Saracens capped a fine day for Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs in Europe with a stunning Champions Cup victory in the south of France over Toulon – the first time the French giants have been beaten on home soil in the competition.
Mark McCall’s men were sensational and wrote another chapter for themselves in the history of Europe’s elite competition with a 31-23 win, and in particular the performance of returning England fly-half Owen Farrell was a highlight.
The No.10 was metronomic from the tee and ended up with 16 points to his name – but Toulon did not go down quietly and threatened a second-half comeback.
Tries from Sean Maitland, Richard Wigglesworth and Chris Wyles had helped Sarries to a 28-9 lead early in the second period.
The Top14 outfit scored through Levan Chilachava and Bryan Habana while Maro Itoje was in the sin bin, but Farrell – in his first game since helping England whitewash Australia on the summer tour – had the last word with a late penalty.
“It was a great effort from the group, to come to a place like this and get a result is a massive scalp,” said Farrell.
“But there are still things to work on, our discipline was not great in the second half and I am sure we will look at that.
“Having said that, beating a terrific team like Toulon is a great start. We forced them to make individual errors, we wanted to make sure we were in the game and pushing the same way and we did that really well and hit them well around the ruck area.
“It is a great start, but that is all it is, we have got the Scarlets next week and we need to back up this result.
“I was a bit stiff coming towards the end of the game but we held on. I was ready for that, I was itching to be back out there and that was a great way to come back.”
Elsewhere Wasps were also rewriting the record books as they ran riot over Zebre at the Ricoh Arena, scoring 12 tries to the Italians’ two.
Danny Cipriani demonstrated once again what a dynamic threat he is with ball in hand and from the tee, pulling the strings from fly-half and converting six of Wasps’ tries in the 82-14 win.
Ten different players crossed the whitewash for Dai Young’s men, and having set new records for their highest margin of victory and points scored, the director of rugby was suitably delighted.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more, getting the five points secured early on in the game and we kept our foot on the pedal which was pleasing,” he said.
“You obviously never get a perfect performance, but you’ve certainly got to be pleased with that out there.
“We kept that mental pressure on Zebre and we didn’t ease up as the game went on. It is quite easy to come off structure, so the important thing for us was to keep within our structures and to keep working on getting some penetration.
“If we can get penetration, we’ve obviously got the backs that can finish off chances for us if you put them into space.
“We’ve now lost that underdog tag and we know there are some big games on the horizon. For us we just need to worry about ourselves, while always being respectful of the opposition.”
Elsewhere Northampton Saints also secured a last-gasp Champions Cup victory over Challenge Cup champions Montpellier, with Stephen Myler the hero with a clutch penalty as the clock ticked into the red.
François Steyn’s 11 points, including a first-half try, and a Ben Botica penalty put Montpellier one point up over the Saints at Franklin’s Gardens to set up a grandstand finish.
But Myler took his own tally to 11 points with the gutsy penalty, with Calum Clark the only try scorer for the hosts in the 16-14 triumph.
“We’ve seen that kind of kicking throughout his career,” said director of rugby Jim Mallinder. “I knew as soon as we got that penalty that he’d kick it, and it was straight through the posts.
“It was tough, very tough and we knew Montpellier were big and have some good players.
“We wanted to play with tempo, we really wanted to get into the game and I thought Sam Dickinson and Michael Paterson were outstanding in the second row in putting their bodies on the line.
“We put in a lot of hard work and effort. They were tough opponents to play, but I was really pleased with how we stuck at it and Stephen Myler showed real nerve to shut that game down.”
Sale Sharks were the only other Aviva Premiership Rugby side in action in the Champions Cup, but a double from DTH van der Merwe was the difference as they went down away at Scarlets – with Neil Briggs getting the only try for Steve Diamond’s men.
A young Worcester Warriors side put on a brave showing in Russia, and despite pushing for a score-levelling try and conversion in the dying moments, they came up just short and lost out 19-12 to Enisei-STM in the Challenge Cup.
But there was good news for both Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby in the same competition, as they overcame tough opening matches to win away in France.
Bath were outscored by three tries to one against Pau, but Rhys Priestland kicked the Top 14 side into oblivion with six penalties and a conversion in the 25-22 win.
And the Cherry & Whites had it far more comfortable at Bayonne, winning 47-27 with Jonny May scoring on his return to the side from injury – adding to tries from Matt Scott, Billy Twelvetrees, Tom Savage, and Mark Atkinson’s double.