with Racing’s injury list already including talismanic skipper Maxime Machenaud (knee) and Dimitri Szarzewski (bicep).
Lambie’s final lasted just under three minutes, the South African stand-off damaging his knee on an early break which led to Iribaren’s opening penalty from 45 metres out.
Sexton levelled in the 16th minute following his own loop with Scott Fardy and a penetrating run from Nacewa, but Iribaren, who impressed along with Camille Chat in a composed first quarter from Racing, punished a maul infringement for 6-3.
Although struggling to produce quick ruck ball on the greasy surface, Leinster had the edge under the high ball through Rob Kearney.
James Ryan’s high work-rate launched Leinster forward to win a kickable penalty, only for Sexton’s tap-and-go to end in a relieving breakdown penalty poached by hooker Chat.
Sexton made no mistake with a 38th-minute effort from the tee, following a deliberate knock-on by Leone Nakarawa who narrowly avoided the sin-bin.
Iribaren’s right boot restored Racing’s lead five minutes after the restart, rewarding a bruising set of carries from his pack. Sexton slipped in his attempts to respond with a difficult 48-metre penalty.
The Ireland fly-half nailed his next effort to square things up again in the 53rd minute, the heavy pre-match favourites beginning to find some half-gaps through Robbie Henshaw and Sean Cronin.
Sexton suffered his second miss from long range, following a James Ryan lineout steal, and as the contest became increasingly scrappy, Iribaren’s only penalty miss let Dan Leavy off the hook for a high tackle.
Referee Wayne Barnes’ whistle was far too influential for both sides’ liking, the stop-start fare leading to successful place-kicks from Iribaren and Nacewa late on.
Crucially, it was Racing who blundered when Teddy Thomas was tackled into touch, and Nacewa took full advantage of Tales’ subsequent offside to claim a very hard-earned victory.
Leinster advanced to their first Champions Cup final since 2012 after swatting Scarlets aside in an utterly dominant 38-16 win at the Aviva Stadium.
Leo Cullen’s men were relentless as they put the Welsh region to the sword, notching first-half tries through James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden, and adding two more after the break from man-of-the-match Scott Fardy and Jonathan Sexton.
They had clearly done their homework after last year’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat to Scarlets, McFadden’s try on the stroke of half-time giving the Irish province a 24-9 half-time lead.
Leigh Halfpenny’s three penalties from three attempts, and a slight scrum advantage, were Scarlets’ only positives in this one-sided Celtic clash, and they salvaged some pride late on with a try from their former Leinster forward Tadhg Beirne.
It was Leinster’s eighth straight European victory this season and sets up the possibility of an all-Irish final in Bilbao in three weeks’ time if Munster can come through Sunday’s semi-final against Racing 92.
Beirne forced an early turnover to lift Scarlets, who had reached the last four for the first time since 2007. Steff Evans then drew a high tackle from Fardy which allowed Halfpenny to smash over a sixth-minute penalty for the lead.
That brought the best out of Leinster, Rob Kearney finding a superb touch and Fardy charging down Aled Davies, before they went wide and Ryan evaded Beirne’s attempted tackle and bounced up to score his first try for the province, converted by Sexton.
The hosts were 10-3 in front after fit-again centre Robbie Henshaw had a couple of powerful runs and Scarlets infringed close to the posts, allowing Sexton to widen the margin to seven.
Halfpenny’s supreme goal-kicking kept the Welshmen within range, despite the concession of a second Leinster try.
A scrum penalty against Healy closed the gap to 10-6 before the Ireland prop, with support from the ever-wlling Fardy, crashed over for a 26th-minute converted score. Sexton’s initial cross-field kick had seen Steff Evans concede a five-metre scrum.
Halfpenny punished a Daniel Leavy offside seven minutes later, but Leinster’s forwards flooded forward from a late penalty and the pressure told, Garry Ringrose flinging a pass wide for winger McFadden to reach over in the right corner ahead of Steff Evans.
Sexton added the conversion for good measure, putting 15 points between the sides at the interval, and Leinster showed no signs of letting up when play resumed.
Tadhg Furlong lost the ball in contact as Scarlets defended close to their line, a Sean Cronin break had Leinster knocking on the door again with Jordan Larmour, a replacement for the injured McFadden, showing his sidestepping ability.
It was Larmour who ripped the ball from Rhys Patchell to set the wheels in motion for the fourth try, Ryan and Fardy combining slickly in the 22 for the Australian international to power over. Sexton’s conversion made it 31-9.
Leinster’s pack came hunting for more, carrying hard on the hour mark before Sexton stepped off his left foot for a smart finish. In contrast, Scarlets knocked on from a gilt-edged lineout opportunity, and they needed Scott Williams’ last-ditch tackle to deny Kearney a try.
With their strong bench keeping them on the front foot, Leinster missed out on a further try when a lunging Fardy had a 73rd-minute score chalked off for hands in the ruck.
The former Wallaby missed a tackle which allowed Beirne through for his consolation score, with Patchell drop-kicking the conversion.
Stuart Lancaster’s Leinster extinguished English interest in the Champions Cup by inflicting a 30-19 defeat on reigning champions Saracens at the Aviva Stadium.
The Irish province and tournament top seeds will face the Scarlets in the semi-finals at the same ground – most likely on Saturday, April 21 – after completing a conclusive victory in Dublin.
Ireland openside Dan Leavy was outstanding to pick up where he left off in the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham a fortnight ago, crowning his performance with a terrific 47th-minute try that ultimately swept the match beyond Saracens’ reach.
Garry Ringrose and James Lowe also touched down to confirm Leinster’s dominance and it was a fully deserved victory for the team bossed by former England head coach Lancaster. Leinster played the better attacking rugby from start to finish.
Saracens’ doggedness ensured they were never put to the sword and trailing 13-12 at half time they had hope of continuing their quest for a record-equalling third successive European crown deeper into the knock-out phase.
A try for Blair Cowan in the 64th minute revived Saracens spirits after Leinster built a commanding lead, but the wall of blue shirts refused to crack again even though it was the visitors from across the Irish Sea who were ascendant throughout the final quarter.
Mako Vunipola, who saw his brother Billy ruled out by a broken arm, was magnificent but he was swimming against the tide as the only Aviva Premiership club in the quarter-finals bowed out.
Saracens had only themselves to blame when their line cracked as early as the fourth minute, Liam Williams and Jackson Wray falling off Lowe before Isa Nacewa tore down the left touchline and fed Ringrose the scoring pass.
Despite the early setback, the defending champions dominated possession with Vunipola shouldering the bulk of the carrying workload, but they struggled to make any decisive headway against a resolute home defence.
Three penalties from Owen Farrell, who passed a fitness test on a thigh injury to start at fly-half, left Saracens trailing 10-9 at the half-hour mark as a scrappy match weaved an uncertain path.
The tension mounted as Johnny Sexton rifled over three points only to then interfere with the ensuing restart by kicking the ball away, enabling Marcelo Bosch to hit the mark from the halfway line.
Alex Goode’s elusive running was causing problems from full-back and one run swept Saracens deep into opposition territory only for Leinster to defend a close-range line-out.
The Irish province raced out of the blocks in the second half and in eight minutes they had amassed 10 points underpinned by a brilliantly worked try for Leavy, who combined with James Ryan close to the ruck to open up a hole that he galloped through.
Leinster’s onslaught continued with Sexton attacking down the left wing before the wall eventually found Lowe, who was carried over the line by his team-mates.
A line-out drive produced Saracens’ first try of the afternoon with Cowan touching down, but despite the fallen champions’ best efforts they could make no further inroads.
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