European Champions Cup: Newcastle claim shock win at Toulon, Danny Cipriani impresses for Gloucester in front of Eddie Jones

14 Oct

Here’s what happened in Sunday’s European games.

Toulon 25-26 Newcastle

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.

Newcastle celebrate their stunning victory

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.

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.

Cipriani was on form in Gloucester’s win

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.

Rhodes’ early try set Sarries on their way to the win

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.

Chris Ashton asks to leave Toulon as former Northampton and Saracens man seeks England return

14 Jun

Chris Ashton has asked to leave Toulon after just 12 months in France and could be set for a return to England.

The winger broke the Top14 try-scoring record with 24 in his debut season with the three-time European champions, but under RFU rules is ineligible for selection by his country while playing his domestic rugby abroad.

Ashton, 31, reminded England head coach Eddie Jones of his talents with a hat-trick for the Barbarians at Twickenham on May 27, as his side ran out 63-45 winners.

Toulon finished fourth in Top14 last season, enough to qualify for the end-of-season play-offs where despite an Ashton try they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Lyon after a 19-19 draw, by virtue of having scored fewer tries in the game.

The former Northampton and Saracens man was prolific for England, scoring 19 times in 39 tests, including a super try against Australia in 2010, but has not featured for his country since the 2014 New Zealand tour.

French outlet RMC reported on Wednesday night Ashton was looking to break the three-year contract he signed last summer, with a potential return to his homeland on the cards.

Ashton began his career in rugby league before crossing codes in 2007, leaving Wigan Warriors to join Northampton.

He was awarded Premiership Player of the Season in 2009/10 with the Saints before joining Saracens in 2012.

In his time there he won two Premiership titles and a European Cup, but his performances were not enough to break back into the England setup.

After missing out on the 2015 World Cup squad and Jones showing no signs of giving him a look-in, Ashton made his switch to France official in October 2016, before joining up with his new team the following summer.

Rugby Union news: South Africa legend Bryan Habana announces retirement at age of 34

24 Apr
Rugby Union news: South Africa legend Bryan Habana announces retirement at age of 34
Bryan Habana will hang up his boots at the end of the season

South Africa great Bryan Habana has announced he will retire from rugby union action at the end of the season after being unable to force his way back into the Toulon team.

Habana underwent surgery to repair a long-standing knee injury last year but since recovering has found his path back into the starting XV blocked by the likes of Chris Ashton and Josua Tuisova.

The 34-year-old will retire as the Springboks’ leading try-scorer with 67 and three short of Victor Matfield’s record of 127 for caps won by a South African.

He was a World Cup winner in 2007 and was also named the world’s best player in the same year.

“The inevitable moment has come knocking on my door and I’ve welcomed it in for a drink,” he said on Instagram.

“It’s been more than a year of hoping, trying, pushing and willing to get back on the field for one last time, to taste the sweet victory or encounter that gut-wrenching despair.

“To hear the roar of the crowd or grab the pill out of the air. To make that last bone crunching tackle or score that last game winning try. But it’s unfortunately just not to be.

“I, like most, would have liked my career to have ended differently, but sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way we hope for.

“So at the end of this season, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to the game I so dearly love.”

Habana’s last Test appearance was in 2016, when he was also vice-captain, but South Africa’s decision to rely less on overseas-based players undermined his hope of adding to his 124 caps.

He made his debut at Twickenham in 2004 and developed into one of the sport’s most lethal finishers, his electric pace and eye for an intercept making him a deadly opponent.

Munster 20-19 Toulon: Andrew Conway secures last minute winner in European Champions Cup quarter final

31 Mar
Munster 20-19 Toulon: Andrew Conway secures last minute winner in European Champions Cup quarter final
Munster through to European semi-final after incredible comeback win

Andrew Conway took on the mantle of matchwinner for Munster as his stunning 74th-minute try saw them pip Toulon 20-19 in a titanic European Champions Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park.

Winger Conway’s decisive score from a kick return, which saw him beat four defenders from near halfway, sent the Irish province through to a record 13th European semi-final and a trip to France to face either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92.

Replacement Francois Trinh-Duc almost inspired a famous Limerick victory for Toulon, kicking two penalties and having a key involvement in Chris Ashton’s converted try as the three-time champions began the final quarter with 13 points in little over seven minutes.

However, Munster – who led 10-6 at half-time thanks to an opportunist Conor Murray try near the half hour mark – used all of their cup nous to pull off a gritty comeback triumph thanks to Conway’s dazzling effort and Ian Keatley’s all-important conversion.

Toulon’s threat was obvious right from the first minute, fortune favouring Munster as Simon Zebo did just enough to prevent Ashton from scoring off Eric Escande’s dangerous kick. Not for the first time, the hosts rode their luck in avoiding a possible penalty try.

Peter O’Mahony’s lineout steal, coupled with Conway’s vital tackle on Josua Tuisova on the opposite wing, kept the visitors scoreless until Anthony Belleau, a late inclusion at fly-half for Trinh-Duc, fired over a well-struck 10th-minute penalty.

After Munster turned down a long-range kick, CJ Stander was squeezed out in the left corner and the covering Ashton beat Conway to a Simon Zebo kick through.

Raphael Lakafia’s hoovering up of Billy Holland’s lineout steal allowed the beefy Toulon pack to get within range for Belleau to score an 18th-minute drop goal for a 6-0 lead.

The injury-enforced withdrawal of Zebo robbed Munster of one of their key attackers but a couple of frenzied kick chases, allied to a strong carry from Jack O’Donoghue, led to Murray’s momentum-changing 27th-minute score. Toulon thought they had covered the danger, only for France captain Guilhem Guirado to knock on at a ruck close to his own line and Murray pounced to ground the ball.

A prolonged deliberation between referee Nigel Owens and TMO Jonathan Mason went Munster’s way, and Keatley converted and then tagged on a 31st-minute penalty, punishing Semi Radradra for tackling replacement Darren Sweetnam without the ball.

Murray was short and wide with a penalty attempt just inside the Toulon half, before the French powerhouses got no reward again from a Dave Attwood break and a threatening late attack that saw Sam Arnold bump Ma’a Nonu into touch.

Defences were on top in the early stages of the second period, Munster getting on the front foot with O’Mahony continuing to cause problems for the Toulon lineout. The excellent Arnold hauled down Tuisova as he threatened from deep, while the consistently well-positioned Ashton covered Sweetnam’s chip-and-chase effort.

Munster’s front row reserves came up trumps in winning a scrum penalty which Keatley turned into three points, but Toulon’s own bench proved hugely influential entering the final quarter.

Radradra just lost control of the ball as he stretched for the line, under pressure from Alex Wootton, before Trinh-Duc punished Jean Kleyn’s side entry at a maul to cut the gap to 13-9.

It got even better for the travelling support when Trinh-Duc’s offload near halfway was adjudged to be flat, releasing Mathieu Bastareaud who charged through and put the supporting Ashton diving in under the posts. Suddenly, Toulon had a grip on proceedings as Trinh-Duc’s pinpoint 48-metre penalty, won by Tuisova, gave them a 19-13 advantage.

It was all hands to the pump for Johann van Graan’s injury-hit side, replacement Niall Scannell being held up by Bastareaud before Munster’s decision to go wide was foiled by the Toulon rearguard.

Conway came to Munster’s rescue, brilliantly keeping a Trinh-Duc clearance in play and, with Tuisova having run infield, the Ireland international expertly slalomed his way through the cover to cross close to the posts. Keatley added the extras and Munster’s defence did the rest, frustrating Toulon into submission.