Leinster 10-20 Saracens: Sarries lift Heineken Champions Cup after comeback win at St James’ Park

11 May

Saracens have been crowned European champions for a third time in their history after a 20-10 victory over Leinster.

Despite trailing the previous holders 10-3, Mark McCall’s men showed tremendous resolve to produce a spirited comeback at St James’ Park.

Billy Vunipola crashes home to help Saracens to victory

The Irish side held a 10-point lead until the 39th minute but Sarries drew level when Sean Maitland’s late try cancelled out Tadhg Furlong’s opener.

Both defences stood firm after the interval but Owen Farrell was able to kick Saracens in front just before the hour mark.

Victory was confirmed when Billy Vunipola crashed over from the back of a scrum.

Farrell kicked the conversion as the Londoners scored 20 unanswered points and put in a dominant second-half performance.

Sean Maitland touches down to start the Sarries comeback

Saracens will play a Premiership semi-final later this month as they continue to pursue the double, while Leinster remain on course to defend their Pro14 title.

The Premiership side were left to toast a third title, and in doing so marking themselves out as the most successful English club side in history.

‘Ridiculous in the best way’ – Fans rave about Owen Farrell’s incredible piece of skill against Cardiff Blues

15 Dec

Owen Farrell showed just why he is considered one of the best fly-halfs in world rugby with an utterly sublime piece of skill against Cardiff Blues.

Saracens were forced to work for their Champions Cup win in the Welsh capital, but ultimately prevailed 14-26.

Farrell was as composed and clinical as ever from the tee

In tricky conditions and with a partisan crowd, the reigning Premiership champions needed their big performers to step up and deliver away from home.

Never one to shirk a challenge, Farrell showcased his outstanding kicking game from varying distances and produced a moment of magic which effectively turned the game.

With the scores at 14-16 and the Blues putting the visitors under increasing pressure, the England international collected a wonderfully weighted grubber kick on his own touchline.

Aware of the attackers closing in on him, the 27-year-old showed great footwork to step away from the tacklers before producing an outrageous off-load out the back to the waiting Andy Goode.

From that moment on, Sarries began to take control of the game and effectively dominate their beleaguered opponents, with Farrell ensuring the scoreboard kept ticking over with his penalty kicking.

Jamie George also went over for the visitors late on, but it was his international colleague who took the plaudits for his moment of magic. Check out the best Tweets below!

European Champions Cup: Exeter cling onto qualification hopes with bonus-point win at Gloucester, Ulster do double over Scarlets

15 Dec

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.

Danny Cipriani’s match finished early

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.

Exeter still have a mountain to climb to reach the quarter-finals

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.

Woodward scored two tries for the home side

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.

Cooney was the star man, scoring 15 points for Ulster

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.

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.

European Rugby Champions Cup round-up: Newcastle claim brilliant victory over Montpellier, Leinster suffer agonising defeat at Toulouse

21 Oct

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.

Callum Chick and Gary Graham celebrate the brilliant win for Falcons

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.

Leinster was so close to claiming the win

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.

Early tries from Adam Hastings (pictured) and DTH van der Merwe set Glasgow on their way to victory

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.

Don’t celebrate too early: Bath’s Freddie Burns tackled at last moment, loses match against Toulouse

13 Oct

Freddie Burns made a shocking error to cost his side Bath the match against Toulouse on Saturday.

The French side emerged victorious by a score of 22-20 in their Champions Cup opener, despite the fact it seemed their English opponents had the game won.

Having already missed a penalty right in front of the posts just minutes earlier, Burns then broke through and looked set to score the try which would steal victory for his side.

He was so confident of his triumph, that he started celebrating early and blew a kiss to the supporters before tapping the badge on his shirt.

Burns was consoled by his teammates after the defeat

Just as the full-back went to put the ball down to score, Maxime Medard of Toulouse poked it out of his hand before booting the ball away, leaving Burns distraught.

Burns collapsed to the ground and was subsequently taken off as his team went on to lose the match.