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 Champions Cup: Two mistakes from Freddie Burns costs Bath game against Toulouse, Exeter and Munster play out tense draw plus more

13 Oct

The European Champions Cup is back for another season and it was certainly a day to remember.

Here is the best of Saturday’s action from the competition.

Bath 20-22 Toulouse

Freddie Burns was guilty of two late blunders as Toulouse continued English clubs’ painful start to the Heineken Champions Cup by claiming a 22-20 victory over Bath.

A visibly upset Burns is consoled after the game

Less than 24 hours after European title holders Leinster crushed Wasps under a half-century of points in Dublin, Toulouse clinched a crucial Pool One win at the Recreation Ground.

And they were helped by Bath full-back Burns, who missed an easy 74th minute penalty chance and then blew a try barely 60 seconds later after crossing the Toulouse line before losing control of the ball under pressure from Toulouse defender Maxime Medard.

Centre Sofiane Guitoune scored two tries for Toulouse, including a clincher 17 minutes from time, while wing Medard also touched down and full-back Thomas Ramos kicked two conversions and a penalty.

Exeter 10-10 Munster

Exeter’s European Champions Cup campaign got off to a disappointing start after they were held to a 10-10 draw in a titanic struggle at Sandy Park.

The Gallagher Premiership leaders were unable to get past Munster

Exeter had only lost once in their last 17 games but came perilously close to losing this one as Munster had the lion’s share of possession and territory.

Luke Cowan-Dickie scored Exeter’s only try with Gareth Steenson adding a penalty and a conversion.

CJ Stander scored for Munster with Joey Carbery kicking a penalty and a conversion.

Ulster 24-10 Leicester

Second-half tries from Alan O’Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale earned Ulster a 24-10 win over Leicester in their Heineken Champions Cup opener.

Ulster’s John Cooney kicked all three conversions and a penalty to complete the Irish province’s scoring in the Pool Four clash at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute try came too little too late

The Tigers led at half-time thanks to a George Ford penalty but failed to score again until Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute converted try.

Montpellier 21-15 Edinburgh

Referee Wayne Barnes ruled out two tries for Edinburgh as they fell just short of a famous Champions Cup victory over Montpellier on French soil.

Montpellier, coached by the former Scottish national coach Vern Cotter, scored three first half tries on the way to a 21-15 victory, but it was Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh who dominated the final 40 minutes.

Edinburgh crossed for a try in each half and would have won the game if Barnes not ruled out a Hamish Watson try at the posts for offside and another by Magnus Bradbury for obstruction.

It was a brave effort from Edinburgh

In the end they had to settle for a losing bonus-point, although they had to scramble to keep hold of it after home skipper Louis Picamoles intercepted 30 metres out and almost reached the line for what would have been an extra point for the hosts.

Scarlets 13-14 Racing 92

Racing 92 opened their Heineken Champions Cup Pool Four campaign with a dramatic and controversial 14-13 victory over Scarlets.

The French side were trailing 13-7 in the final minutes when referee Matthew Carley awarded Racing a penalty try and also sent scrum-half Gareth Davies to the sin bin, and from there, Racing held on to win.

Racing’s two tries came at the end of the first and second halves with a losing bonus point being little consolation for Scarlets, last year’s semi-finalist’s, who led for most of the match.

Rape trial rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding sacked after behaviour probe

14 Apr
Rape trial rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding sacked after behaviour probe
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of raping the same woman

Two Ulster and Ireland rugby stars who were acquitted of raping the same woman have been sacked.

Employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union have confirmed Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding’s departure following an internal review into their conduct.

While Jackson, 26, and Olding, 25 were found not guilty last month after a high-profile trial, other aspects of their behaviour have been heavily criticised, with major sponsors of Ulster Rugby having voiced concern.

The IRFU and Ulster Rugby review had focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the rape trial.

In a statement the IRFU and Ulster Rugby said: “Following a review, conducted in the aftermath of recent court proceedings, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have revoked the contracts of Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding with immediate effect.

“In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: Respect, Inclusivity and Integrity.

“It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game.”

Jackson expressed his disappointment.

In a statement to the Press Association he said: “I am deeply disappointed about the outcome of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby’s internal review.

“However, I recognise that my behaviour has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother. I am truly sorry.

“Since I was a young boy it was my ambition to play for Ulster and Ireland and I am extremely proud, privileged and honoured to have done so. It is therefore with great sadness and regret but with many cherished memories that I leave that behind.

“I would like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this process. I have taken great strength from that support. I’d also like to thank Ulster and Irish rugby for the opportunities that they provided for me and I wish them, and all my former team mates, every success.

“My focus in the months and years ahead will be on rebuilding the trust placed in me by people throughout Ulster and Ireland.”

Stuart Olding also issued a statement expressing his regret.

It said: “It is with regret that I have been informed that the IRFU have decided to revoke my contract.

“As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country.

“I very much wished to continue to have the opportunity to represent them.

“Regrettably, influences outside of my contractual arrangement have made it impossible for that to happen.

“I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding.

“The treatment that I have received since my acquittal, both fair and unfair, has made me even more determined to prove myself.

“With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no one any ill will.

“I am very sorry that this day has come to pass.

“To those who have supported me through these last 20 months and especially the fans who continue to support me, I thank you all.”

Fellow Ireland and Ulster star Craig Gilroy, who was not involved in the trial, has been disciplined for sending one of the offensive messages that was outlined to the court.

He had already been made unavailable for selection and will now face a further two-week suspension

A statement from the governing bodies said: “Following a review of a text message sent by Craig Gilroy, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have sanctioned him, following a disciplinary process in accordance with the terms of his contract.

“Craig will be unavailable for team selection until 26th April 2018.”